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Germany

Germany's Jewish Community Under Threat?

As anti-Semitic violence sweeps across Europe, Germany, home to a large Jewish as well as Arab population, steps up security in an effort to fend off potential violence. But stray incidents still persist.

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Germany will hope to avoid scenes such as this one in Marseille, southern France last week.

The gleaming golden dome of the historic new synagogue in the Oranienburgerstrasse in Berlin is visible for miles around and is an orientation point for tourists who frequent the district of Mitte.

But in recent weeks, this seemingly peaceful structure has begun to resemble a fortress from close quarters as armed policemen and barricades have sealed it off from impending trouble.

Even the famous Jewish cafè Oren in the Oranienburgerstrasse is being fiercely guarded like a prison.

The spiralling tension between Arabs and Israelis in the Middle East has already spilled over into western European countries, most notably France and Belgium.

Jewish cemeteries, synagogues, memorials and institutions are increasingly under attack as a wave of anti-Semitism rolls once more into Europe.

Germany susceptible to conflict

The German government is taking no chances.

Apart from a large Jewish community, the German capital alone is home to some 10,000 Palestinians.

It’s a potential flash-point for conflict as an incident on Easter Sunday showed. Two 21-year-old bearded New Yorkers were attacked by a group of men, with what German police describe as "southern features" on one of Berlin’s most trendy commercial avenues, the Kurfürstendamm. The group identified the two youths as orthodox Jews from their black and white clothes.

In another incident, a swastika was painted on a Jewish memorial in Berlin on early Tuesday last week.

Though isolated incidents of desecration of Jewish sites and anti-fascist memorials are not uncommon in Germany, events in the Middle East have struck real fear of reprisals among Jews living in Germany.

Not just right-wing extremists

Hamas Aktivist in Palästina

A masked Palestinian gunman from the militant Islamic group Hamas stands guard during a funeral for a Hamas member killed during a gunbattle with Israeli troops el-Bourrej, south of Gaza City, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2002. After losing 13 soldiers in the past week, Israel is changing its military tactics to deal with what it views as a guerrilla war, as violence raged on with 22 Palestinians killed in a day of clashes that continued into Thursday. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The difference now is that German police must now look for the culprits of hate crimes against Jews not just among right-wing radical and extremist groups, but among militant Muslims too.

German police estimate that there are several militant Islamic groups operational in Germany.

At the Palestinian demonstration on the Kurfürstendamm on Easter Sunday, an American and an Israeli flag was burnt – clear signs of radicalism according to the police.

They believe that several members of the terror organisations Hamas and Hisbollah were among the demonstrators on Sunday.

The 2000 report of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution estimates that around 250 Hamas and 700 Hisbollah members are active in Germany.

The report says that especially at mass and demonstrations, radical Palestinians collect money for the Intifada. Security officials believe that the donation money amounts to more than a 100,000 euro annually.

German security forces are especially concerned about young Palestinian youths in Germany watching the violent images of the Middle East on television every evening. They believe that these youths are particularly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and susceptible to being drawn into the conflict.

Moishe Waks, speaker of the Jewish community in Berlin was reported as saying, "We’re now threatened from two corners – Arabs and Right-wing extremists. In other words that means, we’re seeing a mixture of anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism here".

Germany toughens security measures

Following the attacks on Jewish establishments in France and Belgium, German Interior Minister Otto Schily asked state authorities to step up protection of Jews and Jewish sites.

Otto Schily

German Interior Minister Otto Schily prior to the cabinet meeting in the Berlin Chancellery Wednesday, Jan.23, 2002. Germany«s highest court suspended hearings on Tuesday, Jan.22, planned next month on whether to outlaw the far-right party NPD accused of fanning racist sentiment as the domestic secret service had an undercover agent in the presidency of party. (AP Photo/Fritz Reiss)

In a statement Schily said, "At present there is no concrete evidence of a planned attack in Germany. Federal and local governments are alert all the same. Naturally we are doing everything to assure the safety of Jewish and Israeli fellow citizens and their institutions."

Many of Germany’s significant Jewish sites are guarded by armed policemen, barricades and armoured vehicles.

Michel Friedman, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said the conflict in the Middle East was a matter for Israel and the Arab countries to resolve and was no excuse for anti-Semitism.

"To extend this to include all Jews shows the true, grotesque face of fanatical Islamists, who ultimately want to dump Israel in the sea and see Judaism as public enemy number one", he said.

Demonstration of solidarity in Frankfurt

To drive the point home, the Central Council of Jews will declare its solidarity towards Israel in front of the Saint Paul’s Church in Frankfurt on Wednesday evening.

The Council expects about 2000 people to turn up. The President of the Central Council of Jews, Paul Spiegel, the Israeli diplomat Shimon Stein and the German Interior Minister Otto Schily are expected to speak at the demonstration, whose motto is "Against Terror – For Peace".

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