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Lawmakers condemn German synagogue vandalism

May 13, 2021

Amid Israel's heightened tensions two synagogues and a memorial site have been vandalized in Germany. Lawmakers and religious leaders said the acts were "shameful" and called for greater protection for places of worship.

Police vehicle at synagogue in Bonn, Germany
Politicians and religious leaders have called for more security at synagogues after vandalism in Bonn (above) and MünsterImage: Oliver Berg/dpa/picture-alliance

German lawmakers and religious leaders have condemned vandalism against Jewish synagogues, and the desecration of a memorial for another synagogue destroyed by the Nazis in 1938.

All three of the incidents occurred on Tuesday night in the cities of Bonn, Düsseldorf and Münster in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).

The incidents were reportedly motivated by the current violence in Israel and Gaza

Police in Münster say they dispatched officers to a synagogue after receiving calls from witnesses who said that a group of "about 15 Arab-looking men" were gathered near the building yelling loudly and burning an Israeli flag.

Officers say the building itself was not damaged and 13 men had been charged with holding an illegal gathering.

In Bonn, three men between the ages of 20 and 24 were detained and admitted to burning an Israeli flag, as well as throwing rocks at a synagogue's windows, because they were upset about the events in Israel. 

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.

Religious leaders call for solidarity with the Jewish people

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who was meeting in Frankfurt with Georg Bätzig, chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, said Wednesday that he was "horrified" by the vandalism.

"We expect from the people in Germany solidarity with Israel and the Jewish community," he added.  

Schuster said the vandalism had absolutely nothing to do with expressing political opinion but were motivated by "pure anti-Semitism."

He also called for greater protection of Jews in Germany, which has seen a 13% spike in anti-Semitic crimes in 2020, having registered more than 2,000 incidents last year.

Bishop Georg Bätzing also decried the incidents.

"Attacks on synagogues are pure antisemitism that can in no way be justified," the Catholic leader said.

"We cannot allow a political conflict to be linked with religious fanaticism ...  there is absolutely no way to condone bringing the conflict from Israel to Germany," he added. 

He also urged an end to the violence in Gaza and Israel, stating that both sides "must return to the negotiating table."

The Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany (ORD) said, "One may not always agree with Israeli policies, but Jews living here in Germany and Europe are definitely the wrong people at which to direct criticism of the state of Israel."  

Düsseldorf Mayor Stephan Keller (r) and Bastian Fleermann, director of memorials at the site of the city's former synagogue
Mayor Stephan Keller (r) and Bastian Fleermann, director of city memorials at the site of Düsseldorf's former synagogue Image: Marcel Kusch/dpa/picture alliance

What are German politicians saying about the incidents?

Germany's antisemitism Commissioner, Felix Klein, said that he expected such incidents to increase .

"If current tensions in Israel continue, I expect it will once again affect crimes here in Germany. We, as a society and especially our police and judiciary, must act. We simply cannot accept it."

Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), also reacted strongly to Tuesday night's vandalism. 

Germany: The Fight Against Forgetting

"We will not tolerate the burning of Israeli flags or attacks on Jewish institutions on German soil. We will fight anti-Semitic hate with the every constitutional means. Never again can Jews be forced to live in fear in our country."

German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) called the attacks a "disgrace," adding, "Perpetrators must be identified and brought to justice."

"Synagogues and Jewish sites must be firmly protected."  At the same time, Lambrecht condemned the rocket attacks launched by Hamas on civilians in Israel and emphasized that "Israel has the right to defend itself."

Calls for harsher punishment for anti-Semitic acts

In Berlin, CSU Parliamentary Whip Stefan Müller called for harsher penalties for acts of antisemitism.

"Those who burn the Israeli flag in front of a synagogue should not only be ashamed of their blind hatred, they should also receive the recommended maximum two-year prison sentence for it," he said. 

Müller noted that Paragraph 104 of Germany's penal code was strengthened last year for just such "disgraceful incidents."

"This is about anti-Semitic hate that the constitutional state must harshly punish," he added.

js/wmr (AFP, dpa, KNA, Reuters)