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Germany

Jews Demand Better Protection of Synagogues in Germany

The Jewish human rights organization Simon-Wiesenthal Center has called on Germany to ban demonstrations by extremist groups in front of synagogues and houses of worship.

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Protest by Germany's far-right NPD party. Hate crimes and anti-semitism are a growing concern for Germany

Earlier this week representatives from the Simon-Wiesenthal Center met with Germany’s Interior Minister Otto Schily to discuss a ban on right-wing demonstrations in front of synagogues and to improve the protection of religious buildings from hate crimes.

According to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the international human rights organization, Germany’s troubled history requires that it take an active role in a European-wide discussion and legislation of laws designed to protect religious minorities.

"We did not come here to tell Germans what to do," Cooper told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday. "But we decided there was a need to gain more protection for religious minorities here in Europe."

German public officials have long been in favor of a ban on extremist protests in sensitive areas, such as near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin or in the vicinity of houses of worship.

They say that media coverage of Neo-Nazis marching near prominent landmarks sends the wrong message and hurts Germany’s image as a tolerant country for different ethnic and religious groups.

Neo-Nazis on the march

Cooper said a Neo-Nazi demonstration in December, in which some 4,000 participants marched through the heart of Berlin’s historical Jewish quarter and near the city’s main synagogue, had highlighted the inability of German authorities to prevent such protests through legal means.

Neue Synagoge in Berlin

Neue Synagoge in Berlin

But hate and intolerance cannot be defeated with laws alone, Cooper said. Therefore, it’s important that individual citizens participate in the fight against racism and that politicians support such efforts.

The goal of the Simon-Wiesenthal Center is to pass new laws to help keep right-wing extremists away from synagogues, churches, mosques and other religious houses and to inspire more social and political initiative to actively enforce existing laws in Germany and the European Union.

At their meeting with Schily, Shimon Samuels, head of the Wiesenthal Center’s European office, and Cooper applauded the German government’s efforts to ban the far-right NPD party. Despite a recent postponement of the case after it was revealed that witnesses against the NPD had worked as government informants, Cooper said the government move to outlaw the party is a sign that extremism is being taken seriously in Germany.

"While recent developments are troubling, we are still grateful there is an interior minister who is proactively moving against these groups," said Cooper.

In recent months, the Wiesenthal Center has also focused attention on France, which according to the organization’s statistics has had more instances of anti-semitic violence - approximately 300 since October 2000 – than any other western country. In January the Center submitted a petition to President Chirac and Prime Minister Jospin protesting the "dramatic rise" of hate crimes in their country.

The Wiesenthal Center was founded by renowned Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal in 1977 to preserve the memory of the holocaust by fostering tolerance and understanding through community involvement and social action. The international organization has approximately 400,000 members and is based in Los Angeles.

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