The Berlin Declaration against anti-Semitism, adopted ten years ago in Europe, was a milestone in the international fight against anti-Semitism. In it, the 55 nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation condemned anti-Semitism as a danger to democracy, human rights as well as security and cooperation in Europe. And they also expressed their support for concrete operational steps against anti-Semitism at the national and international level.
A key question remains: have we done enough to turn our words of ten years ago into deeds? For my own country, Germany, I’d like to give you an answer in two parts.
First, I’m glad to be able to say that Jewish life is flourishing once more in Germany. There are new synagogues, nurseries, schools, cultural institutions. Despite all the wounds of history, Germany has become a new, open home for tens of thousands of Jewish people. But that’s not all.
Thousands of Jewish people, mostly young Israelis, live in Berlin. They were attracted by the city’s creativity and are contributing to it themselves. The largest Jewish song and dance contest in Europe regularly takes place in Germany. Next year, the largest Jewish sporting event in Europe is coming to Berlin: the European Maccabi Games with more than two thousan Jewish athletes. And you won’t believe it but today you can even get a decent bagel in Berlin.
From all of these highlights of Jewish life, I’d like to pick out one which I found especially moving. A few weeks ago, on September first, I was in Wrocław, once a centre of Jewish life in Europe. It was 75 years to the day after Germany’s invasion of Poland unleashed the Second World War.
That day, 75 years later, I sat in the old White Stork Synagogue where I witnessed the first ordination of rabbis since the war – four young rabbis who were trained in Berlin and Potsdam – at the Abraham Geiger College. That was a moment which touched everyone present and which I’ll never forget! Yes, Jewish life is flourishing again in Germany and in Europe.
Given our history, that’s nothing less than a miracle and a blessing – Jewish life is back at the heart of our society – and that’s where it belongs! That’s a source of happiness, an enrichment for our society, whose true importance many in our own country haven’t yet realised.
And because that is so, I want to be just as honest and just as forthright in the second part of my answer: Anti-Semitism is a stab in the heart of our society! Anti-Semitism goes against our constitution, against our civilization – against everything we believe in and everything we’ve learned!
Therefore, the challenge for today is not just the protection and the rights of a minority, rather it goes to the very heart of our society: there is no place – nor can we allow there to be a place – for anti-Semitism in our understanding of a free, democratic and tolerant Germany.
That’s why we in Germany have been active on many fronts during the ten years since the adoption of the Berlin Declaration. We’ve initiated public awareness programmes, integrated this issue into school lessons and youth work, promoted initiatives which tackle anti-Semitism and much more. Of course, we’ve also actively combated anti-Semitism with the means available to us under the rule of law and, above all, by fostering Jewish life.
A few weeks ago, I had the honor of presenting the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel in New York. It was a lovely, dignified ceremony for this man whom we all admire.
However, he said something to me that day which made me stop and think, which indeed should make us all stop and think. He said that if someone had told him in 1945 that he would still be fighting against anti-Semitism as an old man in 2014, he wouldn’t have believed it. But now the danger was there again.
We’re horrified by the spate of anti-Semitic hate-mongering and attacks which we’ve seen in many European cities during the last few months. Unfortunately, the phenomenon of latent anti-Semitic sentiment, which comes in the guise of criticism of Israel, has long been with us. However, what we experienced this summer reached a new scale: Jewish citizens were attacked and people shouted slogans expressing a level of hatred which beggared belief. Not only in Germany, but sadly also in our country, an open, brutal anti-Semitism has again reared its ugly head. It poses a danger to Jewish citizens in particular but also to the rest of us, to our values and to our civilization, which is marked by humanitarianism and tolerance.
That is why I say very clearly that nothing, including the dramatic military confrontation in Gaza, justifies the attacks we have seen in recent weeks. That’s why the zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism called for in the Berlin Declaration is so important now. I publicly reaffirmed this together with my French and Italian counterparts in Brussels this summer.
But, as I’ve already said: it was not just us politicians but society as a whole which stood up to repudiate anti-Semitism. In mid-September, thousands of people taking part in a large-scale demonstration at the Brandenburg Gate raised their voices and called out: anti-Semitism has no place in Germany!
It’s not only at moments such as the one at the Brandenburg Gate that the commitment we so urgently need is demonstrated by a responsible civil society. The many civil-society organisations that are actively working to combat anti-Jewish sentiment are the ones who see what is going on every day in society. We should therefore do all we can to ensure that their ideas and proposals flow into our policies wherever possible.
This op-ed is a modified version of remarks Foreign Minister Steinmeier made at a conference in Berlin, Thursday, November 13, 2014, marking the tenth anniversary of the OSCE Berlin Declaration on anti-Semitism and made available to The Times of Israel by kind permission of the German Embassy in Tel Aviv.