Windows at a newspaper office in Spremberg, Germany, were sprayed with anti-Semitic grafitti this month, reading “Jews” and “We’ll catch you all.” Agence France-Presse/Getty Images. Photo courtesy of: Blazing CatFur
by, Frau Katze | Blazing CatFur
BERLIN, Germany: On a recent Monday morning, two police officers stood guard outside the Lauder Nitzan Kindergarten, a white, three-story house marked by a discreet nameplate. Shortly after 9 a.m., a dozen children walked out and headed for the playground, minded by a nervous-looking civilian with a pistol protruding from a belt holster.
Most Jewish institutions in Germany have long had 24-hour police protection. Many, like the kindergarten, also employ private security. But such vigilance, usually intended to stave off neo-Nazis, has taken on fresh urgency amid an upsurge in anti-Semitic acts this year that some authorities and Jewish community leaders blame on Muslims.
Chancellor Angela Merkel will address a rally against anti-Semitism in Berlin on Sunday, underlining the government’s concern. But many Jews in Germany are worried their country doesn’t have a clear plan.
This summer, protesters against Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip unleashed a barrage of abuse, calling Jews “cowardly pigs,” “child murderers” and fodder for the gas chambers, according to witnesses and Jewish organizations. On the sidelines, a mob hounded a Jewish couple in Berlin and Jews were beaten in Hamburg and Frankfurt.
Similar incidents were taking place elsewhere in Europe, but in the country that masterminded the Holocaust, they evoked particularly painful memories.
“We haven’t heard these things on German streets for 50, 60 years,” said Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews, sitting in his office on a Frankfurt side street. “The fact that people on German streets are saying Jews should burn, Jews should be slaughtered, Jews should be gassed. It hits a particular nerve for us.”
Through education and prevention, but also repression, successive German governments largely succeeded in banning anti-Semitic speech from the public domain. Yet these efforts focused on the far-right; anti-Semitism in Muslim communities was left unchecked, according to community activists and government officials.
“The protests got a lot of attention, but ‘Jew’ has been used as an insult by young Muslims in schoolyards, on sports grounds, for years,” said Ahmad Mansour, an Israeli Arab who has led initiatives against prejudice and radicalization among Muslims in Germany since 2007. “There is a group of people that Germany’s fight against anti-Semitism passed by.”
Aiman Mazyek, president of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, said that Islam forbids anti-Semitism, but that some Muslims blur the border between criticism of Israel and hate speech.
“It must be addressed, but community leaders can’t do this on their own,” he said. “The state must step in, too, as it has done against right-wing anti-Semitism.”
In a radio interview two weeks ago, Hans-Georg Maassen, president of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, said “we’ve always associated anti-Semitism with national socialism [Nazis], the extreme right. We are now realizing that many immigrants who came to Germany harbor anti-Semitic prejudice.”
Long-term studies by Bielefeld and Leipzig universities show anti-Semitic prejudice in Germany is less widespread today than it was 10 years ago. Police records of anti-Semitic acts show the same trend.
But starting in 2002, the year of the second intifada, bouts of violence in the Middle East have coincided with spikes of anti-Semitism here, according to police, fanning fear among Jews.
“If you look back over 30 years, the statistics haven’t changed that much,” said Daniel Alter, a Berlin rabbi who survived a vicious attack in 2012 and now works with imams on outreach programs. “But anti-Semitism has become more visible, more accepted.”
Mr. Alter now wears a cap over his yarmulke. “There are too many places in Berlin where it would be irresponsible to advertise yourself as a Jew,” he said.
Esther Mizrahi, director of the Lauder Nitzan Kindergarten in central Berlin, said she doesn’t feel comfortable taking her children to the kosher store. A 31-year-old woman from an Orthodox household said Lebanese boys threw a stone through her window last month after arguing with her children over the Gaza conflict.
One obstacle to combating anti-Semitism among Muslims has been reluctance among politicians and the police to stigmatize a community that faces racism itself. Last week, a study by the government’s antidiscrimination watchdog showed far more antipathy in Germany against Gypsies and Muslims than against Jews. A mosque was burned in Berlin last month in a suspected arson attack.
Immigration from the former Soviet Union after the Berlin Wall fell saw Germany’s Jewish community grow to about 130,000 from 30,000 in the late 1980s. That doesn’t count an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Israelis living here.
The spread of anti-Semitic speech, from online forums to schoolyards, risks sending the community retreating in its shell, said Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee Berlin Office.
“Frictions with Muslims mean more and more Jewish families are deciding to send their children to Jewish schools,” she said. “There’s a tendency to seclude. If you can’t send your child to the local school, it’s a daunting challenge for society.”
A year ago, Ms. Merkel said she was ashamed that Jewish institutions still required police protection. Mr. Graumann thinks it will be a long time before the guards become superfluous.
“I wish we no longer needed them,” he said. “But that may have to wait until the Messiah comes.”