Two images dominate the memory of my childhood in Munich.
The first: the puzzled face of a boy in elementary school when I slapped him in the face after he said he had a problem with me being Jewish. This was in first grade. Neither did he know what a Jew was nor did I know what anti-Semitism was. All he knew was that he didn‘t like Jews or was not supposed to like them. All I knew was that I had to defend myself. ”Identity“ and “dignity“ would join my vocabulary years later, but I knew he hurt them.
The second image: the green-white police car in front of the Jewish kindergarten. Every morning it stood there. It belonged to kindergarten like the sandbox in the yard. Heavily armed policemen by the entrance, next to the Israeli security guard who opened the gate for us.
Neither the boy – a harbinger of many more moments of this kind – nor the policemen in front of kindergarten and synagogue were traumatic experiences. It was normality. Absurd, yes, a little sad, maybe, but a normal part of my childhood in Munich like the carousel in the English Garden.
This was in the 80s. A few years after the Octoberfest terror attack where a neo-Nazi killed 13 people with an IED. After the attack, the Minister of the Interior at the time, Gerhard Baum, was criticized for downplaying the terrorist threat and for blurring its right-radical motive. At that time already, hardly anyone mentioned anymore the German security authorities’ impotence in the wake of the 1972 attack against the Israeli Olympic team by Palestinian terrorists.
30 years later, we are in Halle, facing a tsunami of deja vus.
The outrage. The warnings. The speeches. The ‚never agains‘. The candlelight vigils. The Facebook posts. The demands from politicians, the demands by politicians. An ocean of words. Helpless in the fight against anti-Semitism.
I‘ve been observing and commenting this trend for 20 years – from Israel. Through public appearances in Germany as a Jew and as an Israeli, I know the ‘ugly face of anti-Semitism 2.0’ in all its variations from close. The one hiding behind anti-Israel criticism, the one wielding a brown baton, the one with Palestine in the backpack, the one with Allah hovering above the head. And especially the ‚what-you-should-be-allowed-to-say-again’ one, which found a comfortable habitat in ‘the middle’ of society.
What changed are merely the numbers and quality of ‚events‘. There are ever more ‚actors‘, ever more colorful ones, thanks to Germany’ bizarre immigration policy. The tolerance threshold is ever more elastic. Things no one dared whisper in the 80s, today pass as cheeky bon mot.
The Holocaust did not begin with the Holocaust
What remained the same is the cause. The Holocaust did not begin with the Holocaust. It began with systematic distribution of anti-Semitic incitement and hate-inducing information. Centuries old anti-Semitic memes, used and industrially spread by the Nazis.
The Internet is the modern motor of these hate-bytes. An excursion through social media without stumbling upon an anti-Semitic comment is utopian. Israel coverage in ‚Der Spiegel‘, the information source of the bright, without anti-Semitic subtext between the lines like the recent warning against ‘the Jewish Lobby’s power over Germany‘ – a rarity. School books with balanced information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and with teaching modules on Israel and Judaism beyond the Holocaust – difficult to find.
How many German students are aware of the immense contribution by Jewish inventors to Germany‘s industrial dominance after WWI? How many of them know that Israel is an innovative powerhouse tackling global challenges, from watering systems in Africa, alternative energy solutions to the battle against cancer?
The ‚Facebook-Law‘, forcing social media sites to delete inciting posts within 24 hours, was a good start. Just like Germany‘s recognition of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, the appointment of Dr. Felix Klein as the government’s commissioner for the fight against anti-Semitism, and the Bundestag‘s recent condemnation of BDS.
Lack of an all-encompassing strategic concept
But these are single components of an urgently needed massive matrix of measures. Inexplicably and inexcusably, an all-encompassing strategic concept for the fight against anti-Semitism is still lacking. As is sufficient budgeting. Despite the 1,800 anti-Semitic crimes registered in 2018 alone, the one-dimensional wishful thinking glasses are yet to be replaced with reality-bound 3D glasses: Demonization, Delegitimization and Double standards concerning Israel and Judaism – whether in forms of schoolyard anti-Semitism, subtle manipulation by some media outlets, or terror – are just as much a danger to Germany. To the humanist consensus in society. To the democratic values Germany bitterly fought to attain.
Halle is a climax. The reaction by Chancellor Merkel, by the media, and many German citizens are remarkable and may – m a y – provide reason for cautious optimism. Maybe with Halle indeed a border was crossed. Maybe this time the outcry is spared the usual rapid and resultless fade out.
Two paradigm shifts are inevitable now.
First, the government must act decisively and fight anti-Semitism with a long overdue adaptation of its legal, information, education and security policies. Secondly, the Jewish communities have to give up the illusion that the state alone can do the job. Halle must not turn into a symbol for the capitulation against anti-Semitism. Halle should become a symbol for the courageous fight against anti-Semitism, and the anti-democratic and brutalizing tendencies that come along with it.
This article was originally published in Germany.