Chancellor Merkel’s Legacy and the Jews
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has ceded the chairperson position of the Christian Democrat Party (CDU), and announced that after the next elections — at the latest in 2021 — she will not put herself forward to be a candidate to head the German government. The media has already started to analyze her performance and speculate about her legacy.
This is also an adequate moment to begin looking at Merkel’s legacy in regard to Germany’s Jews. Helmut Kohl, the previous CDU leader, who served as chancellor from 1982-1998, enabled an estimated 170,000 Russian Jews to immigrate to Germany. Due largely to that policy, Germany once again has a significant Jewish community. The country’s organized Jewish community currently has close to 100,000 members, which is barely more than 0.1% of Germany’s population.
Merkel has never failed on general support of and rhetoric towards Germany’s Jews. In November of this year, she spoke at the major Berlin Rykestrasse synagogue on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, saying, “Jewish life is blossoming again in Germany. An unexpected gift to us after the Shoah … but we are also witnessing a worrying antisemitism that threatens Jewish life in our country.” She also said that violence against Jews — perpetrated by far-right militias or Muslim extremists — is on the rise in Germany.
Last year, Merkel would likely not have mentioned Muslims among those guilty of antisemitic incidents, even if they were already responsible for a substantial portion of them. In December 2017, Muslims burned a homemade Israeli flag in Berlin. The video went around the world, and created associations with the far more serious book burnings under Hitler’s government. Several politicians then started speaking loudly about Muslim antisemitism — and after some time, Merkel had to follow.
From a managerial and political point of view, Merkel governed Germany well until 2015. The country withstood the major challenges of the worldwide 2008 economic crisis without huge problems, and under Merkel’s chancellorship, Germany’s dominance of the European Union increased. She successfully pushed her candidate, former Luxemburg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, through as president of the EU Commission.
Yet Merkel’s legacy for the nation may to a large extent be heavily influenced by one fateful decision: opening Germany’s borders to refugees and other immigrants in September 2015. Since then, about a million and a half asylum seekers have entered the country. Many came from Muslim countries, particularly Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Merkel misjudged the problems that so many refugees would bring with them.
The Hanns-Seidel Foundation studied attitudes of asylum-seekers in the German federal state of Bavaria. It found that more than half of those from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan believe that Jews have “too much influence” in the world. And a study by Gunther Jikeli about Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Germany, commissioned by the American Jewish Committee, led to a statement by the organization’s Berlin Director Deidre Berger: “Until now, reports that many new arrivals in Germany espouse antisemitism have been largely anecdotal. But this new scientific analysis shows that the problem is widespread in the refugee communities from Syria and Iraq. Anti-Semitic attitudes, stereotypes, and conspiracy theories are common, as well as a categorical rejection by many of the State of Israel.”
The official story is that there are three to four antisemitic incidents per day in Germany. But there are probably more, because many victims do not complain.
German Jews are increasingly feeling the brunt of two phenomena: the many antisemites among Muslim immigrants and their descendants, as well as the revitalization of the antisemitic extreme right. Even if the situation does not get worse, it is already bad enough and unlikely to improve.
The country’s newly-appointed Antisemitism Commissioner Felix Klein has said that he is not surprised that many German Jews are debating whether to leave. This leads to a troublesome question: Chancellor Kohl enabled the building up of a greatly increased Jewish community through immigration. Will Merkel’s legacy be a substantially diminished Jewish community?