Israel’s daily experience of terror doesn’t seem so distant to Europeans anymore, several German Jewish community leaders remarked, a day after four people were severely wounded in a ax attack on a train in Würzburg.
“We are shocked and in deep grief and extend our condolences to the wounded and their families,” said president of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, Charlotte Knobloch.
She notes that Israel has had to deal with constant terror attacks for almost 70 years: “It’s daily business there and it is starting here too,” she laments, though she expresses hope that it will also help to establish understanding and empathy for Israel.
“In Germany they don’t have a clue what it means to be hated and that’s why we don’t have understanding here for Israel’s actions and why the BDS movement is so strong...They have no idea what it means to be surrounded by people who want to kill you, so they don’t know how to deal with these destructive and hateful attitudes,” she adds.
“People in Germany, especially in Würzburg, where I live, are shocked and concerned about the attack,” president of the Central Council of Jews Josef Schuster tells The Jerusalem Post
. “Our thoughts are with the victims and their families. We hope that they will recover quickly.”
“People in Germany might be alert, but they stay calm and let security authorities, in which we have great confidence, do their work. We do not feel dramatically more threatened than before the attack. Yet, last night’s events clearly remind me of the knife attacks that are happening in Israel on a regular basis,” he continues.
“This is what we know from the streets of Israel,” echoes Sacha Stawski, president of the pro-Israel organization, Honestly Concerned, referring as well to the deadly truck attack in Nice, France just several days earlier. “The question is whether people will understand that it’s the same terror as in Israel,” he says, skeptical that this will happen quite yet.
President of Maccabi Germany, Alon Meyer, expresses a similar sentiment. “From day to day it’s becoming worse here in Europe and we need to get used to the situation that Israel has already experienced for so long,” he tells the Post. “Everyday there is something in Israel and people no longer write about it because it’s normal already. But now they realize that it’s no longer so far away. It affects everyone, and we’re not so secure here either.”
The perpetrator of Monday night’s attack was a 17-year-old Afghan refugee, a fact which did not surprise Stawski.
“It was expected that among those refugees, some terrorists had infiltrated Germany,” he says, referring to the more than one million refugees welcomed into the country in 2015.
“On the one hand there are true refugees who need help, at the same time of course we know that among these million people, of course there will be some who have been under terrorist influence,” he states. “This will also now serve right wing extremist parties such as Pegida and the rise of the AFD party, which will also have an influence on us as Jews in Germany.”
All those interviewed by the Post, agree that efforts to integrate the refugees on every level, are key. “The German Jewish community has taken the stand that refugees need to be helped,” says Stawksi, pointing to a number of initiatives to cooperate with IsrAID and other organizations that provide aid to refugees. But Stawksi also fears that the increase in refugees will bring with it a rise in anti-Semitism.
“The fight against anti-Semitism has to become an integral part of any integration measures, as of course we know that in the past Germany failed at this,” he says ominously. “So we have to help because they are refugees and we have a history of being refugees, but at the same time the warning signals are out there.”
“Since the beginning of the refugee influx in 2015, I have expressed both our commitment to help people in need and our concern that there might be people with radical or Islamist ideas among the refugees,” asserts Schuster.
“However, this cannot result in general suspicion against all refugees. Last night’s attack highlights the need to start integration efforts sooner rather than later.”
Meyer uses the sport world in which he works, as a tool for integration. “Our role is to create active integration, to hold joint activities,” he opines, mentioning interfaith sports events and the integration of refugees into Maccabi events by way of illustration.
“When we talk about integration, we talk about integration in our values, not only in our economy and school system,” Knobloch emphasizes, highlighting that many of the refugees come from “countries in which hate against Israel and Jews is a constitutional part of the education and socialization.”
Knobloch muses that there must have been signs of radicalization in the teenager who perpetrated the train attack. “He’s been living in Germany for two years now, so it is alarming that nobody saw this. That’s what we Jews are afraid of, that there is too much naivety.”
She asserts that the German authorities must tackle radicalization, adding that it is also the responsibility of Muslim institutions to deal with hate and aggression in their community.
Her concerns regarding the refugee community, however, do not negate her sense of moral responsibility to help them.
“As Jews in Germany, we know how many Jewish people could have been saved 80 years ago if other countries behaved in the way that Germany is behaving today with the refugees.
If the countries hadn’t closed their borders to Jews, a lot of Jewish lives could have been saved.”