Nearly 70 years after the Nazis' infamous 1938 pogrom against the Jews, German lawmakers reaffirmed Germany's commitment to combating anti-Semitism. But the debate revealed deep party rifts.
The number of anti-Semitic crimes in Germany has risen, according to recent statistics
Condemning anti-Semitism is something nearly all German politicians agree on, regardless of party ties. And on Tuesday, Nov. 4 -- five days prior to the anniversary of the Night of Broken Glass pogrom -- members from all parliamentary fractions signed a declaration emphasizing Germany's commitment to funding projects that counter anti-Semitism, improve education, and reduce anti-Semitic crime.
The declaration calls on the German government to commission a regular report on anti-Semitic activity and attitudes in the country. It also calls for long-term funding for projects that have proven successful in combating anti-Semitism. School curricula covering Judaism, Jewish history and modern-day Israel are to be expanded as well.
Though all parties agreed on the content of the document, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU), together with its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), refused to sign the same paper as the hard-line socialist Left party.
As a result, two identical declarations were passed -- one by the Left party and the other by the four remaining parties represented in the Bundestag. The Left Party is made up of former disaffected Social Democrats and former East German communists.
Uhl's position wasn't well received from the four other parties represented in parliament
Left accused of tolerating anti-Semitism
"It's undisputed that hidden anti-Semitism was part of the national interests of the GDR (former East Germany)," said parliamentarian Hans-Peter Uhl from the CSU. Uhl also accused the Left party of tolerating isolated anti-Semitic tendencies, which he said were evident in the party's policy toward Israel.
The CSU politician specifically named the Left party's interior affairs expert Ulla Jelpke, who he said had demonstrated against Israel together with members of the radical Shiite group Hezbollah. Jelpke was among the 11 parliamentarians who did not sign the declaration.
In the document, solidarity with Israel was said to be an inaliable tenant of the German state. "Those who take part in demonstrations where Israeli flags are burned and anti-Semitic slogans are shouted are not a partner in the fight against anti-Semitism," read the declaration.
Left party member and Deputy Parliamentary President Petra Pau slammed Uhl's statement as "forgetful of history" and "undignified." She recalled that Left party members, along with CSU representatives and others, recently participated in a protest against neo-Nazis held in Mettingen in Bavaria.
"Everyone who shows this kind of civil courage has the right to support the German parliament in their daily fight against right-wing extremism, racism, and anti-Semitism," Pau said.
Other parties disappointed at split declaration
Representatives from all other parliamentarian fractions -- the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) -- also panned Uhl's comments.
Germany pledged solidarity with Israel
Green party chief Renate Kuenast said Parliament should send a joint signal and that those with an anti-Semitic view should know that they were outside of the democratic spectrum and therefore excluded from all parties represented in the German Bundestag.
FDP-member Christian Ahrendt criticized Uhl for "petty party bickering" and referred to statistics indicating that anti-Semitic crime had risen in Germany.
According to the most recent numbers, 797 anti-Semitic crimes were committed in Germany between January and September 2008, up significantly from 716 similar crimes committed during the same period last year.
Remembering the beginning of the Holocaust
Sunday, Nov. 9, marks the 70th anniversary of the so-called Night of Broken Glass, when synagogues, Jewish-owned shops and Jewish cemeteries throughout Nazi-run Germany were damaged and destroyed. Some 400 people were killed in the mass pogrom.
Politicians across the political spectrum were united in their condemnation of the event.
The Night of Broken Glass was called a 'dress rehearsal' for the Holocaust
Gert Weisskirchen of the SPD said the pogrom was a "glimpse of the industrialized murder of human beings," adding that anti-Semitism leads to the murder of democracy and extermination of people.
Pau called the 1939 tragedy a "dress rehearsal for the Holocaust."
This Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews, are to speak at a memorial service at a synagogue in Berlin.