Addressing Antisemitism and Preventing Extremism in Germany

German Government Acts to Fight Rising Hate Crimes
German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives the Buber-Rosenzweig-Medal 2020 for her commitment against anti-Semitism and racism, during a ceremony in Berlin, Germany, August 31, 2021. (Kay Nietfeld/Pool via REUTERS)

Antisemitism is a security issue for Jewish communities and individuals in regions across the world and the driving force of a range of violent extremist ideologies. Like all forms of intolerance and discrimination, antisemitism has a profound impact on the whole of society, undermining democratic values and human rights.  In recent years, the changing geopolitical climate and media environment have led to a situation where open antisemitism is no longer confined to extremist circles and has become increasingly mainstream. Addressing antisemitism through education is therefore both an immediate security imperative and a long-term educational investment to promote human rights and global citizenship.

The World Jewish Congress held its first post-war assembly in July 1948, where it passed a resolution clearly expressing the determination of the Jewish people to not settle again on the blood-stained land of Germany. The Jews in Germany consisted of two very distinct groups: the German-born Jews, most of who were highly assimilated into society. The second group was Jewish refugees displaced from Eastern European countries who unwittingly found themselves in Germany.

Counter protestors carry a banner reading: " Against corona opponents and right rush" during a protest against the government's restrictions, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Konstanz, Germany October 4, 2020. (REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

In July 1950, the groups joined forces and created an umbrella organization to represent them: the Central Council of Jews in Germany. This led to pragmatic cooperation on the part of international Jewish institutions. When the German Central Council was established, the WJC said: "While the opinion and policy of the WJC were that Jews should leave Germany, those who chose to remain in Germany would gladly receive advice." By 1954, the World Jewish Council and many other international Jewish organizations had close cooperative relations with the German Central Council

Calls have been raised to tighten anti-Semitism laws, following the violence that accompanied the anti-Israel protests in several German cities, in the context of the military escalation between Israel and Hamas. Thousands of people demonstrated in the German streets during May 2021 to express their solidarity with the Palestinians. Another reason for the demonstration was related to the anniversary of Palestinians expulsion from their lands, while the Israelis celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of their state in 1948. “If Jews in Germany are held responsible for what is happening between Israel and the Palestinians, words are not enough as a reaction,” wrote the newspaper, Badesche Tagblatt (May 14, 2021). “There are many explanations for the violence taking place in the Middle East, but it is unjustified violence, most people there want to live in peace. There is no justification for closing synagogues in Germany because of criticism of the policy of the Israeli government, or justification for incitement against Jews and burning Israeli flags in front of synagogues."

Wolfgang Schäuble, President of the German Parliament, "Bundestag", made it clear that people have the right to criticize Israeli policies and may protest against them. However, he went on to explain to the popular newspaper, "Bild", that "there is no justification for anti-Semitism, hatred, and violence." For his part, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer strongly condemned the anti-Israel protests and said that Germany would not tolerate the burning of Israeli flags or attacks on Jewish institutions on German soil.

Jewish Community in Germany

The influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union to Germany since its reunification in 1990. The number of Jews in Germany is about 118 thousand (40%). The “ZdJ “is considered the largest organization representing Jews in Germany. The "ZdJ" runs about 23 organizations, and have about 100.000 members: The most important synagogues in Germany are: The Dresden Synagogue, which was opened in 2001, Berlin Synagogue, which reopened in 2007, the Schwerin Synagogue, was opened in 2008, and the Jewish center of worship in Halle, Saxony.

Economic cooperation between Israel and Germany

Germany is Israel's second most important trading partner they have close cooperation on the economic and security levels. Israel's most important exports to Germany are machinery, optical equipment, chemical and plastic products, Israel's most imports from Germany are machinery, transportation equipment, and chemical products. Israel signed an agreement with Germany to supply defense systems to the German Ministry of defense on February 23, 2021, and to supply the German Army's "Leopard 2" tank with a defense system called "The Wind Coat".

As well as to protect tanks, interceptor missiles, spare parts, and operational and technical systems. Berlin has exported submarines to Israel, in addition to extensive cooperation in several projects in the fields of science and research. Israel and Germany signed a deal worth 430 million Euros, about a third of the deal, is financed by the Berlin government. The deal includes the purchase of 4 warships to protect offshore installations to extract natural gas.

Germany blames Covid-19 protests for rising extremism

Germany will increase funding to tackle right-wing extremism, amid warnings that anti-lockdown protests have increased anti-Semitism in the country. Education Minister Anja Karliczek said conspiracy theories had gained popularity on the fringes of the Querdenker movement, a group of self-styled “lateral thinkers” who protested against Covid-19 restrictions. Coupled with wider polarisation, this meant that Jewish life in Germany was “as threatened as it has been for a long time”, she said. “The poison of anti-Semitism, the poison of nationalism, and of far-right extremism continue to take hold in our country,” Ms. Karliczek said.“We have to fight these poisons with all our determination. This fight can only be won if we pull together as a society.” Some of the conspiracy theories that grew up on the fringes of the Querdenker movement were aimed at Jews, the minister said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C, at podium) gives a government declaration at the German parliament 'Bundestag' in Berlin, Germany, 24 June 2021. Chancellor Merkel's government declaration on the European Council, taking place on 24 and 25 June 2021, is expected to be her last one in her legislative period. (EPA/CLEMENS BILAN)

Since the Holocaust, there has been a belief among German Jewish that they should always have a suitcase packed and ready in case of history ever repeated itself. But German Jews – some estimates place their number at up to 250,000, according to a report by Time of Israel on January 28, 2021, most of whom are unaffiliated with any Jewish community or congregation - have not immigrated to Israel or otherwise left in large numbers over the years. Fewer than 1,000 Germans have moved to Israel since 2014, compared to the more than 27,000 French Jews who have also openly feared the violent anti-Semitism that persists in their society during the same period.

Anti-Semitism Is Resurfacing Again in Germany

In October 2019, a right-wing terrorist attack on a synagogue in “Halle an der Saale” led to two victims and reminded the German public of rising anti-Jewish violence and right-wing extremism. In the aftermath of the attack, Chancellor Angela Merkel called for more protection for Jewish people. Sadly, statements like these expose the fact that politics in Germany has been underestimating the growing threat against Jewish life.  The return of anti-Semitism into the mainstream of German society highlights the question of where political parties stand in respect to its manifestations. The question also weighs heavily on those affected, namely Jewish people living in Germany. Linda Rachel Sabiers, a German author and columnist of Jewish descent, tried to describe the psychology of Jewish voters. According to Sabiers, many hinge their voting decisions on two key questions. Which party does the most against anti-Semitism and how to “vote Jewish.”

Post-Holocaust anti-Semitism is associated with dealing with Nazi mass crimes, for example, when recalling Nazi crimes is refused, as happened in Munich on October 23, 2019: “A Jewish Facebook user receives an anti-Semitic message, saying: “Can’t you leave the Germans alone? Enough of what you did during and after World War II.” This last-mentioned form of anti-Semitism after the Holocaust was strong in 2019. A comparison of the rural city of Berlin and Brandenburg reveals that anti-Semitism associated with Nazi crimes rejects the culture of remembrance more in the desert than in the city.

The Creeping Return of Anti-Semitism to Munich

The German state of Bavaria has become home to a rising number of anti-Semitic incidents, with many of them linked to protests against coronavirus measures. Jews in the state are growing increasingly nervous.  The Department for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism (RIAS) in Bavaria registered more than 100 such anti-Semitic incidents in the state in 2020. The leader of RIAS in Bavaria, Annette Seidel-Arpacı, says there has been a "worrisome increase" in anti-Semitism among conspiracy theorists In late October 2020, posters with photos of signs from the Nazi period were found stuck to the doors of three Munich shops, reading "Jews Not Served Here." A resident of Augsburg, on whose Instagram profile an Israeli flag can be seen, received a message reading: "You Zionist bastard swine, you should be gassed." In July 2020, four men followed and insulted Rabbi Shmuel Aharon Brodman. RIAS says that the number of reported incidents in the first half of 2020 was 40 percent higher than the same period of time the previous year.

Attack in Cologne motivated by antisemitism

After a brutal anti-Semitic attack on a young man in Cologne on August 24, 2021, police are operating on the presumption that the injured man and the suspects do not know each other. Apparently, the 18-year-old was attacked by a group of about ten because of his kippah, said a spokesman for the investigators. The man had been sitting in a park with an acquaintance late night. As they were about to leave, he is said to have been insulted in an anti-Semitic fashion. The 18-year-old wanted to know why and was then beaten, the spokesperson explained. "He was badly battered in the face." The injured man was hospitalized with a broken nose and cheekbone.

Germany ups fight against Anti-Semitism, far-right extremism

Black roses hang on a grid in front of the New Synagogue, above them a sign with the inscription "Anarchists against Antisemitism". The alliance for a cosmopolitan and tolerant Berlin had called for a human chain under the motto "We stand by your side! to set an example against anti-Semitism and hatred. (Photo by Paul Zinken/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet passed new measures on October 30, 2019, aimed at helping fight far-right extremism and anti-Semitism following an attack on a synagogue earlier that month. The proposals include tightening gun laws, stepping up prosecution of online hate, and boosting financial support for projects fighting anti-Semitism and far-right extremism.“The horrible attack on the Jewish community in Halle showed again what the unleashing of hatred online can lead to,” Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said at a news conference in Berlin when she introduced the bundle of measures alongside Germany’s interior and family ministers.

On December 21, 2020, a German court has delivered its verdict in the trial of a right-wing extremist who attacked a synagogue on Judaism's holiest day, Yom Kippur, in 2019. Stephan Balliet has been sentenced to life in prison for murder and attempted murder. The October 9, 2019 attack is considered one of the worst anti-Semitic assaults in Germany’s post-war history. The 28-year-old defendant, Stephan Balliet, posted a screed against Jews before trying to shoot his way into the synagogue in the eastern city of Halle while broadcasting the attack live on a popular gaming site. He shot and killed two people when he failed to enter the synagogue.

Countering Racism and Anti-Extremism in Germany

In May 2020, just days before the United States became engulfed in another serious crisis over the issue of racism and racial violence, the first meeting of the German federal government’s committee against right-wing extremism and racism occurred. The committee, newly created in March 2020, is a direct response to a series of violent crimes in Germany that have been attributed to perpetrators belonging to the extreme-right spectrum. What followed was an intense national debate in Germany-about hate crimes, xenophobia, extremism, and the like-and in March 2020, at the 11th Integration Summit (the “Integrationsgipfel” has been held under the auspices of the chancellor since 2006), the German government announced the creation of a cabinet committee that addresses the issues of right-wing extremism and racism. It might be surprising to some observers that anti-racism efforts are discussed at the same time as integration matters, especially considering that most of the victims of the three aforementioned crimes were not recent immigrants (they were predominantly German citizens and individuals born in the country).

Germany giving over $40 million to fight anti-semitism

The German government on August 4, 2021, according to the AP report, said it will strengthen its battle against the quickly growing antisemitism in the country by investing 35 million Euros ($41.5 million) into research and educational projects focused on understanding its causes and effectively fighting hatred of Jews. Police registered 2,351 cases of antisemitism in Germany last year, which was an increase of 15% compared to the year before, officials reported. “This is the highest number in the last couple of years,” German Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek said. “There's the reason for worry that this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the unreported number of daily attacks on Jews is substantially higher.” Karliczek said that the government wants to invest millions into researching the causes of antisemitism “because we need deep knowledge in order to be able to efficiently fight" it.

After 76 years, the end of World War II, the two countries (Germany and Israel) maintain close relations, which were especially marked in August 2020 by unprecedented exercises conducted by the Israeli Air Force in Germany under the slogan of memory, which included a flight over the former Nazi camp Dachau. The German Air Force had previously participated in joint exercises in 2019 in the Israeli Negev desert.

Assessment

Since the end of World War II, German political leaders have rejected the hate-filled "Nazi" ideology that led to the genocide of millions of Jews during the Holocaust. Instead, they steered their country toward democracy and reconciliation, including paying more than $80 billion in reparations to Jews for the unimaginable crimes that Nazi Germany committed against them.

Merkel has a good reputation In Israel, despite differences of opinion over the settlements. Merkel was the first foreign head of government to speak German in the Knesset in 2008. During her historic speech to the Knesset, the chancellor said: “Specifically on this site, I say very clearly that every German government and every chancellor before were committed to Germany's special historical responsibility for Israel's security."

Israel has recorded record numbers of tourists from Germany. Mutual trips between high school classes also developed. Germany has also emerged as a steadfast friend and ally of the State of Israel. Although much work remains to be done to promote between the two nations, German and Israeli.

Relations between Germany and Israel have reached high levels of economic, political, and intelligence cooperation. Berlin is one of the most important partners of the European Union in the field of trade to Israel. Germany always pledges to protect Israel's security, reach a solution to the Palestinian issue through diplomatic means, and hold talks for a two-state solution. At the internal level, crimes in Germany rose and took many forms through physical attacks and hate messages, which prompted the German authorities to tighten anti-Semitism laws.

Historian Cauders says “that the movement of Jews to Germany today, whose grandfathers survived the Holocaust and fled, is a historical transformation, Indeed, it is wonderful that Israelis are in Berlin now, showing pluralism in Israeli society, and in Germany as well, that we overcome the times of war."

 

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