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EU Seeks Powers to Fight Hate as Gaza Draws Anti-Semitic Protest

Germany, France and Italy want to hand police increased powers to combat antisemitism and xenophobia after racist taunts and banners marked recent demonstrations over the Gaza conflict.

European governments need more tools to clamp down on protests that are judged to “cross the line,” deputy foreign ministers from the three states said late yesterday after a meeting in Berlin. Antisemitic chants and banners that marked protests in Europe this month as the military conflict in Gaza unfolded highlighted gaps in law enforcers’ powers, they said.

“Anti-semitic or xenophobic rhetoric and hostility have no place in our society,” Michael Roth, Harlem Desir and Sandro Gozi, the respective German, French and Italian ministers for Europe Affairs said in a joint declaration.

Thirteen years after the trade bloc kicked off efforts to set out a common criminal approach for tackling racism and xenophobia, members still differ in the effectiveness of policy. Some countries are guilty of “denying, condoning and grossly trivializing certain crimes,” the EU Commission said in a Jan, 27 report.

The European Union proposed a policy framework for fighting xenophobia and racism in 2001 and it was adopted in 2008. Still, its implementation has been patchy, partly due to the states’ diverging legal systems, said the commission in the same report. It’s also not clear how some provisions should be squared with the right to freedom of expression in the bloc’s human rights conventions.

Police Hesitation

Police in Berlin hesitated over breaking up a July 17 protest against Israel’s attack on Gaza because they were unsure of how far their legal authority reached, a Berlin police spokesman said. Their failure to arrest protesters bearing anti-semitic banners and chanting hate slogans prompted the federal government to review the effectiveness of hate crime laws.

One poster carried at a recent protest on Berlin’s Kurfurstendamm over the Gaza conflict depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with blood dripping from his teeth as he leaned over a blood-spattered child.

A nationwide “explosion of evil and violent hatred of Jews” was evident in the Gaza protests, the German Central Jewish Council said on July 21. The Central Muslim Council said a day later that it “decisively rejects” using legitimate criticism of Israel’s “warlike” actions in Gaza as a platform for antisemitism

The latest military conflict between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement has killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and wounded about 7,200 more. Fifty-nine people have died on the Israeli side, including three soldiers killed yesterday, and three civilians.

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