In the main hall a speaker is issuing an urgent warning about the many dangers threatening the existence of the Jewish community around the world. Despite everything, though, the two security officers at the doors look pretty relaxed. They wave conference participants through into the hall with little fuss, glancing only briefly at their identity cards and apparently uninterested in checking bags or laptops. An Israeli woman shrugs. "I'm used to something quite different in Israel," she says, adding that perhaps the hotel in the heart of Berlin is simply very secure.
She's in Berlin for Monday's meeting of the executive committee of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), an umbrella organization representing the interests of Jewish communities. One of the WJC's main concerns, as the speakers emphasize one after the other, is anti-Semitism in Europe. According to Vivian Wineman of the European Jewish Congress Council, this has "increased massively" since the start of the most recent war in Gaza. The vice-president of the WJC cites a rise in anti-Jewish attitudes, particularly in Greece, Poland, Bulgaria and France.
A Frenchman, Paul Rechter, comments that in Paris things are already "really bad." Many of his friends avoid wearing Jewish symbols on the street, he says, including the kippa, the small round headpiece traditionally worn by religious Jewish men.
Anti-Semitic graffiti in Berlin
The WJC warns that anti-Semitic acts are on the rise in Germany, too. Between April and July of this year, Wineman says 159 anti-Semitic incidents were registered. The most recent one was less than 24 hours ago. According to the Berlin police, anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered on Monday morning on a Jewish memorial in the Tiergarten park, not far from the hotel where the WJC was meeting.
Asked about the incident, a police spokesman said he could only speculate as to who had daubed 'Jews out' and 'Babykilla' on the memorial. As yet, there are no indications regarding the culprit. The spokesman was unable to say whether there might be any connection between the incident and the meeting of the WJC, or with the big rally against anti-Semitism that took place in front of the Brandenburg Gate this past Sunday. He did, however, concede that "the geographical proximity gives rise to considerations of this nature."
Wineman speaks of the "green-black-red" alliance against the Jews, by which she means Muslims together with radicals from both the far right and the far left of the political spectrum. All of these, she insists, share a common anti-Israel ideology. "This alliance has taken on an unmistakably anti-Semitic color," she says, adding that a substantial increase in anti-Semitic comments has also been observed on social media. One positive development Wineman mentions is that there have been fewer violent physical attacks. The situation has also eased slightly since Israel and Hamas managed to agree on a ceasefire.
WJC: Working with moderate Muslims
At the conference, Wineman called for Jews to work more closely with moderate Muslim groups. "We have to persuade Muslim religious leaders to condemn anti-Semitism in their communities," she said, citing as a positive example the fatwa pronounced by British Muslims against the terrorist militias of the group calling itself "Islamic State," in Syria and northern Iraq.
The vice-president of the WJC, Robert Singer, named other dangers threatening Jewish life, such as parties of the far right that are enjoying a surge in popularity in certain European countries, the radicalization of Islamic groups and Iran. Singer was also worried about certain developments within the Jewish community: He complained that many young Jews are not very interested in Israel, and that they are marrying outside their religion.