Leader implores Germans to combat neo-Nazi terror

ROME — The leader of Germany's Jewish community is accusing German citizens and politicians of not doing enough to fight anti-Semitism, xenophobia and right-wing extremism.

"We didn't let ourselves dream that a half century after the Holocaust it would be so difficult for the democratic German society to resist" right-wing extremism, Paul Spiegel said Sunday, commenting on the specter of mounting neo-Nazi violence.

Spiegel, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has spoken out bluntly several times since a bomb in Dusseldorf two weeks ago injured 10 people, including six Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

His comments came during an address to 700 people in Frankfurt at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of his predecessor, Ignatz Bubis.

Spiegel called on the German government to combat hate Web sites on the Internet and urged German parents to speak openly to their children about the threat posed by neo-Nazism.

Failing to speak out against racist violence, he said, makes it "all too easy to look away" and would only encourage the extremists.

The neo-Nazi threat has become a leading topic in the German media this summer. How to confront the threat has become a high-profile problem, both for the government and for concerned citizens.

In an interview with the Italian evening newspaper Corriere della Sera, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said right-wing extremism had to be fought "with every force and every legal instrument."

In Germany, he said, "the Nazis are not in the position to seriously pose questions of power, but it is extremely disturbing that in certain zones of the country it is dangerous to have a different color skin."

Fischer also remarked that democracy "must combat neo-Nazism until it is defeated."

In recent days, police detained more than 100 skinheads and other extremists in a series of raids in various German cities.

And on Sunday, a spokesman said the government would back a ban on Germany's largest extremist group, the National Democratic Party.

Last Friday, a special parliamentary commission began debate on whether to ban the party, which is believed to have about 6,000 members nationwide.

The government also began enlisting German show business and sports celebrities, such as tennis star Boris Becker, to rally the public against neo-Nazism and extremism.

On Sunday, hundreds of Germans staged an anti-extremist protest in the eastern city of Zwickau, and the town mayor said it was time to put an end to far-right intimidation.

There are estimated to be about 51,000 right-wing extremists in Germany, out of a population of 82 million.

About 9,000 of these extremists are considered violent.

Statistics show that racist violence tends to be concentrated in the former East Germany, which was reunited with the western portion of the country after the fall of the Berlin Wall a decade ago.

In Rome, meanwhile, the leader of Italy's Jews warned that it would be "dangerous" to regard the recent wave of right-wing violence as a problem that was "exclusively and specifically" German.

"This could furnish, even involuntarily, a convenient cover for such trends in other countries," Amos Luzzatto, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, wrote in an editorial in the newspaper Il Manifesto.