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Germany vows 'zero tolerance' for attacks on synagogues

Authorities have warned of further antisemitic incidents after another day of demonstrations in major German cities. Synagogues have been attacked in reaction to escalating violence in Israel.

A police officer in front of a synagogue in Frankfurt

Police across Germany have increased their presence at Jewish synagogues after several incidents of vandalism

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas pledged "unwavering security" for synagogues in Germany in an interview with Funke media group on Thursday.

Police have stepped up protection at Jewish temples and intervened at a number of anti-Israel rallies taking place across the country as violence escalates in the Middle East.

What did Maas say about antisemitic attacks in Germany?

Maas called on citizens to reject the idea of "blaming people of the Jewish faith in Germany for events in the Middle East — whether on the streets or on social media."

The foreign minister, who placed blame for the violence currently gripping Israel on Hamas, said there would be "zero tolerance for attacks on synagogues in our country." 

German president: 'Hatred of Jews will not be tolerated — no matter from whom'

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier underscored that commitment on Thursday: "Nothing can justify threats against Jews in Germany or attacks on synagogues in German cities.

"Whoever burns Star of David flags or shouts antisemitic slogans on our streets is not only abusing the right to demonstrate but committing a crime," he told Germany's Bild newspaper.

"We neither want to, nor will we, tolerate the hatred of Jews," Steinmeier added. 

Anti-Israel demonstrations in a number of major German cities, more planned

Germany has seen a number of large demonstrations over the past couple of days, with the latest being staged in Hannover and Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday night and in Bremen and Munich on Thursday.

The protests drew several hundred participants each, and saw anti-Israeli as well as antisemitic chants, as well as the burning of Israeli flags.

"The burning of Israeli flags and attacks on Jewish institutions on German soil will not be tolerated," said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

Police have detained several individuals in connection to rocks being thrown through the windows of synagogues across the country on Wednesday and Thursday.

A statement from the Interior Ministry on Thursday said that "security agencies expect intensifying protest activities by Palestinians in Germany as well as parts of the leftist scene." 

Police in Berlin said pro-Palestinian groups had called for three demonstrations in the city's Neukölln and Kreuzberg neighborhoods this weekend.

Jewish group condemns 'pure antisemitism'

On Thursday, the Central Council of Jews in Germany condemned the ongoing demonstrations and vandalism. The group also released a disturbing video on Twitter that was recorded in the city of Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday evening. 

In it, police can be seen standing in front of a group of individuals carrying Palestinian and Turkish flags and loudly chanting primitive antisemitic slogans

The tweet read: "Hatred of Jews in front of the Gelsenkirchen synagogue. The days when Jews are openly insulted on the streets should be far behind us. This is nothing other than pure antisemitism."  

Police reacted to criticism that they had not intervened by saying their main goal was to protect the synagogue. They added that there had not been enough officers at the scene to detain anyone,and that the crowd was dispersed once backup arrived. 

Gelsenkirchen demonstration stirs reaction in community

Aside from lawmakers and religious leaders, communities and individuals are also responding to the situation. 

Abdel Karim, a popular German-Moroccan stand-up comedian, tweeted: "There are a lot of ways to express one's understandable human empathy for the Palestinians. Attacking synagogues is not one of them." 

Initiative Against Antisemitism Gelsenkirchen, a community organization in the city, took to Twitter to announce that it had registered a public vigil to take place in front of the synagogue on Friday evening in response to Wednesday's events. Its motto: "No room for antisemitism — solidarity with the Jewish community of Gelsenkirchen."

Igor Levit, a Russian-German classical pianist of Jewish descent, was decidedly more stern in his assessment, saying that it is naive to assume antisemitism does not have a presence in Germany. 

"It clearly does, always has, and always will — if we don't fight it. Not just with nice words, but with attitude and solidarity, and not just when violence is acute." 

js/rt (dpa, AFP)