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Opinion: Is Germany Experiencing a Resurgence of Anti-Semitism?

A parliamentarian recently called Jews a "race of perpetrators" and a general got sacked for cheering what he allegedly described as the politician's "courage to tell the truth." Is hate speech on the rise in Germany?

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With the exception of former French President Charles de Gaulle's comment in 1967 that Jews were “self-assured and domineering,” Western European politicians have in the past 50 years rarely made openly anti-Semitic statements -- especially not in Germany.

When it has happened, it has usually come from the fringes of the political spectrum or from parliamentary backbenchers trying to distinguish themselves in a dubious fashion. There seemed to be a consensus that "you don't say things like that," since a consensus also reigned that the Jews had been subjected to unending injustice.

Older than the Nazis

It's futile to ponder whether society's exploration of the Holocaust has indeed spurred a major rethinking, or whether some of what is now being said and done didn't actually spring from political correctness rather than real conviction.

Without coming to anyone's defense or laying into anyone else: anti-Semitism is older than the Nazis' racial fanaticism. Its roots lay partly in the church, and it would have taken a miracle if such deeply rooted -- conscious and unconscious -- feelings, which developed over a thousand years, would have been eliminated within merely a few years or even decades.

If they had been eliminated we wouldn't be forced to deal with people in regular and apparently ever shorter intervals saying what one "ought to be allowed to say." It's a clever argument that appeals to simple minds who have always had the feeling "dark forces" prevent them from calling a spade a spade.

It's wrong that the Germans have for decades sported muzzles whose removal some people may now celebrate as a step toward national self-realization. What is said in the name of this alleged "new freedom" is just as wrong.

In the first place, anti-Semitic -- or to generalize, racist -- statements are intended to blame a minority for whatever plagues the accuser. It is certainly not a phenomenon exclusive to the Germans, but one that is just as human as it is inhuman.

Spreading half-truths

It's a phenomenon that lives from the spread of half-truths, like the Nazis' claims there were "Jewish Bolshevists" on the one side, but on the other -- in the United States -- they spoke of "Jewish high finance."

Since the 19th century, Jews in Russia have repeatedly been among the groups persecuted -- under every regime. But this fact is kept quiet, just as is the fact that there have always been openly anti-Semitic groups and theories in the United States and that the large majority of American Jews are by no means millionaires.

But such facts are unwelcome because they destroy the anti-Semitic, racially motivated line of reasoning that some people use to elevate themselves beyond their own triviality.

At best, laws can help to change this, but they won't bring about real change. The German Federal Republic's history has shown that. Despite intensive efforts, again and again, lapses -- which are actually no such thing -- occur. And they only expose what's there anyway.

But that's not just the case in Germany. A rather dubious European Union poll has shown that a "majority" of Europeans describe Israel as a "threat to world peace."

The fact is that many people don't differentiate between Israel and the Jews. But the new "lack of inhibition" is not merely limited to anti-Semitism. How else could a respected Berlin newspaper have recently described terrorism as "part of Palestinian national culture?"

Peter Philipp is Deutsche Welle's chief correspondent.

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