Germany, do more

This isn’t some kind of hassidic tale about a miracle – there was a clear, material reason the synagogue was left unscathed, and that is because it was protected.

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October 10, 2019 22:48
3 minute read.
Germany, do more

Flowers and candles are seen outside the synagogue in Halle, Germany October 10, 2019, after two people were killed in a shooting. (photo credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH)

The attacker who tried to break into the synagogue of the small Jewish community of Halle, Germany, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year and the day on which synagogues are usually the fullest, took the lives of two people nearby. All the worshipers, however, were safe, and a tragedy on a much greater scale was averted.
 
This isn’t some kind of hassidic tale about a miracle – there was a clear, material reason the synagogue was left unscathed, and that is because it was protected.
 
While streaming his actions live online, the killer railed against feminists and immigrants, saying “the root of all these problems is the Jew.” He then tried to burst into the synagogue, and failing to enter, shot a woman passing by. He once again attempted to enter the synagogue, including by shooting at the door – a reinforced entrance paid for by the Jewish Agency, according to KAN – and only after that failed did he get back into his car and begin shooting at people in and near a kebab shop.
 
This was the worst of several antisemitic attacks against Jews in Germany in recent weeks, including a Syrian refugee with a knife attempting to enter a Berlin synagogue while screaming “Allahu Akbar.” Last week, the trial of neo-Nazis planning an attack in Berlin began.
 
Antisemitism continues to rear its head in Germany, a place where 74 years after the end of World War II, the government has a special responsibility to spare no expense to quash anti-Jewish trends and attacks. Yet many German Jews feel unsafe on the streets of their hometowns.
 
It has long been the norm in Germany for synagogues, Jewish schools and even some Jewish-owned restaurants to have armed guards outside. In 2018, there was a 20% spike in antisemitic incidents in Germany. Official records state that most came from the extreme Right, including neo-Nazi groups, which the gunman – identified as 27-year-old Stephan Ballie – seems to have followed.
Such attacks have reportedly grown in popularity in eastern Germany, where Halle is located. That same year, 85% of German Jews polled by the EU said they found antisemitism to be a big problem, more than half said they had experienced antisemitism in the past five years, and a plurality of those said it came from Muslim extremists.
 
One German Jewish woman, Daphra Dreifuss, wrote on Twitter after the Halle attack that she generally feels safe and at home in Germany: “But on days like this...my feeling of safety is deeply shaken, and I can’t stop thinking about whether back in the ’30s, I would have been one of those Jews in Germany who stayed believing that everything would turn out fine.”
 
That German Jews have to be asking themselves the question Dreifuss asked in 2019 should shame the country’s leadership.
Earlier this year, Felix Klein, a German federal official responsible for combating antisemitism, recommended that Jews not wear kippot everywhere in public. Some shrugged it off as practical advice; certainly many Jews around the world do not wear a kippa in public for their safety.
 
But many pointed out that a German government official telling Jews to hide their identity, 75 years after the Holocaust, is a badge of shame.
 
There seems to be a cultural shift on the fringes of German society that needs to be addressed. Studies show that the far-right has grown empowered in recent years with the rise of the AfD party and related trends throughout the Western world. The growing Muslim refugee population is also more likely to hold antisemitic views than others in Germany. This must be countered.
 
As for physical protection and law enforcement, posting policemen outside Jewish institutions is not enough. German police have faced criticism over their complacency in the face of hate crimes. They need to take more decisive action against domestic terrorism by neo-Nazis and Islamists. The man who attacked the synagogue in Berlin last week, for example, was let free several hours later.
The attack in Halle, 170 kilometers southwest of Berlin, should be a wake-up call for German authorities to take more action to educate their population and to show  them that antisemitism is unacceptable. Now is the time to take action before it’s too late. Next time, the door might not stop the attacker. 


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