Eighty-one years ago today – February 10, 1936 – in Hitler’s Germany, the Gestapo was created by the unification of the police and the SS. This was to become the supreme police agency. Nazi Germany gave exclusive rights to the Gestapo to make arrests and be completely independent of the courts.
It is somewhat disturbing to learn of what is happening in the Germany of today. While Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union party have stated categorically that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel is blatant antisemitism, a recent Jerusalem Post article by Benjamin Weinthal highlighted a Wuppertal city court decision last month that shows the opposite to be true.
The court found that Mohammad E., Ismail A. and Muhammad A. were responsible for the torching of the synagogue in Wuppertal, yet this act was not considered antisemitic. Rather (in the words of the judiciary), it was an act “to clearly draw attention to the blazing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians” during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. The court handed down suspended sentences to the three men.
Several days prior to the torching of the synagogue, one of its walls was sprayed with “Free Palestine.”
THE ORIGINAL synagogue of Wuppertal was burned by the Germans in November 1938 on Kristallnacht – a night my husband remembers vividly. As the child of the rabbi of the Bamberg congregation, he witnessed the burning of their synagogue. Kristallnacht saw the torching of more than 250 synagogues throughout Germany. In addition, some 7,000 Jewish schools and homes were looted as the police and the fire brigade stood by – concerned only that the neighboring properties belonging to non-Jews should not catch fire or be looted. My husband’s father was taken from his home by the Gestapo, together with all the Jewish men of the community, to the Dachau concentration camp.
It is now 72 years since the end of World War II and we are witnessing the intensification of antisemitism throughout the world. For the first 50 years or so following the war, there appeared to be a hiatus – possibly due to a (justifiable) sense of guilt for the genocide of six million Jews for no other reason than they were Jews. This period has now passed.
While antisemitic incidents in Germany have doubled in the last year, in Britain, too, there was a disturbing increase in occurrences of antisemitism in the same period. The just released Community Security Trust report on antisemitism in 2016 shows some 1,309 hate incidents – an increase of 36% over the figures recorded for 2015. Seventy-eight percent of these incidents took place in Greater London and Greater Manchester – the two largest Jewish communities in the UK.
The CST report noted 813 anti-Semitic incidents in Greater London, a rise of 65% from the 494 incidents of 2015. The Borough of Barnet, with the largest Jewish community of any local authority in the UK, accounted for a third of the 813 incidents. It came as no surprise, therefore, to read in London’s Evening Standard
about North London areas where “Heil Hitler” is painted on walls, where bricks covered in antisemitic graffiti are thrown through windows of Jewish homes and Jews are physically and verbally attacked while walking the streets of Edgware and Mill Hill.
Referencing the difference between antisemitic incidents and anti-Israel activity, the CST’s view is that the distinction can be subtle “but it cannot be ignored that contemporary antisemitism can occur in the context of, or be accompanied by, extreme feelings over the Israel/Palestine conflict.”
The above quote is especially relevant to the situation on university campuses. Here antisemitism is cloaked in anti-Zionist rhetoric and emanates from both the political and academic Right and Left. Whereas antisemitism of the past originated from the extreme Right, today it is seen as coming from the Left in equal proportions.
Alex Chalmers, co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club, resigned from his position a year ago because of the club’s decision to endorse Israel Apartheid Week 2016. Chalmers accused members of the club’s executive of “throwing around the term ‘Zio’” (a term for Jews usually confined to websites run by anti-Jewish extremists), stressing that anti-Israel feeling and anti-Zionism have become mechanisms for expressing antisemitism. In addition, senior members of the club express solidarity with Hamas, while a former co-chair claims that “most accusations of antisemitism are crying wolf.”
Chalmers believes that a high proportion of members of the OULC and the student Left in Oxford generally have some kind of problem with Jews. That it has taken a year for the Labour Party National Executive to decide (as it did on January 17) that the investigation into antisemitism by two members of the club should be terminated without any disciplinary action, speaks volumes. The Union of Jewish Students slammed the nixing of the probe, calling it “disgraceful.”
I spoke with UJS’s communications officer, Hannah Sharon, who explained how UJS is trying, through the Oxford Jewish Society, to encourage the OULC to become more “Jewish student-friendly” which, she admitted, is quite a challenge.
The 13th Israel Apartheid Week is set to take place on campuses worldwide this spring. Sharon said that when this event took place last year, the UJS organized a counter- campaign named “Building Bridges Week” with the participation of 6,000 Jewish and non-Jewish students. This bold initiative successfully engaged students in constructive conversations that recognize the complexities of the conflict and enabled Jewish students to contribute constructively to the Israel-Palestine conversation. The focus was on educating the students about the challenges, on both sides, toward a just and lasting peace. Plans are in hand to organize a similar event to run concurrently with the 2017 “Israel Apartheid Week.”
A second UJS initiative that has been operating for some five years is the annual Manhigut (Leadership) Mission to Israel. Last December a group of 14 students (including two J-Soc presidents) from across the UK participated on this “access-all-areas” trip to Israel. The visit included a day dedicated to exploring the West Bank. In Ramallah, the students visited the Al-Amari refugee camp and the Yasser Arafat Museum, meeting representatives of Fatah Youth. The participants also met with Israeli communities living on the borders with Israel’s enemies.
The aim of this seven-day venture is to equip the students with the personal experience of seeing and learning for themselves of the reality confronting Israel surrounded, as it is, with those committed to its destruction. According to Sharon, it has proven to be an excellent way of producing student leaders able to combat the caustic anti-Israel rhetoric. They are now able to say “I have been there and seen for myself.” Antisemitism has two faces – the first is the “traditional” attack on a Jew for being a Jew. The second, far more insidious, is anti-Zionism – or it’s okay to be anti-Israel.
This new antisemitism places a grave responsibility on our Jewish students. It is they who are on the front line and it is their success – or otherwise – in combating this new/old hatred that will ultimately contribute toward our situation tomorrow. ■ The writer is active in public affairs and is also public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.