As about one million Muslim refugees from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan poured into Germany in 2015 and 2016, commentators congratulated the German government for its spirit of empathy and generosity. Not every German agreed with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy, but a vocal minority of Germans who welcomed the migrants left the distinct impression that the country was generally well disposed toward the newcomers
While I supported Germany’s openness to foreigners from totally alien cultures, I also had qualms. The Syrians, constituting the vast majority of the new arrivals, seemed like a problematic group. Having been brought up in a nation viscerally hostile to Israel and suspicious of Jews, many were likely to hold antisemitic attitudes.
The German fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld, recently alluded to this matter when he issued a warning that the Jewish community’s worst enemies had been admitted to Germany. Anticipating the down side of Germany’s decision to admit such refugees, Merkel acknowledged that they came from societies “where hatred of Israel and antisemitism is widespread.”
A study released by the American Jewish Committee’s Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations on December 14 confirms Lagerfeld’s and Merkel’s worst fears. Its conclusion is that antisemitic feelings run rampant among the refugees, and that they subscribe to conspiracy theories alleging that Jews or Israel control the world.
Gunther Jikeli, one of the researchers who wrote the report, said: “Antisemitic thinking and stereotyping are very common … even among those who emphasize that they ‘respect’ Judaism.”
Deidre Berger, the head of the Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relation, was not surprised by the findings, saying that Syrians, in particular, had been brainwashed by Syrian regime propaganda and by teachers and imams in schools and mosques. “The dimensions of the problem,” she noted, “are much larger than expected.”
The German leadership is acutely aware that it may have created a “Frankenstein” situation.
Shortly after the report was released, and just days after thousands of Arab protesters in Berlin burned homemade Israeli flags and chanted anti-Israel and anti-American slogans as they denounced U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, German President Frank Walter Steinmeier issued an important statement.
Speaking at a Chanukah event at the Israeli embassy in the German capital, Steinmeier demanded that newcomers to Germany must reject antisemitism. As he put it, “There are things that are part of Germany. And one of these is our responsibility for our past: the lessons of two world wars, the lesson from the Holocaust, the responsibility for Israel’s security and the rejection of any form of racism and antisemitism.”
On the heels of Steinmeier’s comments, Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, suggested that a special commissioner be appointed to monitor expressions of hatred against Jews from new immigrants as well as neo-Nazis. He also said, “Every criminal act motivated by antisemitism is one too many and a shame for our country. Antisemitism must never again take hold in Germany.”
These are fine and commendable words, but they will remain bereft of any real meaning unless the German government backs its rhetoric with enforceable policies that discourage antisemitism and promote liberal democratic principles to which Muslim refugees, particularly the younger generation, can relate.
It’s incumbent on Germany — a country still making amends for its Nazi past — to ensure that its growing Muslim minority does not become an incubator of antisemitism.