The truth about anti-Semitism in Germany

Regardless of the country, anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism; but still, in Germany, it hurts a bit more.

November 11, 2013 21:17
3 minute read.
Roonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne.

Roonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ina Fassbender )


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Two weeks ago German public television broadcast a film titled Anti-Semitism today – how hostile is Germany? 1.6 million people watched the 50-minute-documentary – not very many in a country of 82 million.

A few newspapers wrote about it, and not a single political leader commented on it.

Public outrage? Not at all.

And yet the film revealed some shocking details about German society that should indeed have raised a discussion. Anti-Semitism, it showed, is by no means only a problem among poorly educated, socially disadvantaged right-wing extremists in East Germany.

Anti-Semitism, as sad as it sounds, is fairly common and widely accepted in many parts of German society. However, since it is mostly subtle anti-Semitism, hardly anybody admits or even realizes it.

Is it anti-Semitic if a member of the German parliament calls Israel an apartheid state? Is it anti-Semitic if the popular opposition party “The Greens,” that won some eight percent of the votes in the recent national elections, calls to label Israeli products from the settlements? Is it anti-Semitic if German journalist Jakob Augstein, a member of the left-liberal intelligentsia and a frequent guest on television talk shows, claims that “the Netanyahu government keeps the world on a leash”? Many people in Germany would indignantly say: No, this is normal criticism of certain political issues – not realizing or not willing to realize their lack of sensitivity and historical awareness.

Criticizing Israel, that’s for sure, is a “must” among left-wing German intellectuals, and quite often it is not easy to figure out whether their ignorance of the fine line between criticism of the Israeli government and a hostile attitude towards the Jewish people is accidental or on purpose.

Equally problematic remarks have repeatedly been heard from the right-wing side of the political spectrum in Germany, especially among older generations. The topics might be different, but the attitude behind is very much the same: prejudice, stereotypes, lack of awareness.

Is it anti-Semitism that among those who were born in the 1940s or earlier, more than a few claim the beginning of the Shoah “should be seen in the context of society,” fantasizing about “rich Jewish clans” who “ruined poor Germans with extortionate rates of interest”? Is it anti-Semitic if a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, CDU , remarks with regard to Poland’s role in World War II that the country “mobilized its forces already in March 1939” and thus several months before Germany? Many German citizens would probably say such comments are negligible and should be ignored. And besides, they would argue, after over 65 years, it is time to stop blaming the Germans anyway. Some would not even be ashamed to state that Germany payed millions of Euros in reparations, and that the Jewish people have benefited immensely from playing the victim card.

The most obvious and most aggressive form of anti-Semitism in Germany can be viewed among the Turkish and Arab population, that makes up round about 10% in the capital Berlin and 2-4 million nationwide.

Is it anti-Semitic if “Jew” is a popular word among Muslim youths when they want to insult or offend someone? Is it anti-Semitic if the German-Tunisian hip hop star Bushido, who regularly storms the charts with his albums, posts a picture of a Middle East map without Israel via Twitter? And last but not least, what about the rabbi who walked down a street in Berlin wearing a kippah and got brutally attacked by “Mediterranean -looking youths,” as the police, in an embarrassing attempt to be politically correct, claimed? Was that, finally, an attack that everyone, regardless of the political spectrum, would call anti-Semitic? A new survey conducted among Jews of nine European countries has just found that one in five Jewish citizens experienced an anti-Semitic attack in the past 12 months. 29 percent have already considered emigrating due to increasing hostility.

So, deductively one could say that the situation in France, the UK and other EU countries is not much better than in Germany.

Hatred is hatred, prejudice is prejudice.

Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism, regardless of the country. But still, in Germany, it hurts a bit more.

The author is an editor and reporter for the German daily newspaper BILD.

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