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December 12, 2022 2:40 pm
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Stung By Repeated Antisemitic Incidents in 2022, Germany’s Jews Face A Difficult New Year

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avatar by Ben Cohen

Analysis

A protestor outside the Documenta art festival in Germany holds a sign reading “Where Israel is boycotted, Jews are boycotted.” Photo: Reuters/Boris Roessler/dpa

Last week, Nancy Faeser, Germany’s Interior Minister, nervously observed that antisemitism in her country persists “not only on the fringes, but also at the heart of our society.”

There have certainly been enough antisemitic incidents in Germany this year to lend Faeser’s fears a material basis, most recently the publication on Monday of statistics for antisemitic outrages in Berlin for the first half of 2022.

According to the Berlin office of the antisemitism watchdog RIAS, there were 450 antisemitic incidents in the German capital during the first six months of this year — down from 527 in the same period of 2021, which witnessed angry demonstrations against the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, but still alarmingly high in a city where membership of the Jewish community is less than 11,000, and in a country where the authorities fret that the number of antisemitic outrages that actually get reported are only the “tip of the iceberg.”

The numbers released on Monday include 97 attacks on individual Jews or Israelis, several of them involving physical violence, all of them involving antisemitic abuse and insults. According to RIAS, 78 of the victims in these cases were Jewish or Israeli, while the remainder were representatives of the press, NGOs or the police who were painted as surrogates of  supposed “Jewish” interests.

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The 44-page RIAS report contains vivid accounts of the attacks and insults faced by Jews in Berlin from month to month. In March alone, there were three incidents involving violence, including a broken nose suffered by an Israeli tourist who was punched after she was overheard speaking in Hebrew while out shopping, an attack on a Jewish man at a tourist hostel in which his assailant forced him to say the words “Free Palestine,” and the beating of an elderly Jewish man who was riding the city’s subway.

While many of the incidents were triggered by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, several more involved Holocaust denial — a crime in Germany — and the abuse of the Holocaust by activists protesting the public health measures introduced by the government to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. A memorial to the Holocaust in the Wilmersdorf section of Berlin was vandalized with the words “fake news” in January, while graffiti discovered at a park in the Pankow neighborhood in May declared “Yesterday Zyklon B [the poisonous gas used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews and other prisoners], today vaccination.”

The increasing willingness of offenders to make their antisemitic convictions public reflects the further erosion of Germany’s postwar taboo against antisemitism, which crystallized in the wake of the Holocaust. According to data released by the Federal Criminal Police Office in Oct., more 1,500 antisemitic attacks had already been recorded around the country during 2022 — an average of five per day.

At the same time, the German media has been awash with headlines about antisemitism throughout the year. Many of these reports have centered on violence or harassment of individual Jews, such as the members of a right-wing nationalist student fraternity who last week received suspended sentences for beating a Jewish student, or the antisemitic abuse endured by members of a Jewish youth soccer team at a match against local rivals in Berlin. Antisemitic ideas were also a major component of the foiled far-right coup plot broken by the German authorities last week.

Antisemitic rhetoric has even been aired in the presence of the country’s leader, Olaf Scholz. In June, a smarting yet silent Scholz stood alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a press conference in Munich where the latter accused Israel of having perpetrated “50 Holocausts” against the Palestinians. According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which has been endorsed by the German government, “[D]rawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is considered antisemitic.

For much of the summer, an ongoing series of antisemitic scandals at the prestigious Documenta art festival in the city of Kassel dominated the German press. The federally-funded festival, which takes place every five years, was curated by a collective of Indonesian artists, some of whom are connected to the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)” campaign targeting Israel for a comprehensive boycott. As the festival ran from June to September, shocked visitors were exposed to antisemitic artworks at regular intervals, among them a mural containing classic antisemitic caricatures and a triptych featuring a man wearing a kipah proffering large bags of money.

Mindful of its special responsibility to guard against antisemitism as part of its commitment to preserving the memory of the Holocaust, the German government issued its national strategy to combat antisemitism at the end of last month.

The strategy emphasizes five main areas of intervention: data collection, preventive education, boosting Holocaust commemoration, stiffer penalties for antisemitic offenders and overall awareness of Jewish history and culture.

Felix Klein, the top federal official tasked with combating antisemitism, said on Nov. 30 that the strategy had been approved at a critical period, in the wake of the pandemic and with more recent antisemitic claims circulating concerning the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Germany’s gas supply.

“Antisemitism is one of those supposedly simple answers,” Klein remarked. He described antisemitism as a “perceptual structure that provides wrong and dangerous answers to complex social and political phenomena, especially in times of crisis.”

With little sign of relief in Europe over either the economy or the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the underlying problems identified by Klein can yet become more entrenched, as Germany enters 2023 with the very real prospect that, when it comes to antisemitism, next year could well be worse than this one.

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