WASHINGTON (BP) -- Hatred for people of Jewish descent is on the rise again in the United States and other countries, according to congressional testimony by Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders.

The witnesses told a House of Representatives subcommittee about current problems and possible solutions for anti-Semitism. They also addressed the need to cultivate religious liberty.

Anti-Semitism "is an ugly reality that won't go away by ignoring or wishing it away," said Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. "It must be defeated. Thus, we gather to enlighten, motivate and share ideas on how not just to mitigate this centuries-old obsession but to crush this pernicious form of hate."

Despair and hope marked many of the testimonies. Recent violent attacks upon Jewish people span graffiti being scrawled across holy synagogue walls to the arson of synagogues and physical violence. These attacks have been frequent and so widespread that Jewish people in various regions of the world have begun to hide their ethnic or religious identity for fear of their lives, witnesses said during their Feb. 27 testimony.

Katrina Lantos Swett, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, discussed the origins of anti-Semitism by tracing it back to the biblical story of Esther and Haman in Persia. By drawing parallels between ancient Persia and modern-day Iran, the cyclical effect of this rising desire to purge human society of those who a few see as "unfit" can clearly be seen, she said.

"Some are neo-Nazis who express their admiration for Adolf Hitler. Others are racist, skinhead groups active in many countries. Many are violent religious extremists who distort the religion of Islam to suit their own intolerant political aims," Swett said.

The "stakes are way too high" for Americans and citizens of other countries not to fight for the preservation of human progress and civilization, she said.

The desire for domination is the motivation of some anti-Semitic groups, said Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Jasser discussed how some Muslim societies are currently using anti-Semitic imagery, profiling and demonization of Jews to "wield Islamic thought."

"Anti-Semitism is the obvious 'gateway drug' or bridge that we must expose between the various elements of societies that move away from democracy and toward more authoritarian societies and that are doomed to oppress all minorities from within and outside various faiths," Jasser told the subcommittee.

Eric Metaxas, a prominent Christian author, said the solution to the rise of anti-Semitism requires work across national and religious lines. As a free and prominent country, America should work to promote freedom of conscience in other countries, he said.

"To do nothing when anti-Semitism raises its head is to hasten the death of civil society," Metaxas said.

Tonika Reed is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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