Addressing an audience in Heidelberg on Monday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he feared anti-Semitism had become socially acceptable in mainstream German society.
"Looking away, ignoring it, saying nothing and doing nothing when Jewish citizens are insulted, mocked or violently attacked — that cannot, and should not, be an option for any of us," he said.
Steinmeier pointed out that Jewish citizens in Germany were "degraded, insulted or even assaulted" on a daily basis. He added that each of these incidents was an attack on the foundations of democracy.
The president was speaking at a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the Center for Jewish Studies Heidelberg (HfJS).
Rise in hate crimes
Steinmeier's concerns were echoed by Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who told the 600 audience members that government and law enforcement agencies needed to do more to stamp out attacks on the Jewish community.
"We need a judiciary that recognizes anti-Semitic and other racist crimes for what they are and punishes them accordingly," he said.
The number of attacks against Jews in Germany increased from 1,504 in 2017 to 1,646 in 2018 — a rise of 10%. The number of reported violent cases against Jews rose from 37 to 62 over the same period, according to official figures.
The Interior Ministry has attributed most of these crimes to right-wing groups, and analysts say the rise of far-right political forces such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has also contributed to anti-Semitism in the country. The AfD openly question Germany's culture of atonement for World War II and the Holocaust.
Referring to the rise in attacks and the "frightening" election gains made by the AfD in Germany's eastern states, Schuster said "there must be no tolerance for those who shake the foundations of our democracy."
Founded in 1979, the HfJS is supported by the Central Council of Jews and funded by the federal government. In his speech, Steinmeier said the college played a vital role of nurturing Jewish life in Germany and was a "symbol of reconciliation and a promise for the future."
nm/rt (KNA, epd, dpa)