The Failed Halle Synagogue Massacre Reveals the Dysfunction of German Law
Antisemitism in the Western world and in the Muslim world cannot be eliminated. It is far too deeply rooted. But in the West, it can be contained to a certain extent if appropriate efforts are made.
After the failed massacre at a synagogue in Halle by a right-wing extremist on Yom Kippur, the question must be asked yet again: to what extent is the German government trying to keep antisemitic violence and hatred in check?
Not even on the holiest day of the Jewish year did the local police guard the Halle synagogue, and it took them time to arrive on the scene after the community called for help. There was hardly any effort by the authorities to prevent a mass murder of Jews. Two non-Jewish people who happened to be in the area were tragically murdered by the terrorist instead.
The priorities for the understaffed police force are set by the government of Saxony Anhalt. Its Interior Minister, Holger Stahlknecht, a Christian Democrat (CDU), claimed there was no failure, despite the obvious falsity of this statement. He said the police regularly passed by the synagogue and added that there were close contacts between the police and the Jewish community. All requests for protection had been granted. According to the minister, there had not been any requests for protection of the synagogue on Yom Kippur.
Stahlknecht told the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the police had done a good job and need not reproach themselves. The police acted according to the risk assessment of the Domestic Security Agency (BKA).
Stahlknecht’s statement was criticized by Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. He said it was untrue that the police had always complied with the demands of the community. He added that with such an uncritical evaluation one should wonder whether there was a willingness to learn from past mistakes.
Additional insights into police negligence concerning Jewish communities in Saxony Anhalt can be attained from an interview in the daily Die Welt, with Vadim Laiter, the head of the Jewish community in the state capital of Magdeburg. He said that when he heard about the attack on the Halle synagogue he called the local police for protection, as he feared his synagogue too might be attacked. He was told that all police officers were in Halle. He said: “We were deeply shocked as we were totally without protection. Three hours later the police finally came to guard our synagogue. That happened only after Minister Stahlknecht had personally ordered this.”
The failure of the police to protect Jews is only one area of concern. Key individuals in the two German government parties used the attack on the synagogue to confront the populist AfD party. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, chairperson of the CDU, said: “The AfD is the political arm of right-wing radicalism.” Earlier, Michael Roth, a prime candidate for one of the two chairperson positions in the socialist party (SPD), said the same about the AfD: “In the German parliament and in the federal state parliaments sits the political arm of right-wing terrorism.”
If this is the opinion of both government parties, one wonders why German liberal democracy has been unable to outlaw the AfD. It would be interesting to hear legal opinions on whether Germany’s constitutional court would be willing to do so.
The AfD is not a homogeneous party. It has both a mainstream and a highly problematic “ethnic” wing. This was demonstrated by the reactions of the latter to the Halle attack.
The political attacks on the AfD backfired. The AfD spokesperson on antisemitism is deputy chairperson Beatrix von Storch, who belongs to the party’s mainstream. In the Bundestag, the German parliament, she raised a number of unwelcome facts for the established parties and in particular for the SPD.
Von Storch pointed out that violent neo-Nazi groups have existed for decades in Germany. Their ability to establish themselves showed the total failure of the established parties in domestic and security policy. The same was true concerning Islamists, left-wing extremists, and criminal clans. Her remarks were accurate and are yet another indication of the dysfunctional state of law in Germany’s liberal democracy.
Von Storch recalled that left-wing extremists had in 1969 laid a bomb at the Jewish community center in Berlin. They were also responsible for the terror attack on the Air France flight that was hijacked to Entebbe, Uganda in 1976. She also mentioned the murder of Israeli athletes by Arab terrorists at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics.
Von Storch noted that antisemitism is not a marginal phenomenon in Germany caused by violent extremists. It also comes from the middle of left-liberalism, leading left-liberal media, and the left-wing cultural environment. These attitudes poison the climate of the entire society. She accused a major daily, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, of publishing caricatures in the style of the most extreme Nazi paper, Der Stürmer, and added that these would fit publications of the neo-Nazi NPD party.
Von Storch then attacked the SPD, saying that while criticism of Islam is a reason for it to expel somebody from the party, antisemitism is not. She noted that former SPD leader and foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel has defamed Israel as an apartheid state. Von Storch attacked former SPD leader Martin Schulz, who repeated before the Knesset the lie that Israel let the Palestinians die of thirst. She noted that German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) congratulated Iran on the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, and reminded her listeners that that revolution is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.
The AfD is boycotted by the other parties. This suggests that in their eyes, the AfD is black and they are white. But all the parties represented in the German parliament are different shades of grey. No German Jewish leader would have dared state in public the accurate facts von Storch mentioned in the Bundestag, let alone any Israeli diplomat.
In the midst of all this, another police scandal has occurred. A Syrian who, on October 4, climbed the fence of a Berlin synagogue and threatened passersby and the police with a knife while shouting “Allahu Akbar” has been released by the police. No one knows where he is.
There are many more indications that the German state of law is dysfunctional. In October, head of the BKA Holger Münch gave a newspaper interview that backed this up. Die Welt summarized the interview as a worrying view of the weaknesses of the German security services. It added that parts of it read as a “bankruptcy declaration of a far too slow, far too fragmented, often also very naïve state of law.” Münch disclosed that since 2016 seven Islamist terror attacks have been prevented, which he called a miracle.
National antisemitism commissioner Felix Klein criticized German prosecutors, saying: “It is scandalous that the prosecutors abandon many actions concerning antisemitic crimes. Courts have to punish more about antisemitism.” Klein said this in reaction to a study by the World Jewish Congress that found that 27% of Germans have latent antisemitic attitudes. He added that before the study was published it was thought that 15-20% of Germans held such beliefs.
Klein also noted that antisemitism against Israel is even higher at 40%. As an example, he mentioned that actions of the current Israeli government are considered equivalent to what the Nazis did to the Jews in Europe.
Positive reactions after the Halle attack included a number of public gatherings of solidarity with the Jewish community in the country. German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) participated in a big one in Berlin.
Security for Jewish institutions will be improved, but that will not prevent the many attacks on recognizable Jews in the public domain by Germans and Arabs. Nor will it change key elements of German anti-Israeli policies such as friendly relations with Iran or support for antisemitic votes against Israel at the UN.
The prevailing mood in the government seems to be that Germany is now a “normal” state. What happened during the Holocaust belongs to history. A detailed study would probably reveal that the impacts of the Nazi period manifest themselves in far more ways in German society than is immediately recognizable.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is a senior research associate at the BESA Center and a former chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He specializes in Israeli–Western European relations, antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and is the author of ‘The War of a Million Cuts.’
A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.