German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes an address during an anti-Semitism demo at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate September 14, 2014. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
BERLIN – Jewish community leaders sat beside German government leaders at a widely advertised “Stand Up Against Anti-Semitism: No More Jew-Hatred” Rally at the Brandenburg Gate on Sunday afternoon in the middle of Berlin, attended by 5,000 people.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, the headline speaker, said Jewish life belongs in Germany.
“That people in Germany are threatened and abused because of their Jewish appearance or their support for Israel is an outrageous scandal that we won’t accept,” Merkel said. “It’s our national and civic duty to fight anti-Semitism. Anyone who hits someone wearing a skullcap is hitting us all. Anyone who damages a Jewish gravestone is disgracing our culture. Anyone who attacks a synagogue is attacking the foundations of our free society.”
Dr. Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, was the first and one of the most passionate speakers of the afternoon, declaring that anyone who claims to be anti-Israel is really just plain anti-Semitic.
“This latest ant-Semitic outbreak began with the Gaza war,” he said. “But what does one have to do with the other? When we hear, in German streets, shouts of ‘Jews should be gassed,’ or ‘burned,’ or ‘slaughtered,’ this has nothing to do with criticism of Israeli policies. This is pure, unadulterated anti-Semitism, and nothing else.”
Graumann tore into the Muslim organizations that “stir up” anti-Semitism, and called on Jews not to “remain neutral” on issues of Israel. “Our neutrality must end when issues of Israel’s security begins.”
Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, which is sponsoring a two-day seminar about the state of Jewish life in Europe, recalled as a young boy going to the New Synagogue (the Oranienburger Synagogue) in Berlin to memorials for Holocaust victims. “I remember non-Jewish Germans coming to do the same thing, as a way to say ‘This should not happen again,’” Lauder said.
“Today, the world looks to Germany for moral, economic and political leadership,” he continued. “But something has changed.”
Lauder called the current anti-Semitism a “medieval stain” on the modern, rapidly changing world. “Let us not let this group of agitators” – those who promote anti-Semitism in Germany, “tear down 70 years of work,” he said.
Cardinal Marx, chairman of the Catholic Church’s German Bishops’ Conference, said he was “deeply shocked” at the movement to ban circumcision in Germany. “It threatens Jewish life,” he said.
The people in the crowd, not all of whom were sympathetic to the pro-Israel messages of the afternoon, had mixed reactions.
Nithia and Pnina, Israelis on vacation with their husbands, told The Jerusalem Post they were very proud and very glad to see this kind of demonstration.
“This is my first time here,” said Pnina, who didn’t want to give her last name, “and I really didn’t want to come here, but I see the warm words and I’m very proud.”
Alon Meyer, a Soviet Jew who was born in Jerusalem and lives in Berlin, was less impressed, although glad that the rally at least took place.
He showed up carrying a large Israeli flag alongside a large Ukrainian flag, and wearing a white cap with the Georgian red cross on it. “They were powerful words, and words are great, but they’re not always followed by deeds. I see these politicians often have this double standard when it comes to Israel,” Meyer said.
Dr. Julius Schoeps, a prominent German Jewish professor, told the Post that “he can count on Merkel” to combat anti-Semitism but there are question marks over the commitment of the other political and church leaders.
Levi Salomon, the spokesman of the Jewish Forum for Democracy and against anti-Semitism, told the Post, “One cannot separate Jew-hatred from hatred of Israel,” and the test of the rally will be if the people “stand up” to fight Jew-hatred tomorrow.
German President Joachim Gauck and Berlin Mayor Klaus Worweit also attended the rally.