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Germany pays too little attention to current anti-Semitism, report says

An independent report, supported by politicians across the spectrum, has concluded that more needs to be done to fight modern forms of anti-Semitism in Germany. But it doesn't answer the question of precisely what.

At the official presentation in Berlin on Monday, politicians and researchers associated with the Independent Expert Group on Anti-Semitism repeatedly invoked a highly publicized story of anti-Semitism against a 14-year-old Jewish youth who was forced to change schools.

"The most recent case of anti-Semitic taunts and attacks against a Jewish boy here in Berlin's Friedenau district give our report a particular currency and relevance," Patrick Siegele, the director of the Anne Frank Center, said. "It illustrates the difficulties German society has dealing with anti-Semitism."

Six hundred and forty-four anti-Semitic crimes were reported in Germany last year, although the actual number was probably dramatically higher. After reviewing a substantial number of studies on the topic, the Expert Group said that while traditional forms of anti-Semitism had declined somewhat, modern anti-Semitism, for example, criticism of Israel being extended to Jews in general, remained alarmingly popular.

"Forty percent agree with Israeli-centered anti-Semitism," Green Party member of the Bundestag Volker Beck said. "That's almost half of the society. It says a lot about the intellectual environment in which Jews have to live."

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"New forms of anti-Semitism have arisen, and unfortunately the end of the Holocaust and the Second World War didn't mean the end of anti-Semitism," conservative MP Barbara Woltmann said. "It does worry me that around 20 percent latent anti-Semitism still exists within the populace."

The experts issued five "key demands" to improve that situation. They include appointing an anti-Semitism ombudsman, establishing a national data base for anti-Semitic crimes and providing long-term support for groups researching and trying to combat anti-Semitism.

But the 311-page report, whose presentation coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, is a basis for parliamentary discussions in the future, not actual proposals for legislation. On closer examination the report actually reveals that much has yet to be determined about modern-day forms anti-Semitism in Germany - most prominently anti-Semitism among Muslims.

Al-Kuds Berlin Pro-Israel Demonstration 25.07.2014 (picture-alliance/dpa)

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Anti-Semitism among Muslims

The report concludes that anti-Semitism exists on the extreme right and (less prevalently) extreme left of the political spectrum in German society as well as among Muslim communities. It pointed out that right-wing anti-Semites committed the greatest number of actual anti-Semitic crimes. And the experts were at pains to emphasize that anti-Semitism among people with Arab or Turkish backgrounds had less to do with their religion than with their socialization.

"A pilot study commissioned by the expert group about the attitudes of imams in Germany was unable to identify any radical anti-Semitism," researcher and group co-coordinator Juliane Wetzel said.

The partial study in question, however, included only 18 imams who voluntarily participated and thus is hardly representative. The nine-member group of experts acknowledged that far more research needs to be carried out to determine the extent to which certain committees and migrants to Germany in general maintain anti-Semitic attitudes.

Alter Jüdischer Friedhof in Leipzig Hakenkreuze Archiv 1992 (picture-alliance/dpa)

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Without doubt opposition to Israel, which often shades over into anti-Semitism, is a constitutive element of some young Muslims' identity. However, such anti-Semitism is cultural, not religious.

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"There are a lot of other factors connected with being Muslim that lead to anti-Semitism being more prevalent among this group, above all people's migration background," researcher Beate Küpper said. "Young people from Muslim social contexts, be they Turkish or Arab, are on average more anti-Semitic than other young people. But they're not more anti-Semitic than other young people with other migration backgrounds, for instance the Soviet Union."

A lack of practical results

It is no secret that the word "Jew" is often bandied about as an insult among young people in schools in heavily migrant districts of Berlin. The tormenters in the case of the 14-year-old Berlin boy came from Turkish and Arab backgrounds. The question is what can be done to combat these and other manifestations of anti-Semitism in everyday life in Germany.

The findings and recommendations in the expert group's studies will be presented for debate in the Bundestag. But with only a handful of weeks remaining in this legislative period, the group admits that political action probably won't be forthcoming.

This is the second such expert group with the second such report. The results obtained by the first one, formed in 2009, weren't good.

"I asked the members of my parliamentary group what became of the recommendations and demands of the first report," Green MP Beck said. "And you could say: practically nothing."

Germany's federalist structure is one reason progress on dealing with everyday anti-Semitism can be sluggish. The members of the expert group agree that anti-Semitism is too often taught in schools exclusively in conjunction with Germany's National Socialist past and that instruction about modern-day anti-Semitism is needed. But school curricula are the responsibility of Germany's 16 individual federal states. All the federal government can do in that area is issue recommendations and provide money for worthwhile projects.

Concrete action is very unlikely before Germany's national election in September and the constitution of a new Bundestag, which will almost certain include the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany, some of whose members have been accused of harboring Nazi sympathies.

Thus, sadly, there is little chance any time soon for any measures to prevent incidents like the one at the Berlin school.

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