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Most parties in Germany's parliament want an anti-Semitism commissioner. The position can't fix the worsening attitudes toward Jews in the country, but it nevertheless sends an important signal, says DW's Jens Thurau.
Anti-Semitism appears in many forms. It is ancient. It existed in antiquity and the Middle Ages and found its apocalyptic zenith in the Nazi genocide of European Jews in the 1930s and 40s. It was still around in both East and West Germany after the war, and the fact that it was made illegal did little to help. It has recently resurfaced as part of a critique of globalization, of the supposed world dominance of the United States, Israel and the Jewish community. It is religiously as well as socially motivated, often appearing as a form of historical relativism. It can be found on the fringes of society and at the very heart of it.
The role of the far right
In Germany today, anti-Semitism still emanates primarily from the far-right fringe of society. It has worsened with the arrival of immigrants from the Arab world, who, in the main, refuse to acknowledge Israel and its right to exist. That sentiment was on display for all the world to see as Israeli flags were burned in Berlin and other cities around Germany in protest against US President Donald Trump's controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. More than 70 years after the end of the Second World War, to see such images coming from Germany was simply intolerable.
Anti-Semitism has intensified
But burning flags are not the only problem. Jewish citizens in Germany have reported that they are increasingly wary about publicly displaying symbols of their Jewish identity, such as Stars of David. And that is exactly why it is high time and fully appropriate for politicians to send a signal.
The conservative Christian Democrats and their Bavarian Christian Social Union sister party, the center-left Social Democrats, the liberal Free Democrats and the Greens all want to create a new government post, an anti-Semitism commissioner. The commissioner will be tasked with collecting information on incidences of anti-Semitism, pushing educational initiatives in schools and creating more space for the topic within the political sphere.
Such a commissioner would also signal that politicians recognize anti-Semitism has clearly intensified over the course of the last several years. It seems that this taboo, too, has been broken in these times of growing nationalism and right-wing populism: That is why far-right Alternative for Germany party firebrand Björn Höcke can label the Berlin Holocaust memorial a "monument of shame" without fearing the consequences, not even within his own party. The genie is out of the bottle — it will be the duty of the new commissioner to clearly address that fact.
Just enforce existing laws?
Of course, historian Michael Wolffsohn is correct when he notes that anti-Semitism has existed for thousands of years. And he is also correct to point out that Germany already has laws on the books that clearly forbid anti-Semitism and that they simply need to be enforced. But although that is all true, none of it precludes the concept of appointing an anti-Semitism commissioner. Criticism from the Left party also misses the point. Its members fear the new commissioner will be tasked with focusing on singling out anti-Semitism among immigrants. That is simply a hypothetical fear. It will be up to the person eventually appointed to the post to ensure that does not become the case.
It is, and remains, essential for Germany to feel shame and responsibility for the genocide of European Jews. That is true now more than ever, as those who committed the atrocities are slowly dying off. When anti-Semitism in Germany begins to raise its ugly head once again, it is up to politicians to act. With this latest move, they have, and it is the right thing to do.