Migrants enter bus, which is supposed to leave to Austria and Germany, in Budapest, Hungary, September 4, 2015..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Germany has recognized the critical importance of “mainstreaming” the more than one million mostly Muslim migrants to which it has opened its borders. Berlin is committing some €50 billion for the integration of new arrivals.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel is betting more than billions of euros. She is betting that German society’s values will be embraced by millions of newcomers: that immigrants can be taught to embrace democratic values, learn to show respect for other religions and non-believers; that women will be respected as fellow citizens, not as objects of sexual intimidation or worse.
These issues continue to spark debate across Germany and throughout the EU. Anti-immigrant parties are making significant inroads with worried voters skeptical that their societies can handle the multitudes arriving with profoundly differing worldviews.
Wiesenthal Center officials will soon visit Berlin to raise an additional concern: what steps are being taken to deconstruct extreme anti-Jewish prejudices and anti-Israel animus which pervade Arab and Muslim societies and that many migrants are bringing to their new European homes? We already know that doing nothing is a prescription for disaster.
Successive French governments did virtually nothing as toxic anti-Semitism from young French Muslims escalated out-of-control. French leaders made no demands on Muslims to stop the hate before words escalated into hate crimes and terrorism. In the UK, the stench of anti-Semitism from politicians pandering to Muslim voters mars the once-respected Labour Party.
Authorities in Sweden’s third largest city of Malmo have never convicted anyone for hundreds of anti-Semitic hate crimes and threats emanating from the Muslim migrant community.
The lessons of Amsterdam’s iconic Anne Frank House have been forgotten as online hate, extremist imams and social apathy fuel the bigotry of young, disaffected Muslims. Everywhere in Europe looms the threat of repetitions of the terrorist murders of innocent Jews in Paris, Toulouse, Brussels and Copenhagen.
Despite these bloody warning signs, there is little to indicate that European leaders recognize that mainstreaming of newcomers must include programs to take on anti-Jewish hate. According to a Pew poll, over 90 percent of the population of the Muslim countries sometimes harbor anti-Semitic prejudices, as well as associated prejudices against women’s freedoms and gays.
Germany and the Jews stand as a category of their own. Chancellor Merkel, a proven friend of our people, never shirks from speaking about her nation’s historic responsibilities associated with the genocidal legacy of the Third Reich. Germany has worked hard to revitalize Jewish life; the Jewish population is now over 120,000 and synagogues and Jewish schools and cultural institutions dot the country.
The constitution has extended protections against prejudice and discrimination to Jews and other minorities.
IN WAKE of the Charlie Hebdo/Hyper Kasher murders, Chancellor Merkel called out fanatic Islamist anti-Semitism at the Bundestag: “In the terrible hours, during which Paris and the French suffered between Wednesday afternoon and Friday afternoon last week, the subject was two of the great evils of our time, which not always, but often, go hand in hand: murderous Islamist terrorism and anti-Semitism – the hatred of Jews....”
Merkel has also said that anti-Semitism is “more widespread” in Germany than some believe and that action is needed to “deal with it – especially among young people... from countries where hatred of Israel and the hatred of Jews is widespread.”
But such words, even when uttered by a chancellor, are not enough to change deeply embedded beliefs among Muslims or awaken the apathy among Germans toward anti-Semitism.
In recent years there has been little pushback on the local level when extreme anti-Israel and anti-Jewish actions flared.
Observers visiting German refugee centers have reported walls covered with anti-Semitic graffiti in Arabic and maps of Israel redrawn in the colors of the Palestinian flag. Even before the new wave of arrivals, genocidal chants against Jews were heard on the streets of Berlin and Frankfurt during the last Gaza war. Police took no action. Frankfurt Jews quit an interfaith council over its failure to condemn extreme anti-Israel statements by Muslim imams. In the Ruhr city of Wuppertal, the 2,000-member Jewish community were enraged after a court gave only a probationary sentence to three Palestinians who threw a gasoline bomb at the local synagogue in 2014.
THE MOST recent failure to (re) act comes from Bremen, which has become a hub for the extremist Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Bremen’s Evangelical church refused to take action against Pastor Volker Keller, even after he declared himself an “anti-Semite.” Bremen Chief Rabbi Netanel Teitelbaum led a protest against Volker, whose NGO, Nord-Bremer Citizens Against War, demonstrates in front of stores calling for Germans to not buy products from Israel. Stunningly, Volker continued to serve on Bremen’s Council for Migrant Absorption whose focus is supposed to be “mainstreaming” newcomers from Muslim-majority societies. (Under pressure Volker finally resigned his post on May 26.)
Chancellor Merkel’s government has presented a new plan to deal with Middle Eastern newcomers that includes penalties for anyone failing to attend language and integration courses. CDU Bundestag member Jens Spahn argued these measures are critical since many migrants come from countries where “there are big cultural differences when it comes to the division of religion and state, the equality of women and attitudes towards gays and Jews, as well as the use of violence when solving conflict....”
One can only hope that Germany’s plan will succeed where France, Belgium and Scandinavia have utterly failed. The future of the European democracies, Western values and of Europe’s Jews may well hang in the balance.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.