Commission calls off talks with Jewish lobby as row grows

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The European Commission denied claims of anti-Semitism last night after a bitter row ended with the suspension of a planned seminar with Jewish organisations.

Months of tension between the commission and Jewish groups finally boiled over after a public slanging match at a meeting in Dublin to unveil Ireland's EU presidency. Romano Prodi, the President of the Commission, pledged to fight anti-Semitism and argued last night: "It is one of the European tenets, so we are taking it very seriously." The commitment of the commission to fight prejudice is "without any doubt", he said.

Israel has traditionally regarded the EU with suspicion because of its support for the Palestinian Authority. But feelings were inflamed by a poll from the EU's statistical agency, in which Israel was identified as the country that poses the greatest threat to peace. There was a further row over claims that a report on anti-Semitism from the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia had been suppressed because it linked increased attacks on Jews in Europe to Muslim extremists.

Mr Prodi, who distanced himself from the EU poll, had planned to ease tensions with a seminar on anti-Semitism in Brussels next month. But that was suspended following an attack on the Commission by the World Jewish Congress and its European branch at the meeting.

Edgar Bronfman, the president of the World Jewish Congress, and Cobi Benatoff, the head of the European Jewish Congress - in a joint article in the Financial Times - argued: "Anti-Semitism can be expressed in two ways: by action and inaction. Remarkably, the European Commission is guilty of both."

The two men described the EU poll as "flawed and dangerously inflammatory" and added: "Outside Israel, the majority of the world's violent anti-Semitic attacks took place in western Europe. For the EU to hide these facts reeks of intellectual dishonesty and moral treachery."

Mr Prodi said last night he had "no explanation" for the comments and has written to express his "shock".