STICKERS WITH the words ‘Merkel must go’ lie on the pavement during a protest in Berlin..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Will the December 19 Berlin terrorist attack be a game changer for Europe and Germany? The first question is easy to answer. The European Union is a far from a uniform society. A terrorist attack in Germany, France or Belgium does not impact very significantly on the population’s mood in other countries. As far as Germany is concerned, a radical change in attitudes can most probably be achieved only over a longer period with many more incidents.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has shown great perseverance against strong opposition in her welcome policies toward refugees. The terrorist attack in Berlin by the Tunisian Anis Amri, in which 12 people died and 48 were wounded, is one in a chain of violent incidents, several of which the open-border policy has facilitated.
These included an attack in July in Munich by a German-Iranian, killing nine. The earlier major incidents were the mass sexual attacks on women in Cologne and a series of other German cities on New Year’s Eve 2016. There were also other murders and a series of thwarted attacks as well as arrests of terrorist attack planners.
One arrest concerned a Muslim radical in the German secret service.
To assess the game changing aspect of the Berlin murders, one might remember how long it took before the US changed attitudes after September 11, 2001, with its almost 3,000 deaths. Nowadays, Donald Trump’s stereotyping in his anti-Muslim positions is also a long-term impact of 9/11 and a number of other Islam-motivated killings.
In the past year, I had bizarre experiences when lecturing to German groups visiting Israel. I was regularly asked whether I could explain what had motivated Merkel’s open-border policy and her claim of, “We will manage” (Wir schaffen das).
The visitors said that they had not been able to find any logic in her policies.
I then repeated the three possible motivations which I had published in September 2015, shortly after Merkel announced her refugee welcoming policies. Today we can see that the policies resulting from all three motivations have failed, and may have even been counterproductive.
• The first reason I gave was that Merkel was seeking to offer the ultimate proof that Germany has changed, and that the new Germany has totally distanced itself from the image created by Nazism.
In sharp contrast to the country which expelled or murdered those it defined as outsiders, the new Germany intended to offer a warm welcome to third world immigrants.
A major consequence of the refugee influx has, however, been the increase in right-wing incitement as well as the rapid rise of the anti-Islam AfD Party. In all polls before the Berlin murders, it was found to be the third-largest German party. It polls at 10-15%, well above the Greens and the Left Party, and far above the old, established liberal FDP. Furthermore, an increasing majority of Germans believe that integration of the refugees will fail.
• The second probable reason I gave for the welcome policy was Germany’s low birthrate. Without immigration the country’s population is expected to decline from the current 81 million. This will leave a dearth of able-bodied young people who are needed in the workforce and to take care of the previous generation.
We don’t know how many refugees have reached Germany since September 2015, partly because far from all are registered, but estimates are at over one million. It is not clear whether the overall benefits to the country of those brought in will exceed the problems that some of them will cause.
• The third reason I gave was that Merkel’s mentor, the former Christian Democrat chancellor Helmut Kohl, went down in history due to his courageous decision to unify East and West Germany.
Merkel had a remarkable career as a chancellor since 2005. Being reelected twice, she, however, had not yet had that one outstanding act which put her into the nation’s history. Most probably, due to the future destructive results of her refugee policy, she will indeed go into history, but negatively rather than positively.
A short time after the Berlin murders, many suggestions for remedying the situation come up. A few are: better integration policies, strengthening the intelligence services, putting more CCTV cameras in the public domain, enlarging the police force and giving it better equipment as well as more political backing.
Two issues, however, stand out, where Germany should learn from both the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump – the need to control its borders and to have as few illegals staying as possible. To achieve this, the current Schengen open borders agreement with 25 other EU countries will have to be abandoned or drastically limited.
Usually, the Jews are the first ones to feel the negative impact of large immigration from Muslim countries with high percentages of antisemites. What then happens to them is often a looking glass for what is going to happen to others.
These worries were expressed both by German- Jewish leaders and by some Jewish commentators abroad. Yet, in this case, it has not happened. Unlike in France and in Belgium, the Jews in Germany were not the first to be hit. The attacks in Cologne and the various terrorist murders including those of Munich and Berlin were random ones. They did not target Jews first but Germans at large. One will have to wait and see whether this is the beginning of a trend.Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.