People wear kippas at a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue denouncing an antisemitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018.
(photo credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)
It was not just moral indignation that propelled Angela Merkel to denounce last week’s attack on a kippa-wearing young man in Berlin, though there was undoubtedly that as well.
Merkel is vividly aware that each terrorist attack, each sexual assault, each antisemitic incident perpetrated by a Muslim immigrant in her country instantly translates into an indictment of her liberal immigration policy.
In September’s election, Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats, the “grand coalition” that ran Germany for the previous four years, suffered their worst results since the creation of the Federal Republic in 1949. So did the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union.
The parties’ decline coincided with the rise of the right-wing nationalist Alternative for Deutschland, which received almost 13% of the vote. Not since the Deutsche Rechtspartei, or German Right Party, did it in 1949, has a hard-right party received enough votes to enter the Bundestag. This achievement in keeping the hard Right out was largely attributable to Germany’s aggressive reckoning with its Nazi past.
Yet Germany’s immigration crisis has enabled the AfD to ride a wave of discontent among voters with Merkel’s grand coalition and its immigration policies.
Germans are understandably feeling overwhelmed by the influx of around a million Muslim immigrants in recent years. Of particular concern is the fear that too many Muslim immigrants bring with them an Islamist ideology that justifies violence, such as the 2016 truck ramming in a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 and wounded 56, and the mass sexual assaults against about 1,200 German women on New Year’s Eve 2016 in Cologne, and attacks against Jews on the streets of the country’s largest cities.
It was in the wake of the Christmas and New Year’s Eve attacks that AfD’s popularity swelled and CDU’s dropped.
Merkel vowed that her government would respond “with full force and resolve” against expressions of antisemitism. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted that “Jews shall never again feel threatened here.”
The irony is that if Merkel’s grand coalition fails to convince Germans that it is adopting a more reasonable immigration policy and that it is protecting German citizens – including Jews – from immigrant violence, the AfD, which is not just anti-immigration and anti-Muslim platform, but also opposed to German’s purported self-flagellation over its Nazi past, could rise in popularity and set loose right-wing antisemitism that makes life for Germany’s Jews even more unpleasant than it already is.
A large turnout at a mass rally in Berlin protesting the attack on the kippa-wearing youth would send an important message. A demonstration of solidarity in which thousands of non-Jewish Germans wear kippot alongside Jews is a powerful statement against antisemitism.
But such demonstrations have only a temporary impact. The immigration crisis, and Merkel’s treatment of it, is crucial to the fight against antisemitism. It would not be an exaggeration to say that combating antisemitism in Germany, whether of the right-wing, left-wing or Islamist version, hinges on the continued success of moderate parties like Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats. And success depends on adopting a more reasonable immigration policy.
Merkel has succeeded in remaining chancellor for 12 years in part thanks to her ability to co-opt the policies of her political opponents, which has the effect of dampening their appeal and increasing her own.
But immigration appears to be Merkel’s blind spot.
Abandoning her characteristic pragmatism, she seems to have been overcome by a laudable, but unrealistic, desire to erase Germany’s past mistakes by showing a boundless magnanimity toward Muslim refugees and asylum-seekers.
Merkel has the very best of intentions. Germany’s economy is strong. The stability of the European Union, a bulwark against extremism, nationalistic chauvinism and Russian expansionism, depends on Germany. It would be tragic if Merkel allowed the immigration crisis to be her downfall. And it would be a tragedy not just for Germany’s Jews but for the entire EU project.
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