To understand the plight of Jews in Germany, it worth considering a few outbreaks of contemporary anti-Semitism and the largely indifferent response to Jew-hatred from mainstream society.
In early June, a Jewish teen named Jonathan was playing an Israeli song — “Tel Aviv,” sung by Omer Adam—in Berlin’s Bahnhof Zoo subway station. Three Arab Germans heard the words “Tel Aviv” and confronted Jonathan and his friends.
One of the Arab men told Jonathan—after confirming that he was Jewish via an interrogation: “Seventy years of murdering children! I don’t want to hear this Jew s*** here! This is our town, our turf. If I see you here again, I’ll slit your throat, you f***ing Jew.”
The German Arabs physically attacked Jonathan and his friends, with one of the men trying to push Jonathan onto the tracks. The assailants fled and the security guards at the station chose not to pursue them. The BILD newspaper published an article drawing attention to the “disgusting, brutal, anti-Semitic incident.”
The attack met for the most part with soggy indifference from Germany’s chattering classes.
Since 2015, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has admitted more than a million refugees and migrants from mainly Muslim-majority countries, where Muslims are steeped in hatred of Jews and of Israel.
A second telling example of the growing—or perhaps continued—indifference was the April attack by a Syrian refugee on Adam Armush, an Israeli Arab, because he dared wear a kippa (yarmulke) on a Berlin street.
The assault triggered headlines in the German and foreign media because there was video evidence of the attack. Der Spiegel’s influential columnist Jakob Augstein blamed the Israeli for having “come up with the idea to wear the kippa and use it as a provocation.” Augstein—who inherited significant ownership in the Spiegel news organization—has played a key role in mainstreaming media anti-Semitism. The Simon Wiesenthal Center ranked him ninth on its “2012 Top Ten Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Slurs” list for his bigoted statements.
Armush told the Deutsche Welle news outlet: “I am not Jewish, I am an Israeli and I grew up in Israel in an Arab family,” adding, “It was an experience for me to wear the skullcap and go out into the street yesterday.” He said he filmed the attack “for the police and for the German people and even the world to see how terrible it is these days as a Jew to go through Berlin streets.”
For observers of Jewish life in Germany, the anti-Semitic attack on Armush came as no surprise. In 2016, the spokesman for Hamburg’s nearly 2,500-member Jewish community, Daniel Killy, said a breakdown in security in the Federal Republic has created a highly dangerous situation for Jews.
“No, we are no longer safe here,” Killy told the tagesschau.de news outlet. Killy said the collapsing sense of state power, excesses of the extreme right-wing, the loss of political credibility, and “the terrible fear of naming Islamism as such” have all contributed to creating a climate of insecurity for Jews.
The response to the attack on Armush was a call for an anti-anti-Semitism protest. “Berlin wears the kippa” was the name of the feel-good rally on April 25 against Jew-hatred. It attracted some 2,000 people, according to press reports. The real number of attendees is believed to have been fewer than 1,500, in a city of 3.7 million. The demonstration took place under conditions that resembled those in a maximum-security prison.
A second protest against anti-Semitism in the largely Muslim neighborhood of Neukölln in Berlin had to be called off after a mere 20 minutes because of the anticipated violence of pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators.
To put things in perspective, roughly 150,000 people marched in Berlin in 2015 against a planned free trade deal between the United States and Europe.
Germans frequently invoke the phrase “nip it in the bud” at Holocaust remembrance events when referring to anti-Semitism. Dead Jews trigger widespread commemoration events across the country, but the fight to stop anti-Semitism against living Jews limps—at best—on both legs. A detached observer might ask of modern Germany: Have we learned anything from the Holocaust?
The third example of the pernicious indifference to post-Holocaust anti-Semitism regards the annual al-Quds Day march in Berlin. Protesters took to the streets on June 9 in greater numbers than in previous years, to call for the destruction of the Jewish state, at the rally in the heart of the city’s bustling shopping district.
Police said that roughly 1,600 protesters turned out to urge the obliteration of Israel. The number of pro-Israel counter-protesters paled in comparison, totaling some several hundred. The commissioner from Berlin’s 10,000-member Jewish community responsible for combating anti-Semitism issued a public call for mobilization. Civil society, trade unions and the mainstream democratic parties ignored him.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, created al-Quds Day in 1979, as a worldwide demonstration designed to negate Israel’s existence. The al-Quds Day rally in Berlin attracts a motley assortment of Hezbollah and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) members, Iranian regime supporters, neo-Nazis, Islamists and run of the mill haters of the Jewish state.
There are 250 Hezbollah members in Berlin, according to the city’s domestic intelligence agency. Across the Federal Republic, a total of 950 Hezbollah operatives recruit members and raise funds for their lethally anti-Semitic activities. It is worth noting that Hezbollah operatives blew up an Israeli tour bus in Burgas, Bulgaria in 2012, killing 5 Israelis and their Bulgarian Muslim bus driver. A total of 32 Israelis were injured in the terrorist attack.
Chancellor Merkel has ignored requests from President Barak Obama, President Donald Trump, the U.S. Congress and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to outlaw the entirety of the Lebanese terrorist organization in Germany. She refuses to fathom the dialectical interplay between Hezbollah-sponsored anti-Semitism in Germany and an acute increase in Jew-hatred in her country.
Germany, in sharp contrast to the the United States, the Arab League, the Netherlands and Canada, has classified only the Shi’ite Hezbollah’s so-called “military wing” as a terrorist organization.
The massive rise via migration in the number of Sunni-animated radicals also heightens the dangers for Germany’s Jews. According to statements from Germany’s interior ministry in April, the number of Salafists—members of hardcore Sunni extremist groups—in Germany has doubled since 2013. There are now 11,000 Salafists in the country—up from 5,500 in 2013, according to ministry records.
All of this helps to explain the entrenched—and rising—anti-Semitism in Germany. The stakes are high for the country’s small Jewish community of roughly 100,000.
Josef Schuster, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, warned Jews, following the attack on Armush, “against showing themselves openly with a kippa in a big-city setting in Germany, and to wear a baseball cap or something else to cover their head instead.”
Jews cannot appear in public without hiding their identity. As a result, they have been increasingly turning inward, to avoid conflict with German society over anti-Semitism and Israel. Most of Germany’s pre-Holocaust Jewish population immersed itself in “hyper-acculturation,” to use the phrase of the Oxford University German studies professor, Ritchie Robertson. But, significant parts of the post-Holocaust community, which largely consists of Jews from the former Soviet Union, have engaged in hyper-isolation and a striking denial of the coming storm.
A Wall Street Journal exposé from April 3 on anti-Semitism merely scratched the surface of what is unfolding in German schools. A Jewish boy named Solomon, the paper reported, was forced to change schools after fellow students threatened to kill him. According to the report, “Solomon’s parents, who until recently hosted a Syrian refugee, took no action until their son came home with bruises.”
His transfer to a new school “changed little.” The WSJ reported that “a teacher said Solomon should try to avoid provoking the Palestinian student who was his most violent tormentor.”
In the same month as the report on Solomon, the 15-year-old German-Jewish student Liam Rückert told the Berlin newspaper BZ that he planned to relocate to Israel to continue his education, due to rampant, Muslim-animated hatred of Jews in the Berlin public school system.
“I want to go to a boarding school like my brother in Israel. I already visited him and he is doing well there,” Rückert said. His mother, Billy, is from Israel and taught her sons Hebrew.
The lack of political will—and the impotence of German security forces—to rope in the tsunami of anti-Semitism could result in more cases of aliyah from the country.
As Jews find it increasingly difficult to live with dignity in Germany, we may see a revival of interest in the thinking of the great Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940), whose clarion call for aliyah as an existential necessity proved prescient. Jabotinsky, who was filled with pessimism about the future of Diaspora Jewry, would not have surprised by the fragmented and anxiety-filled state of German Jewry today.
The sexual assault and murder of the 14-year-old German-Jewish girl Susanna Feldman on the night of May 22 was allegedly committed by the Iraqi migrant Ali Bashar. German police claimed that there was no evidence that Feldman’s Jewish background played a role in the crime. Question marks are warranted over the police statement as well as regarding a stunning lack of robust German journalistic curiosity concerning anti-Semitic incidents.
And in Cologne, after a series of mass rapes and sustained sexual assaults against women during New Year’s 2015/2016 festivities, the authorities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the city is located, described the celebrations as “peaceful.”
The crimes of rape and sexual assault of women were not limited to Cologne during the New Year’s period and were committed by men largely from Afghanistan and Arab countries.
Germany’s woefully inadequate system for classifying anti-Semitic crimes is also cause for alarm. As anti-Semitism rises in the country, the authorities continue to classify Islamic-animated anti-Semitism as a “politically motivated right-wing extremist crime.” A telling example, cited in Die Welt, was an outbreak of Hezbollah-related anti-Semitism that was registered as right-wing extremism.
Supporters of the Hezbollah terrorist organization participated in an anti-Israel march during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Twenty Hezbollah supporters yelled the Nazi slogan “Sieg Heil” (Hail Victory) at a group of pro-Israel activists in Berlin. The “Sieg Heil” call violates Germany’s anti-hate law and was designated as a far-right extremist crime.
The result is German whitewashing of the leading cause of lethal anti-Semitism in Europe: jihadi-based eliminatory anti-Semitism.
The Holocaust survivor Charlotte Knobloch, who is head of Munich’s Jewish community, said in 2017: “The Muslim associations have for decades not only done nothing [to combat anti-Semitism], rather they have allowed anti-Semitic hate preachers from Muslim countries to bring their anti-Jewish ideology into German mosques and into the heads of young Muslims.”
Germany’s tiny Jewish community—100,000 among a population of over 82 million in the Federal Republic—is in dire straits today and faces an increasingly precarious future. Chancellor Merkel and mainstream German society would do well to remember the words of the British historian Sir Ian Kershaw: “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate but paved with indifference.” Acute indifference is now the norm in Germany.
Benjamin Weinthal is a research fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.