(photo credit: REUTERS)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was there to take a stand. So were German President Joachim Gauck and his predecessor, president Christian Wulff.
Members of Germany’s cabinet took part. So did representatives of Germany’s Evangelical and Roman Catholic churches. Even Muslim community leaders were there.
All of them participated in a rally Sunday in Berlin against anti-Semitism.
As was the case during the Second Lebanon War, Operation Defensive Shield and Operation Cast Lead, violence and incitement against European Jews reached new heights during Operation Protective Edge, the 50 days of military conflict in Gaza that ended on August 26.
In Germany, it was no different.
In July, a man wearing a Star of David pendant and cap was attacked in a Berlin park. State security authorities are investigating the case of a Muslim preacher based in Berlin who published a video calling for the murder of Jews. In another incident in Berlin, an Israeli tourist was verbally attacked when he accidentally walked past a demonstration against Israel’s Gaza offensive. The police only barely managed to prevent a physical assault. A synagogue in the city of Wuppertal was firebombed. In Hanover, a Greens party parliamentarian was injured while wearing the Israeli flag during a demonstration. Some clashes were also recorded in the city of Essen. In several German cities, neo-Nazis chanted anti-Semitic slogans from the Third Reich at Palestinian solidarity demonstrations together with Muslim protesters and other demonstrators.
The rally Sunday was a positive move. Unfortunately, only about 5,000 people showed up. And the event was organized by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, not by a government or quasi-government group within German society. Deutsche Welle’s editor-in-chief, Alexander Kudascheff, said after the rally that the low turnout and the lack of initiative on the part of non-Jewish groups within German society were “quite disgraceful.”
This is not to say that Germany has failed to confront its painful legacy. The Germans have also done much to fight new expressions of anti-Semitism. Indeed, Germans who criticize Israel are accused of anti-Semitism quicker than in other European countries.
And the Jewish community in Germany is growing.
Merkel said it was “verging on a miracle” that Jews living in Germany numbered about 100,000. According to the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, ten thousand to fifteen thousand of these Jews are Israelis who have chosen to relocate temporarily or permanently in Germany. Those who choose Berlin tend to be young, creative, highly educated, politically-minded and left-leaning. There seemed to be a hike in the number of Israelis after the summer of 2011’s social justice protests. Quality of life is high and rents are low. In short, the situation for Jews in Berlin and other cities in Germany cannot be so bad.
Nevertheless, levels of German anti-Semitism remain high – even when there is no military conflict taking place in Israel. In May, the Anti-Defamation League’s Global 100 Index found that 27 percent of German adults answered “probably” or “definitely” true to six or more of 11 stereotypes about Jews in the survey, such as “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country/the country they live in.” This placed Germany among the countries with the highest levels of anti-Semitism in Western Europe.
Germans and other Europeans need to ask themselves why it is legitimate to express “Israel criticism” while leveling the same withering criticism against other countries is unheard of. There is, after all, no “Japan criticism” or “Sweden criticism” or even “Syria criticism”; rather, criticism is confined to specific policies, governments or regimes.
It is their preoccupation with Jews and Israel that motivates Europeans to take to the streets to show solidarity with Palestinian victims. What else explains why the same sort of solidarity is not shown with the hundreds of thousands killed in Syria? Is there anything that Germany or other European countries can do to combat anti-Semitism? Education might help. But when a rally against anti-Semitism takes place in the center of Berlin attended by the chancellor and other notables, and only 5,000 bother to show up, it is difficult to be optimistic.