German leader warns ‘Jewish life under massive threat’ amid antisemitic crime spike

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German leader warns ‘Jewish life under massive threat’ amid antisemitic crime spike

Josef Schuster, president of Central Council of Jews in Germany, voiced fears after a government report revealed antisemitic crime in the country has rocketed by almost a third.

A person with a flag of Israel stands next to flowers and candles in front of a synagogue in Halle, Germany, following a terror shooting on Yom Kippur in 2019 (AP Photo/Jens Meyer via Jewish News)
A person with a flag of Israel stands next to flowers and candles in front of a synagogue in Halle, Germany, following a terror shooting on Yom Kippur in 2019 (AP Photo/Jens Meyer via Jewish News)

Jewish life in Germany is “under massive threat” amid a rising tide of white nationalism and antisemitic hate crimes, a European Jewish leader has warned.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, issued the warning after a government report revealed antisemitic crime in the country has rocketed by almost a third.

The scourge of anti-Jewish criminality has risen by nearly 29 per cent in 2021 compared to the previous year, the report into extremism reveals.

“The new report on the protection of the constitution shows that Jewish life in Germany continues to be massively threatened.” Schuster said. “The greatest danger comes from the right-wing extremist scene.”

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution published the findings based on statistics reported in May by the Federal Criminal Police Office, Germany’s equivalent to the FBI.

In all, 3,027 antisemitic incidents were registered last year, up from 2,351 in 2020. The vast majority were related to right-wing extremism, but Islamic extremist antisemitism is also rising, with 122 reported incidents compared to 26 the year before.

Most reported crimes relate to illegal statements and publications — Holocaust denial and other forms of hate speech are outlawed in Germany — including on the internet. But attacks on people and synagogues were also registered.

The number of incidents rose when tensions between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours were highest — in May 2021.

Burgeoning conspiracy theories are increasing, linking Jews to the coronavirus pandemic and measures to curb it.

Some protesters against Germany’s response to the pandemic “are blaming imaginary Jews for profiting from it and at the same time attaching Jewish stars” to their clothes, as if to say they are the new Jews, said Benjamin Steinitz, director of the Berlin-based Research and Information Center on Anti-Semitism Berlin (RIAS). “Both antisemitic conspiracy myths and Shoah trivialization have been normalized. This is a worrisome development.”

He added that a “dark field of antisemitic incidents” go unreported in government statistics. “We have to assume that… recorded incidents are only the tip of the iceberg,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation released a report of its own on Wednesday, raising the alarm about developments in antisemitism related to the Ukraine war (including comparing Putin to Hitler and Ukraine with the Palestinian cause); resentment at the rescue of Holocaust survivors from Ukraine; and glorification of terror attacks against Israeli civilians.

These developments pose “an acute threat to Jewish life in Germany,” according to the foundation, which focuses on combating xenophobia and antisemitism.

More than 60 per cent of respondents to a recent survey agreed that antisemitism in Germany has increased sharply. Released in May by the American Jewish Committee office in Berlin, the study — commissioned to the Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research — also showed that Muslims and supporters of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party are most likely to harbor antisemitic prejudices.

Right-wing extremist motivation continued to far outstrip any other categories in the government study. Out of 3,027 cases, 2,552 were attributed to neo-Nazi ideology. Of those, 64 were violent crimes, including 51 cases of physical injury.

Germany’s Jewish community of nearly 100,000 has been hit by the effects of conspiracies and fear mongering in recent years. In 2021 German Jews were the target of 3,028 antisemitic hate crimes involving verbal abuse and assault, including a 12 percent increase in the number of antisemitic crimes committed by right-wing extremists. Nearly half of all incidents, which rose 30 per cent from the previous year, occurred during Israel’s 2021 operation in Gaza.

Antisemitism in Germany has evolved in recent decades, according to a 2020-2021 report on antisemitism by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

“Just as Jewish life in Germany has changed over the past 30 years and has often become more diverse, so has the hatred of Jews that has been going on for centuries and in some cases for thousands of years,” the report said. “The demonstrations and riots that took place against the background of the escalation in the Middle East conflict in the spring of 2021 demonstrated how antisemitism is currently and directly manifesting itself in Germany.”

The agency, which began issuing a yearly assessment of antisemitism in 2020, identifies six ideological strains of antisemitism — religious antisemitism, social antisemitism, political antisemitism, racist antisemitism, secondary antisemitism, and anti-Zionist antisemitism — that “do not usually occur in isolation, but rather refer to one another and are intertwined.”

Antisemitism on the far right, the report said, has plagued German politics since the 19th century when nationalist and folk hatreds combined into Nazi racial supremacy.

It is now resurgent, especially on social media, where anonymity and “largely unfiltered means of communication create an attractive and comparatively safe space for any kind of extremist ideas.”

Germany adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in 2017.

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