If ever there was a country from which mixed signals on the subject of antisemitism emanate, it is Germany. A series of antisemitic incidents shocked Germany in recent years. There were shootings at synagogues and physical attacks on Jews in broad daylight, such that they are afraid to wear any signs that point to their religion.
Rappers whose lyrics contain antisemitic references were awarded prizes; Jewish schools and community centers needed protection against neo-Nazis for decades, and from time to time, Jewish functions had to be canceled because police could not guarantee the safety of the participants.
A politician from the Alternative for Germany Party described Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe as a symbol of shame – and Jewish cemeteries are regularly desecrated. According to a poll conducted in 2012 by Liljeberg Research International, 18% of the Turks in Germany think of Jews as inferior human beings. The German newspaper Die Welt wrote in the same year that Turkish migrants are looking forward to a Muslim majority in the country.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned of rising antisemitism at a ceremony at a Cologne synagogue on February 21, 2021 marking 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany. “Jews have been instrumental in writing and shaping our history and illuminating our culture,” Steinmeier declared.
The German authorities, however, recorded 2,032 antisemitic offenses in 2019 and this figure has risen since then. All this is quite apart from the hate that is published frequently on social media.
Yet surprisingly, at least 10,000 Israelis are estimated to have moved to the German capital in the past decade, according to Tal Alon, the editor of the Berlin-based Hebrew-language magazine Spitz. It has become common to hear Hebrew spoken in the bakeries and bars of Berlin.
So what is the German government doing about antisemitism? All we hear are statements that antisemitism is unacceptable, perhaps to ease its conscience, but it has never been out of the heart of German society, claims Charlotte Knobloch, former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and vice president of the European Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress.
In Germany, only 0.13% – just over 100,000 – of the total population of more than 83 million are Jews; and were it not for the 4,500,000 Muslims, ritual slaughter and circumcision would long have been banned.
Antisemitism is very often cloaked in anti-Israel rhetoric and BDS is its practical application. During the Nazi period the slogan was “Don’t buy from Jews.” Today it’s “Don’t buy from Israel.” Unfortunately, that is what Jews are facing in Germany today.
But there is also the other side of the coin. Germany, which to this day carries the guilt of the Holocaust, has in an effort to show a total change of attitude, joined the EU in adopting the international definition of antisemitism composed by the European Union Monitoring Center, which confirms that anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism.
The Federal Republic of Germany is made up of 16 Laender (like states in the US), each with its own capital and administration headed by a minister-president equivalent to a governor, with a fair amount of autonomy.
Many of these states have already signed a joint declaration of intent with Yad Vashem to foster joint Holocaust education, research and commemoration in the framework of the existing Standing Conference of Education and Cultural Affairs of the States of the Federal Republic of that Germany signed with Yad Vashem in 2013.
The Declaration provides the basis for ongoing educational activities between Yad Vashem and the states, including educator-training seminars at Yad Vashem, as well as dialogue between German and Israeli teachers about educational practices in Israel.
At one event that took place at the German Embassy in Tel Aviv, Dietmar Woidke, minister president of the State of Brandenburg, which includes Berlin, spoke of the importance of education to eradicate the misconceptions about Jews and of Israel in particular – and that Holocaust education is the key. He stressed the unacceptable re-emergence of antisemitism in Germany and gave an assurance that he will not tolerate it in his state and that he will do his utmost to bring any perpetrators to justice.
I was impressed by what I heard, both from the various high officers of the German delegation, as well as from the accompanying journalists and I am now waiting to see if those words and sentiments are being translated into action.
Perhaps there is hope for Germany through education of the young, to show antisemitism and anti-Israel propaganda for what it is – an indoctrinatory tool for extremists to further their futile political aims.
The writer, at 97, is the oldest active Journalist and Radio Show host in the world. He hosts the weekly ‘Walter’s World’ on Israel National Radio and ‘The Walter Bingham File’ on Israel Newstalk Radio File’