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Antisemitism in Germany is 'appalling,' says commissioner

May 15, 2021

Germany's antisemitism commissioner told DW that the current tension between Israel and Gaza has German Jews worried about their safety after several antisemitic incidents took place this week.

Berlin memorial for the European Jews killed during World War II
Israel's recent actions against Palestine have influenced recent anti-Semitic attacks in GermanyImage: Getty Images/S. Gallup

The German government is strongly condemning several antisemitic incidents that took place in German cities this week, as the violent tensions between Israel and Gaza have sparked anti-Israel protests. 

Felix Klein, the German government's commissioner on antisemitism, told DW that German Jews cannot be held responsible for the Israeli government's actions.

"To make them responsible for the acts of the Israeli government is not acceptable at all," Klein said.

"It's appalling to see that this kind of hatred is expressed towards German Jews and synagogues here in Germany," he added. 

Germany's government spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, said on Friday that peaceful demonstrations against Israel's policies were allowed in Germany, but that "anyone who uses such protests to shout out their hatred of Jews is abusing the right to protest."

"Antisemitic rallies will not be tolerated by our democracy," he said. 

Several antisemitic incidents in Germany this week 

Earlier this week, a synagogue in the western city of Bonn had its windows smashed and an Israeli flag was burned nearby. Police said a group of men admitted their actions were in protest of Israel. In the city of Münster, an Israeli flag was burned in front of a synagogue by a group of men. 

In Düsseldorf, police said a fire was lit on top of a stone memorial for a synagogue destroyed by Nazis during the infamous Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, in November of 1938.

On Friday, there were several incidents reported of people burning Israeli flags in front of city halls.

The recent attacks also inspired some Germans to come together to support the Jewish community.

Some 70 people gathered in Solingen near Düsseldorf to support local Jews after an Israeli flag was torn down and burned.

Another 300 people gathered in front of a synagogue in Gelsenkirchen in the western Ruhr region to express their solidarity with the Jewish community in response to a nearby anti-Israel demonstration.

What action is Germany taking against antisemitism?

Klein said that the backlash over current tensions between Israel and Gaza has German Jews worried about their safety.

"They are worried, of course. It must be appalling for them to see how this kind of hatred is expressed in front of their institutions," he said. 

The German penal code defines insults or threats against Jews and their places of worship in Germany as not only vandalism, but rather as a hate crime. 

According to Klein, police measures have been reinforced, and last week, a "package of measures"  was passed by the German government against right-wing extremism and racism, including protections for the Jewish community. 

One of the measures will be including the Muslim community in Germany to join in common projects with Jewish institutions. 

Identifying the sources of antisemitism 

Klein said his commission is working on better identifying sources of hatred, adding that social media and the internet play a large role in spreading antisemitic sentiment. 

"We see a general brutalization of the discourse," said Klein. "We should not prioritize which form of antisemitism is the most dangerous. I think, in general, social media and the internet have contributed to push red lines further in the wrong direction," he added. 

"We have to react to all forms of antisemitism with with prevention and repression."

kbd/wmr (AFP, dpa, KNA, Reuters)