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Germany for tougher anti-Semitism laws

January 19, 2018

Lawmakers have passed measures designed to tackle anti-Semitism in Germany. An anti-Semitism commissioner is a cornerstone of the proposal, but critics insist the newly created post will be ineffective.

Man seen from behind wearing a kippa with the German and Israeli flag
Image: picture alliance/dpa/F. Rumpenhorst

Members of Germany's Bundestag have passed a bill to implement tougher laws on anti-Semitism. Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) as well as the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the Free Democrats voted in favor of creating a commissioner post to develop and implement a strategy to root out anti-Jewish sentiment and crime as part of a 17-point proposal. The far-right AfD party backed the proposal, with Germany's Left party abstaining from the vote.

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In it, the parties state that anti-Semitic crime could still mainly be attributed to the far right, but that migration from the Middle East and North Africa had exacerbated the problem.

Muslims and AfD

SPD deputy Kerstin Griese said it was extremely troubling that the word "Jude" ("Jew") was among the words most commonly used as insults in German schoolyards. She added that it was important to oppose all kinds of anti-Semitism, with Germany carrying a special responsibility.

In her speech, the AfD's Beatrix von Storch claimed that Muslims living in Germany were the main exponents of anti-Semitism, and called for systematic deportations, "including the imams who have long been preaching hate."

The comments drew a rebuke from the FDP's Stefan Ruppert, who said that von Storch was ignoring the problem within her own far-right populist party.

Jewish fears

The CDU's parliamentary group leader, Volker Kauder, said on breakfast TV show "Morgenmagazin" on Thursday that Germany had to show decisive action against anti-Semitism as it was in Germany's national interest.

He said it was "shameful" that Jewish institutions had to be protected by police and that Jews were often afraid to go out and openly identify as Jewish.

"That's something we can't tolerate in our country," he added.

Read more: Opinion: Burning Israeli flag has nothing to do with freedom of speech

The recent burning of Israeli flags during protests in Berlin against the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital has also brought the issue of anti-Semitism to the fore again. It was widely criticized, sparking a debate about whether it should be illegalto burn national symbols such as flags.

The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, welcomed the idea of an anti-Semitism commissioner. He told German Protestant news agency epd that he was "most worried about anti-Semitism right at the heart of society.

Read more: German President Steinmeier accuses social media of spreading anti-Semitism

T-shirt reading 'Terror state Israel. Boycott Israel - the real terrorist'
Anti-Semitism in Germany - this T-shirt reads: 'Terror state Israel. Boycott Israel - the real terrorist.'Image: Imago

"It's often dressed up as exaggerated criticism of Israel and employs more typically anti-Semitic prejudice than people realize."

Schuster was among those who recently suggested that all pupils and those claiming asylum should be required to visit a Nazi concentration camp to raise awareness of the Holocaust - also known as the Shoah.

Commissioner 'ineffective'

But critics say an anti-Semitism commissioner would not be effective. German-Israeli historian Michael Wolffsohn told German public broadcaster MDR that the proposal "was in the right spirit" but a "completely naïve idea by bureaucrats." 

He argues that one person could not possibly undo 3,000 years of anti-Semitism, adding that the idea of a commissioner was "too big for its boots."

Petra Pau, the Bundestag's vice president and Left party lawmaker in Berlin, said in an interview with the daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung that the proposal "could not do justice" to the problem, as it put the recent wave of migrants at the heart of the problem, she claimed.

Jewish Berliners encounter anti-Semitism

ng/sms (KNA, epd, AFP)