It should surprise no one that representatives from across Germany’s political establishment, including the President and Chancellor, turned out for a rally against anti-Semitism in Berlin on Sunday, given the country’s history and a series of ugly anti-Israel protests this summer. The small size of the crowd was less expected, but Germany isn’t sliding back into the habits of the 1930s – today’s anti-Semitism has an altogether different source.
Chancellor Angela Merkel had made a personal appeal for Berliners to attend Sunday’s event, yet only about 3,000 people came to see her speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate. The government needed to make a statement in response to summer protests over Israeli policy in Gaza, mostly attended by immigrants from the Middle East. These saw some of the scariest anti-Semitic slogans since Hitler’s regime went down in flames.
Chants of “Hamas Hamas, Juden ins gas” (Hamas, Hamas, Jews into the gas), and “Jude, Jude feiges Schwein! Komm heraus und kaempf allein!” (“Jew, Jew, you cowardly swine, come out and fight alone”) were banned by police, after being heard in Dortmund, Frankfurt and elsewhere. As Merkel pointed out in her podcast appeal before the rally, “there is not a single Jewish institution that doesn’t have to be guarded by police” in Germany.
Today’s anti-Semitism in Germany has little to do with its previous incarnation: Demonstrators from the euro-skeptic, anti-immigration party Alternative fuer Deutschland carried placards at the rally, saying: “Anti-Semitism Is Imported.” For once they were right.
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The two men being held by police in connection with a Wuppertal synagogue attack are German Muslims. Germany’s Jewish population has rebounded to about 200,000, from the post-World-War-II nadir of about 30,000, but Muslims are much more numerous. Berlin, for example, has a Jewish population of about 30,000, and about 200,000 Muslims.
The frequent sight of large groups of young men wearing Palestinian flag T-shirts is making kipa-wearing Jews consider alternate routes. At Sunday’s rally, a group of angry men wearing the distinctive Palestinian kaffiyeh scarves shouted that Israel was a racist state, as they argued with the police who barred them from entry.
There are, of course, old-style, neo-Nazi anti-Semites out there, too, but it isn’t they who are trying to burn down synagogues or calling out the Jews to fight. These white bigots have a problem with the currently dominant strain of anti-Semitism, too, because its carriers have darker skin.
Merkel’s difficulty in combating this wave of anti-Semitism is that she cannot speak freely of its nature, because that might be interpreted as xenophobic. The solution proposed by the anti-immigration parties that are growing in popularity throughout Europe is unpalatable to mainstream politicians such as Merkel. The strict curbs on immigration and crackdown on foreign-born welfare recipients these parties want might help to reduce anti-Semitism as a side effect, but would hardly signal racial tolerance. That’s why the speeches Sunday only made vague mentions of Muslims, in the context of all cultures being equal in modern Europe.
That equality will become increasingly hard to uphold, unless European countries insist on deeper assimilation of minorities into their base cultures, similar to what happens in the U.S. Otherwise, old-country hatreds and conflicts may wreak havoc with even the best intentions of Europe’s leaders.