The German Ministry of the Interior will undertake a study on anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, a senior adviser to President Joachim Gauck told the Simon Wiesenthal Center in a letter obtained by The Jerusalem Post.
The letter, by Gauck’s senior diplomatic and foreign policy adviser, Ambassador Heinz-Peter Behr, came in response to a request sent last month by Wiesenthal Center associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who has been demanding such studies in correspondence with several European leaders.
In his request to Gauck, Cooper cited a study by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation that found that nearly half of Germans, and 40 percent of Europeans overall believe that “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.”
Another study, conducted by the University of Bielefeld, found that over half of Germans polled agreed that “Israel behaves toward the Palestinians the way the Nazis behaved toward the Jews,” he added.
Cooper asserted that such beliefs contribute to a growing sense of unease among European Jews and help to explain the spread of calls for boycotts against the Jewish state.
The first step to be taken in combating anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel would be for national governments to “trace how such an utterly false and insidious image of Israel was created.”
“At the minimum, those who conceive and promote an unjustified and extreme criminal view of others should be exposed and held accountable in the court of public opinion,” he said. “We all know too well from the 1930s in Germany what can happen when the delegitimization and demonization of an empire goes unchallenged.”
In response, Behr said that the new study’s focus will “not only be on anti-Semitism, but also on German criticism of the State of Israel and its policies. Documents like these will contribute to the necessary debate on problems of anti-Semitism and the demonization of Israel.”
Citing Gauck’s statement that standing up for Israel is a “defining part of German policy,” Behr asserted that it is not acceptable to spread anti-Semitism and “cast doubt on the State of Israel’s right to exist. Germany, both on its own and within European structures, will continue to fight such attitudes.”
The issue of anti-Semitic violence is a pressing one for European Jews, with a third of Jews polled last year in a study conducted by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency stating that they refrained from wearing religious garb or Jewish symbols out of fear, while an additional 23% avoided attending Jewish events or going to Jewish venues.
In several countries, up to a third of Jews stated that they were mulling emigration.
A shooting at the Jewish Museum of Brussels last month and two subsequent attacks on Jews in France are only the latest in a series of violent incidents targeting Jews.
Simon Wiesenthal Center dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier met with French President Francois Hollande in Paris on Thursday and drew his attention to the more than 1,000 French citizens who either have participated, or are currently participating, in the Syrian civil war, as a source of danger to the Jewish community.
Mehdi Nemmouche, who killed four people in the attack on the Brussels museum, was in Syria last year.
“The Jewish community and France’s democratic values are under unprecedented attack by the forces of extremism both from the far Right and from extreme Islamist purveyors of religious intolerance, violence and murder,” Hier said.
“Mr. President, in our time these French-born terrorists, like other terrorists, were not born with hate in their hearts,” he told Hollande. “In the presence of French, American, Canadian and British Jewish leaders gathered here today, I declare with certainty that if, God forbid, a terrorist attack was carried out by a Jew against innocent civilians, there would be wall-to-wall public condemnation by every Jewish leader in the world.”
“No less should be expected from the leaders of the largest Muslim population in Europe,” he added.