German President Steinmeier discusses anti-Semitism with Shiite Muslim leaders | News | DW | 30.04.2018
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German President Steinmeier discusses anti-Semitism with Shiite Muslim leaders

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier asked the Shiite leaders what their communities were doing to fight hostility against Jews. The conversation took place amid fears of rising anti-Semitism in Germany.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier asked Shiite Muslim representatives on Monday how they were handling growing anti-Semitism in Germany.

In a meeting with leaders from the Islamic Association of Shiite Congregations in Germany (IGS) at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Steinmeier expressed his concerns over rising hostility toward Jews from all aspects of society, including Muslims.

"Anti-Semitism in Germany isn't primarily a Muslim problem, but it is also seen more strongly among Muslims," the president said, according to those present at the meeting.

Read more: How should Germany deal with Islamic anti-Semitism?

His statement was part of a broader conversation focused on concerns over rising anti-Semitism in Germany and to what extent the sentiments are expressed by segments of Germany's Muslim minority population. Debate on the issues has grown louder in recent weeks following a recent attack by a young Syrian man on two men wearing traditional Jewish skullcaps and the cancelation of Germany's ECHO music awards in a controversy over anti-Semitic lyrics.

The new commissioner for anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, has pointed to police statistics indicating that 90 percent of anti-Semitic crimes are committed by extreme right-wing individuals. However, he has also promised to look into worries of Muslim anti-Semitism expressed by Jews in Germany.

Read more: How Germany's anti-Semitism commissioner plans to fight hatred

According to a spokesperson from IGS, the Shiite group's representatives presented Steinmeier with various project plans aimed at fighting extremism.

A muslim woman puts a kippa on over her veil (picture-alliance/dpa/J. Meyer)

Muslims donned the kippa, a Jewish skullcap, while taking part in recent demonstrations against anti-Semitism in Berlin

Steinmeier meeting with Shiites criticized

Steinmeier spoke to IGS leaders as part of a series of meetings he is holding with representatives from Germany's various religions. The president previously met with representatives with the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches, as well as with Jewish representatives.

Non-governmental organizations criticized Steinmeier for meeting with IGS representatives. The groups argue that the IGS is close to the Iranian government. Shiite Islam, a branch of the religion, is the official religion of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Ahead of Monday's meeting, Germany's daily Bild reported that officials from the country's domestic intelligence service described the IGS as an organization that was "founded or infiltrated by extremists or according to their initiatives."

The IGS represents around 150 Shiite communities in Germany or around 280,000 Shiite Muslims, the presidential office said. According to the Interior Ministry, Shiites make up only 7 percent of Muslims in Germany.

The topics of Steinmeier's conversation with the IGS also included integration and the influence of foreign countries on religious life in Germany.

Read more: Study — German schools need more Islamic religion classes

A key message of the president's meetings is that religious fanaticism as well as extremism endangers Germany's constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom.

Last week, Steinmeier spoke with representatives from Sunni communities. He is expected to meet with representatives from liberal Islam communities in the future.

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Berliners take a stand against anti-Semitism

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