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Germany

Tensions Raise Fears of Turning Tide Against German Jews

An unprecedented row this week between German authorities and national Jewish leaders has highlighted a growing strain in tensions in the public and political spheres.

Defaced Jewish gravestones bearing the swastika

Anti-Semitism is being disguised as anti-Zionism, Jewish leaders claim, as tensions rise

After the Holocaust, Germany's relationship with Jews was never going to be easy, but angry remarks this week suggest that resentment is breaking through the surface of the relationship.

Anetta Kahane, who lives in politically charged Berlin, uses strong words to describe strong feelings. "We're gradually being choked," she says.

She perceives hostility to Jews as growing among Germans. For fear of nasty reactions, she has not dared for the past three years to wear a Star of David on a chain around her neck when she goes out.

The sea change she detects began well before widespread disapproval was voiced among Germans of Israel's actions in the Gaza conflict in December and January, she says. Other Jews would agree with her that hostility to Jewish views is on the rise.

Tension came to a head on Tuesday, Holocaust Day, when the national body, the Central Council of Jews, boycotted memorial ceremonies at the Bundestag parliament in Berlin, saying due respect was not shown to Holocaust survivors in the program.

Germany's Jewish community is changing fast, with immigrants from Russia becoming the new majority, replacing a dying generation which personally witnessed the Holocaust, or Shoah, on German soil.

The council's president, Charlotte Knobloch, 76, is a Holocaust survivor who survived World War II in hiding.

Council members were upset that she would have been treated as one guest among many, relegated to a second row of seats on Memorial Day at parliament.

Memorial Day gaff more than a mistake, says council

Charlotte Knobloch

Some Jewish leaders think Knobloch was deliberately snubbed

From the Council's point of view, the Bundestag's lack of respect was more than a question of protocol: it went to the heart of the relationship between Jewish citizens and non-Jews in Germany, explained Salomon Korn, deputy president.

"Nerves have been rubbed raw on both sides," he said. "As a Holocaust survivor, Knobloch leads a community consisting of the surviving victims and their children," said Korn, who is a Frankfurt architect.

"At a time when anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism is again rearing its ugly head in connection with the Gaza war, it would have been appropriate to do more than protocol required and make a gesture of solidarity.

"This has nothing to do with personal vanity," he said.

Knobloch and the speaker of parliament, Norbert Lammert, have since conversed by phone and the council says the matter is closed.

The row has been the most visible, but not the only sign of unease among Jews.

Patience running out?

Protesters hold a banner with swastika and a star of David, during a protest against the Israeli offensive in Gaza

The Gaza war increased anger against Israel

Kahane, who helped found a Berlin group, the Amadeu Antonio Foundation for Victims of Racist Attacks, says she could identify with the Central Council's stance.

"It's getting worse all the time," said Kahane. "You can tell that a lot of people think it's time to stop being so 'patient with the Jews'."

She charges that many Germans use support for the Palestinians or criticism of Israeli policies to express underlying anti-Jewish attitudes.

Micha Brumlik, a University of Frankfurt professor, approved the Central Council's decision to boycott the ceremonies as a "robust signal", and spoke in shock, as many Jews do, of a recent talk-show clash between two German television personalities.

One of them, Norbert Bluem, who is a former Christian Democratic Union labor minister, labeled the other, Michel Friedman, "this Israeli citizen." To Friedman, it was a slur that recalled the Nazi practice of stripping Jews of their German citizenship.

Brumlik said Friedman, who is German, was "absolutely right" to feel insulted and to rebuke Bluem.

However Brumlik also warns fellow Jews in Germany that they risk a "trap of association" if they uncritically support Israel.

Academics call for investigation into changing attitudes

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, left, looks at German Chancellor Angela Merkel,

Olmert's Israel has the support of Merkel's Germany

Rafael Seligmann, a writer, called for cooler heads to prevail, saying he was less concerned about the "squabble over protocol" than he was about poll findings that 70 per cent of German young people see no reason for Germany's privileged support for Israel.

He accused the Central Council and its secretary, Stephan Kramer, of "actionism:" a term for making a lot of noise without results, charging that they had lost focus on the "essentials."

"The relationship between Jews and non-Jews is too important to roil it up over a triviality," said Seligmann. "Ultimately, this was a memorial day among all Germans, not a Jewish event."

Seligmann says there are other things that alarm him. He finds it exasperating that Germans are barely conscious of massacres in the Sudanese region of Darfur, yet thousands of people take to the streets in Germany to protest at Israeli actions in Gaza.

Oliver Polak, a Jewish humorist who published an autobiography last year about his first 30 years growing up in Germany, agrees that the German-Jewish relationship is not just funny: there is something worrying in there as well.

"A lot of Germans don't grasp that there's a difference between you being German and being Israeli. My name is registered here, in my hometown, Papenburg. Norbert Bluem doesn't seem to get that," he said.

"It's important that there is a Central Council of Jews, though I do sometimes wish they wouldn't work themselves into a lather about trivialities, instead of focusing more strongly on out-and-out anti-Semitism."

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