Germany worried about ‘imported anti-Semitism’ after immigrant protests

People of Berlin's Palestinian and Arabic communities protest against President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in Berlin on Dec. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber) (Caption amended by RNS)

(RNS) — Germany is rethinking its approach to combating anti-Semitism after a protest against President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital turned the anti-Jewish prejudices of some Muslim immigrants into a national issue.

In the month since immigrants burned an Israeli flag at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and chanted anti-Semitic slogans, politicians have proposed appointing a federal commissioner on hate crimes against Jews, making Auschwitz visits obligatory for newcomers and requiring German history tests in cultural integration courses.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s struggle to form a government after an inconclusive general election on Sept. 24 has held up any clear decisions on the issue.

But with Holocaust Memorial Day coming up on Jan. 27, the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz, her Christian Democrats have decided to wait no longer. They want the Bundestag, the German parliament, to pass a resolution calling for migrants who promote hatred of Jews to be expelled.

“Whoever rejects Jewish life in Germany or questions Israel’s right to exist can have no place in our country,” their draft resolution says, adding that Germany’s states should apply the current expulsion law more strictly in cases of hateful speech or acts against Jews.

“We must resolutely confront the anti-Semitism of migrants with an Arab background and from African countries,” Stephan Harbarth, the Christian Democrats’ deputy parliamentary leader, told the daily Die Welt, which first reported on the planned resolution against “imported anti-Semitism.”

Several protests in Berlin over the weekend after Trump’s Jerusalem decision on Dec. 6 triggered the official response because the demonstrators — many waving flags, including those of the Palestinians and the Hamas movement — burned Israel’s flag and shouted, in Arabic, “Jews, remember (the battle of) Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is returning.”

In neighboring Sweden, which is second only to Germany in the number of Syrian migrants it has taken in, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven responded to criticism — after the Dec. 9 firebombing of a synagogue in Gothenburg by Syrian and Palestinian immigrants — that the government was not taking anti-Semitism by Muslims seriously, by proposing increased funding for trips to Auschwitz for students in Swedish schools.

“We should not close our eyes to the fact that many people have come here from the Middle East, where anti-Semitism is a widespread belief, almost a part of the ideology” that is prevalent, he told the Swedish Jewish magazine Judisk Krönika. “Although Muslims are a vulnerable group, that doesn’t make it any more legitimate for them to be anti-Semites.”

A view of a site where a synagogue was attacked in Gothenburg, Sweden, late Dec. 9, 2017. Three people were arrested and accused of throwing firebombs at the synagogue. No one was injured in the attack during a youth event at the synagogue and the adjacent Jewish center in Sweden’s second-largest city. (Adam Ihse/TT News Agency via AP)

In Germany, the official outcry to the anti-Semitic protests recalled the one that followed reports two years ago from hundreds of women who said they were groped, sexually assaulted and robbed by men of Arab appearance at outdoor New Year’s Eve festivities in Cologne.

After initially welcoming waves of Middle Eastern refugees that summer, a backlash against “foreign infiltration” set in. One of the results was the rise of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is now the third-largest in the Bundestag.

By adding Jews to the immigration debate, last month’s protest touched Germany’s most sensitive wound and prompted politicians to ask how to counter a new “Islamic anti-Semitism” less responsive to their traditional strategies.

After the Second World War, West Germany sought to fight anti-Semitism by educating its people about racism in their nation’s past. As the decades passed, schools added meetings with Holocaust survivors and class visits to death camps to awaken younger generations to the issue.

But those strategies were all directed at fellow Germans. With the rapid arrival of over a million migrants, mostly Muslims from the Middle East and Africa, Germany faces newcomers from societies that tolerated and even encouraged hatred of Jews.

Last month, a study commissioned by the American Jewish Committee in Berlin confirmed what many Germans — especially German Jews — already knew. Interviews with dozens of Iraqi and Syrian migrants showed that anti-Semitic and anti-Israel prejudice was widespread among them.

Interviewers found that the migrants hated Jews both for political and religious reasons and that migrants also believed rich Jews controlled the world thanks to “a conspiracy theory frame of mind that also explained the wars in Syria and Iraq,” said historian Günther Jikeli, author of the study.

Many were ignorant about the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews in Europe during the Second World War, he said.

Germany’s Jewish minority, estimated at around 200,000, has been warning about growing anti-Semitism in recent years, but politicians have reacted slowly. Few tackled the essential question of how to get migrants to embrace the country’s postwar taboos.

Long-established German Muslim leaders agree that many newly arrived Muslims are openly anti-Semitic and these leaders support calls for tougher measures, but they chafe under the polarized “us versus them” atmosphere the debate could foster.

“Sometimes I think we should put up a giant sign along the refugee route to Germany that says ‘Welcome, you are now in Europe, such and such is not acceptable here,’” said psychologist Ahmad Mansour, an Israeli Palestinian living in Germany since 2004.

“Of course we need better police and better laws, but not only that,” he told DLF radio. “Why aren’t we helping teachers to explain the Middle East conflict better, to discuss conspiracy theories and teach youths how to think critically about such (prejudiced) views?”

Politicians are looking for quicker solutions.

One idea with wide support is the appointment of a federal commissioner on anti-Semitism who could be the government’s go-to person for all issues dealing with hate speech and crimes against Jews.

The European Commission appointed a commissioner in 2015, after years of appeals from Jewish communities in Europe, but it took the Berlin protests to prompt German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere — a key Merkel ally — to call for one to be named in the next government.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen have said burning an Israeli flag should be banned.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas looked to the integration courses for migrants, which help them learn German and qualify for a more rapid naturalization, to counter “imported anti-Semitism.”

“It’s urgently necessary for integration courses to emphasize the Holocaust and its meaning for our society even more than they do now, and include questions about it in their final exams,” he said.

Sawsan Chebli, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants who is now Berlin’s state secretary for relations with the federal government, suggested that all migrants be required to visit a concentration camp.

“This generation (of migrants) has a harder time identifying with Germany than mine did,” she said. The memory of Nazi crimes could help unite all people in Germany in the fight against discrimination, she explained.

While welcoming these statements, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said the older anti-Semitism of the far right was just as dangerous as the new version.

“Most attacks actually come from the right-wing extremists, while the most anti-Jewish demonstrations and the loudest anti-Semitic insults have been coming recently from the Muslims,” Josef Schuster told Die Welt.

(Tom Heneghan is a Paris-based correspondent.)

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Tom Heneghan

Tom Heneghan is a Paris-based correspondent


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  • They will be a tough nut to crack in getting them to recognize the right of Jewish citizens and Israel to exist. These people for the most part already know of the Holocaust and they refuse to admit to the direct correlation between anti-Semitic beliefs as the cause creating and enabling the Holocaust. Then one must be brutally honest here, these people are anti-Semitic and want Jewish people to be eliminated. No amount of educating them will change minds, no visit to Auschwitz or Dachau will touch their hearts.

    If one was to look at the prevalence of sexual assaults on women and children that have increased in Germany as well as Europe as a whole, signs and campaigns against this have had no effect either. What is occurring is that because of the mass immigration of a single culture that is extremely different than the host country coupled with the lack of a plan to integrate them, Europe has a large population that does not want to live according to the laws, traditions, customs of the country they are in now. If this cultural upheaval was planned better to allow groups to enter, become situated and secured in this culture they could have been an example of proper behaviors for new comers. Instead, this is nothing but a free for all of people who feel unable to understand how to assimilate and yet retain their own identity, confined to areas that have turned into no-go zones, and a hot bed of continued radical perspectives that are contrary to the native culture.

    The only way to stem the current manifestation of antisemitism is to expel the leaders who rile up people, and anyone who incites this behavior. They need to be made examples of so others will understand the seriousness of the situation, as well as the repercussions. Perhaps a full on campaign through media detailing what is not acceptable behavior or beliefs explaining exactly what type of society Germany and Europe are working towards may open some eyes and those who refuse can go back to their own homeland.

  • “President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital turned the anti-Jewish prejudices of some Muslim immigrants into a national issue.”

    Quran (9:30) – “And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!”
    Quran (5:51) – “O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.”
    I’m sure that has more of an impact than anything Trump can do.

  • “What is occurring is that because of the mass immigration of a single culture that is extremely different than the host country coupled with the lack of a plan to integrate them”

    You are wrong about the single culture. Its akin to calling Irish, Ukrainian and Italians a single culture because they are Catholic and immigrated to the US around the same time.

    You are correct about the lack of a plan to integrate them. Mostly because Germany, like all continental European countries lack two elements which allow them to absorb immigrants like the US, birthright citizenship and freedom of religion. Germany has state sponsored and subsidized religion. Tolerance not freedom.

  • If it had more of an impact, this issue should have come to the forefront a lot faster. Note the statement of the head of the Zentralrat (Central Council of Jews in Germany) that most violent attacks are coming from the (white) far right, not from Muslims. Also, this is another reason why groups like Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom are so important.

  • I don’t remember Hamas being far right. Nor do I remember Palestinians being far right.
    I think the Sisterhood thing is trouble Arb. It leads to a false sense of security.

  • The Zentralrat leader is talking about violent attacks within Germany specifically targeting Jews, as opposed to, for example, ISIS-directed or -inspired terrorist attacks targeting the general population (e.g., 2016 Berlin Christmas Market attack).

  • Why do you think a media campaign will work if “no educating them will change minds”? Seems contradictory. The German government and citizenry should fix its own problems, and if they think education is the key then I’m not going to stop them.

  • so you are trying to say that Hamas, ISIS, Al Quaida, and the rest have had no influence on people in Germany? I have my doubts about that.

  • As Hitler took power, 97% of Germany’s population were practicing Christians. And we know what happened to the ‘Jewish problem” then. Antisemitism has been an issue in Europe *just like North America -for quite some time now.

  • I don’t think that visiting a concentration camp is a cure-all for antisemitism. It doesn’t help that Germans and Swedes on the left and right are inciting hate with their own notions of Jews secretly wielding power for nefarious purposes. If you say Zionist control the US it’s still antisemitic.

    North Africans Jews were murdered in the Holocaust too. The Holocaust didn’t just happen in Europe.

  • They absolutely have, as shown by the Berlin terrorist attack. But that’s a different motivation than specifically anti-Semitic attacks, which the leader of the Jewish community stated have been coming from the far right.