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Not seeing the forest for the trees: it is time to call and combat Antisemitism for what it is

By Anne Aulinger, Policy consultant on strategies against right-wing forces and anti-discrimination in Germany

19 December 2017 - In light of recent antisemitic incidents during protests in Germany and other European countries, Anne Aulinger shares her views on why everyone should care.

Last week, several protests against Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem took place in Germany. Beyond manifestations of opposition to this decision, there were antisemitic elements and expressions which were also inciting to violence. They could be found for instance in the burning of flags with the Star of David and Israeli flags, the display of Hamas flags and the chanting of “Death, death to Israel”, “Child murderer Israel” and “Zionists are Fascists”.

For Jews in Berlin and those concerned by Antisemitism, this was partly experienced as alarming. Especially in the context of the arson attack on a synagogue in Goteborg (Sweden), an attack on a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and other incidents in European cities. Walking by one of these manifestations in the Berlin district of Neukölln, I also couldn’t help but ask myself what would happen if a man with a kippah or a couple speaking Hebrew would walk by. This made me feel worried and sad. The documented antisemitic assaults in the context of the 2014 protests against the war in Gaza show that these concerns are not unfounded.

These worries increased when a similar protest was permitted to take place at the Brandenburg Gate two hours before the festive lighting of the biggest Chanukkia in Europe (candelabra used during the Jewish celebration of Chanukkah). It felt insensitive that the security of participants in the celebration could not be guaranteed. Many therefore discussed whether it would be safe to attend this public event. And it felt careless that a Jewish festival was getting mixed up with protests against a decision about the US embassy in Jerusalem. Fortunately, the protest was relocated. And a solidarity “Berlinukka” picket was spontaneously organised as well.

By now many German politicians have condemned the incidents, and some are additionally calling for more effective measures against Antisemitism. The lack of outcry from the majority of citizens though indicates a decrease in solidarity with Jews, which already could have been recognised in 2014 during the worrying rise in antisemitic attacks. Is Antisemitism again and still only a problem for Jews?

The report of the German independent expert group on anti-Semitism shows that whereas the daily life of the Jewish population in Germany is increasingly marked by Antisemitism, the non-Jewish majority generally thinks that it doesn’t really play a role. Often when I talk about Antisemitism, people looked at me in disbelief. Jewish friends talking about discrimination get labelled “hysterical”.

Why this gap between the Jewish and majority population? First, because whereas the German school curriculum extensively deals with the Holocaust, there are gaps in research and teaching about current forms of Antisemitism, including conscious or unconscious Antisemitism in the name of anti-Zionism. A differentiated critique of Israel’s politics and policies is obviously no problem and takes place both inside and outside the country. There are some tools to help distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from Antisemitism. Systematic delegitimising, demonising or applying of double standards to Israel are ways of transmitting antisemitic resentments. Secondly, because criticism of Israel in all its forms is considered as being on the moral side of the oppressed, there is a certain extent of blindness to when a red line is crossed. The result is a lack of solidarity on Antisemitism, also from those who usually stand up for minorities.

This silence is not only troubling for Jews in Germany and in the rest of Europe, it also leaves an open door to right-wing forces, like the AfD which uses this gap to stir up racism and to present themselves as the only loyal partners for Jews. Fortunately, there is enough documentation about Holocaust denial and trivialisation, hatred against Israel, conspiracy theories and the unwillingness to kick anti-Semites out of the party to show that it is all about instrumentalising Jews and Israel in order to push their anti-migration and racist agenda. Even though Antisemitism does come from all sides of society, the predominant majority of antisemitic hate crime in Germany is still right-wing motivated.

It is time to take Antisemitism seriously and to stand up against it – no matter which side it is coming from. Some ways forward include the appointment of an ombudsperson for Antisemitism and a permanent independent expert group, the systematic recording and sanctioning of antisemitic hate crime, and financial support to organisations researching and combating Antisemitism. If German society claims to be a mature and resilient democracy, it needs to understand that it is not only Jews who are concerned about fighting for their safety, but all of us.

Photo sources: JFDA - Jüdisches Forum für Demokratie und gegen Antisemitismus

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