For the last fortnight, numerous media reports about a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism have been published in Germany and beyond (for example here or here). Many of them referred to a publication by the German Ministry of the Interior on the latest hate crime statistics.
These show a total of 1,799 anti-Semitic incidents for 2018, including 69 acts of violence. Among those were the widely covered repeated attacks on an Israeli restaurant in Chemnitz (Saxony, East Germany), or the arson attack on the house of a Jewish couple in Hemmingen (near Hannover, Lower Saxony, Northern Germany), where unknown people set fire on the doorstep and smeared “Jew” across the entrance.
The figures represent a 19.7% increase over the previous year. However, this is easily misleading – as a further look into the past reveals several comparable or even slightly higher case numbers (for example, 1,771 incidents in 2002 and 1,809 in 2006). It is safe to assume that the number of unreported cases is much higher, because for many events, no charges were pressed against the assailants.
The statistics were presented along with the information that almost 90% of the recorded criminal acts could be assigned to the extreme right-wing spectrum, and only about 10% were on the account of Muslims. At the same time, however, there was an unchangedly low number of right-wing extremists. This entices to conclude that Germany “simply” is experiencing how one small and one even smaller minority are threatening our fellow Jewish citizens.
However, looking at publications from other authorities and non-governmental organizations (such as the Berlin Center for Research and Information on Antisemitism), or reading the recent media reports on the subject, such as interviews with members of Jewish communities or with the President of the Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, this picture seems much more complex. Just this week, for example, a German-Jewish author and columnist from the Süddeutsche Zeitung described the anxiety and insecurity in everyday life, as during the furiously aggressive demonstrations against Israel on the so-called “Al Quds Day”. (This unspeakable spectacle can only cause goose bumps and anxiety, no matter if the observer is Jewish; and I find it embarrassing how German authorities have failed in the past to prevent such escalations.) Although the author still lives in Berlin, she claims that several friends have already made Aliyah to Israel – and she is herself unpleasantly aware of the feeling of sitting on packed suitcases.
According to the overwhelming majority of reports that I have read on the subject, on the one hand more and more cases of attacks and hostility come from radical Muslims, often with an Arab background. On the other hand, to a large extent they occur smack in the middle of German society. This is somewhat admitted to by the dismal statement of Felix Klein, anti-Semitism representative of the Federal Government of Germany, who recently advised Jews against wearing a kippah. The “increasing social disinhibition and brutalization” would not allow this safely (anymore?). This statement was outspokenly disagreed with by some; as the ensuing question is obviously: Are we really prepared to accept limitations for Jews – or any other religious community – in expressing their faith on the grounds of concerns for their health and safety?
The thesis that only one-tenth of all anti-Semitic incidents stem from right-wing extremists is, to my understanding, unsustainable. Instead, we must acknowledge that it is more and more the bourgeois, concerned citizens who advocate far-right views – that however appallingly, anti-Semitic opinions are rooted in the middle of society. The results of the study “Lost middle – Hostile conditions” published by the NGO Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in late April 2019 convey an impressive picture of this.
It concludes that right-wing extremist attitudes are deeply engrained in the center of German society. While only 2.4% of the survey’s respondents revealed themselves as clearly right-wing extremists, there was widespread support for various manifestations of group-related enmity (GRE) – including classic anti-Semitism (6% of respondents), and a modern, Israel-related anti-Semitism that an incredible 24% of respondents seemed to have internalized. Even more stunning is the widespread belief in conspiracy theories, which are all too often associated with Jews – 46% of the respondents believed that there are secret organizations influencing political decisions. Of those who lean towards conspiracy theories, over 38% agreed with Israel-related anti-Semitism.
A commentary in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung tried to put these results into perspective: because the wording of the statements testing GRE was softer than of those testing right-wing extremist attitudes, the GRE statements would therefore – naturally (??) – receive higher approval rates. Moreover, “the middle” of society was only vaguely defined, left-wing extremism not taken into account, and the entire study therefore a “provocation for our democracy.”
If that’s really so, I can only say, YES PLEASE! Let’s stir up the silent majority. Let’s not keep quiet any longer. All those who oh-so-transparently and hypocritically point their finger to others, and reflexively ward off any criticism. I am fed up with the constant media coverage of John Doe feeling safe to break right-wing populist taboos, of the sort of “excuse me, but one should really be allowed to say…”. These attitudes must not become normality. It upsets me to see how proud some Germans are of how we dealt with our history, while in the middle of our country, there is still and yet again a distinct anti-Semitism (and not just since the wave of refugees).
Let us address unpleasant questions to our country, to our democracy, to ourselves! We have to admit more honestly and more comprehensively: We have a problem. And then, let us try to find more sustainable solutions – such as the suggestions for action of the Bundestag’s Independent Expert Group on Anti-Semitism.
Beyond the political and academic level, what can we do in everyday life, what can we do personally, so that this development does not get even worse – and maybe even turned around? The bottom of the barrel may always reveal some unteachable people and extremist ideas, but we should not accept that this seems to be spreading more and more into the middle of society. Germany has a real problem. It is time to face that truth – and not with silent resignation.