A ray of hope amid rampant antisemitism - opinion

Last week US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made clear in an address to the American Jewish Committee “combating antisemitism abroad… is the job of the entire State Department."

 Demonstrators take part in protests outside a meeting of the National Executive of Britain's Labour Party which will discuss the party's definition of antisemitism, in London (photo credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS)
Demonstrators take part in protests outside a meeting of the National Executive of Britain's Labour Party which will discuss the party's definition of antisemitism, in London
(photo credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS)

Last week, authorities in Hamburg found swastikas painted on the ancient Altona cemetery. Also, this month, perpetrators who are still at large desecrated 16 Jewish headstones at a cemetery in Köthen in Saxony-Anhalt.

These disturbing incidents follow a May report from the German Federal Ministry of the Interior. The annual report documents 3,027 antisemitic attacks across Germany in 2021. Germany has identified that 2,552 of the cases (84%) were attributed to right-wing neo-Nazi ideology. This included 64 violent crimes and 51 incidents resulting in physical injury.

Unfortunately, this is a 28% increase from 2020. This rise in hate crimes is not limited to Germany. Indeed, across Europe and the United States similar statistics should alarm those in government and everyday community leaders.

Similar to the way in which the American FBI has monitored the exponential rise in the US of antisemitic and other hate crimes, these disturbing irrefutable data points come from local police forces reporting to the Federal Criminal Police Office.

As the world will clearly be reminded during US President Joe Biden’s trip, Germany is a critical ally of the US. Its innovative free market economy and commitment to fostering democratic values at home and abroad are a beacon for the entire world.

Nicola Beer, Vice-President & Chair of the Working Group Against Antisemitism in the European Parliament (credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)Nicola Beer, Vice-President & Chair of the Working Group Against Antisemitism in the European Parliament (credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)

Since the end of World War II, first in West Germany and now three decades into a unified Germany, there has been a fervent commitment to learning the lessons of the Holocaust. Fellow NATO allies – including the United States – can continue to learn from Germany’s whole of society commitment to combating antisemitism.

Blinken's promise to combat antisemitism 

FORTUNATELY, LAST week US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made clear in an address to the American Jewish Committee “combating antisemitism abroad… is the job of the entire State Department, one that we – and I – take very seriously.” He pledged to work to “tackle the alarming rise in antisemitism around the world.”

This echoes sentiments that newly sworn-in US Ambassador Amy Gutmann has often repeated. Her father fled Feuchtwangen, Bavaria in 1934 and raised her to understand “the importance of standing up strongly against all forms of hatred, bigotry, and discrimination.”

In January, Biden appointed seven new commissioners to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. This is the one arm of the US government singularly tasked with identifying and preserving cemeteries such as those attacked last week.

On the eve of a new dawn in Central and Eastern Europe, Congress drafted legislation to enact the commission. Former president Ronald Reagan subsequently signed it into law. Starting in 1990, Congress has appropriated funds for the commission.

In an age when creative public diplomacy to combat malicious narratives is ever important, the commission website and social media remains idle. Indeed, none of President Biden’s commissioners are even listed on the website even though they were appointed six months ago.

The commission should immediately work with German local, state and federal officials to remedy the attacks on the Hamburg and Köthen cemeteries. Furthermore, the commission should use the power of social media for innovative multilingual public diplomacy to inoculate against future desecrations. The new chairwoman, Star Jones, is no stranger to diverse media outlets. She should regularly be on broadcast media across Europe echoing Blinken.

In 2020, in a much needed example of bipartisanship, Congress adopted the Never Again Education Act, which expands the US Holocaust Memorial Museum education programming to teachers nationwide, requiring the museum to develop and disseminate resources to improve awareness and understanding of the Holocaust and its lessons. Currently, only 20 states require schools to educate students about the Holocaust.

In January, Biden made 12 new appointments to oversee the museum’s operations. Innovative education programming across diverse American schools must be top on the list of priorities.

Russian invasion of Ukraine

Four days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke of a Zeitenwende – a turning point in history. Since then, the term has been used repeatedly as a national dialogue in Germany has taken root. These historic times in world history have led to a larger discussion in Washington and other allied capitals.

As diverse Germans in an increasingly complicated Europe ponder a revitalized transatlantic relationship, combating violent antisemitism and other religiously motivated hate crimes must remain prominent on the agenda.

Indeed, this would be a ray of hope in these dark days – “ein Lichtblick in dunklen Tagen.”

The writer is author of Paths of the Righteous, recently released by Gefen Publishing House.