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Jewish chief dismayed by Muslim reaction to Hamas attack

October 20, 2023

Josef Schuster from the Central Council of Jews in Germany spoke of an increased sense of fear and insecurity following a wave of pro-Palestinian protests that turned riotous and spread antisemitism.

Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council for Jews in Germany, arrives at the opening of a new synagogue in Potsdam on November 8, 2021
Josef Schuster is head of the Central Council for Jews in GermanyImage: Martin Müller/IMAGO

The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, told DW on Friday he is "disappointed" with the reaction of Islamic associations in Germany to the recent surprise attack on Israel by the militant group Hamas.

"When I see what we have heard over the last 14 days on the part of the Muslim associations based in Germany about the [Hamas] terrorist attack on October 7, I am extremely disappointed," Schuster said.

However, he expressed satisfaction with the German government's response to the conflict and the decisive handling of increased threats to the country's Jewish community.

"There is no need to be afraid as a Jew or Jewish person in Germany," Shuster said. "The security authorities have been strengthening security measures in terms of personnel and technology at Jewish institutions for four years now."

Still, he said, the Israel-Hamas war has impacted Jews in Germany, where there was an increased sense of insecurity and fear.

Jewish pupils stay away from school

After Islamist groups called for a worldwide day of protest on October 13 in support of the Palestinian people, he noted that the number of Jewish students going to school that day plummeted.

"That particularly shocked me that the Jewish schools in Frankfurt and Berlin had very few students," Schuster said. "So there was a real fear among parents."

Pro-Palestinian protesters have repeatedly clashed with police in Germany in recent days, at which some participants have cheered Hamas or chanted antisemitic slogans.

In one of the latest, police in Berlin on Wednesday night arrested at least 174 people during what they described as riots.

German authorities have largely banned violent rallies or demonstrations expressing support for the Palestinian cause or criticizing Israel and have moved to break up unauthorized gatherings. 

Riot police stand next to a woman waving a Palestinian flag during a protest in Berlin
German police have ordered a clampdown on anti-Israel protestsImage: Paul Zinken/dpa/picture alliance

Crackdown on antisemitism welcomed

Schuster welcomed the clampdown, adding, "When antisemitic slogans are shouted right when Israel's right to exist is questioned, there must be no turning a blind eye. There must be a crackdown," he said.

"Such demonstrations must be prohibited or dispersed, and those responsible must also feel under the rule of law what our legal system stipulates," Schuster added.

In another antisemitic incident, two masked individuals threw Molotov cocktails early on Wednesday morning toward a synagogue and Jewish center in Berlin.

Although little damage was caused, the attempted arson attack provoked outrage nationwide.

On Thursday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told parliament that the country must not look the other way in the face of rising hatred towards Jewish people.

"Antisemitism is out of place in Germany, and we will do everything we can to stand against it. We will do that as citizens and as those who bear political responsibility," he said.

Meanwhile, center-right opposition leader Friedrich Merz said he expects "a tough crackdown by police and the judiciary" against certain protesters to show that "hatred of Jews and violent hostility against Israel must have no place in our country."

Merz also warned of the possibility of an "openly erupting conflict" in European countries due to the war in Gaza.

Berlin authorities ban pro-Palestinian protest

With material from DPA news agency