German leaders vow better security for Jews after synagogue attack

Merkel tells Netanyahu she plans to step up security around community institutions; Rivlin asks his counterpart to take ‘uncompromising action’ against anti-Semitism

Police patrols on October 10, 2019 at the synagogue in Berlin, one day after the attack in Halle, eastern Germany, where two people were shot dead. (MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP)
Police patrols on October 10, 2019 at the synagogue in Berlin, one day after the attack in Halle, eastern Germany, where two people were shot dead. (MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel following Wednesday’s attack on a synagogue in the German city of Halle.

In a phone call, Netanyahu expressed his appreciation of Merkel’s firm stance against anti-Semitism and said it was important to intensify efforts opposing the phenomenon, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Merkel agreed with Netanyahu and said that she intends to step up security measures for the Jewish community.

Two people were killed in the shooting outside a synagogue in Halle Wednesday, which took place on Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day of the year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, stands with Rabbi Gesa S. Ederberg, left, and other members of the Jewish community at a vigil outside the New Synagogue in Berlin on October 9, 2019. (Anton Roland Laub/AFP)

The suspected assailant — a German citizen identified as Stephan Balliet — tried but failed to force his way into the synagogue, with around 80 people inside.

He then shot and killed a woman in the street outside and a man at a nearby kebab shop. He is now in custody.

Germany’s top prosecutor said that the attacker had around four kilograms (nearly nine pounds) of explosives in his car and wanted to carry out a massacre.

Policemen stand in front of a wall of the Jewish cemetery close to the site of a shooting in Halle an der Saale, eastern Germany, on October 9, 2019 (Sebastian Willnow / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT

Unlike synagogues in many other German cities, the one in Halle didn’t have police officers outside for Yom Kippur, an omission strongly criticized by Jewish leaders.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who visited the synagogue Thursday, promised wider security improvements for Jewish facilities, including full police protection for synagogues and said the German government also was examining how to better combat hate speech online.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, right, welcomes President Reuven Rivlin at a ceremony commemorating the 11 Israeli athletes who were killed in a terrorist attack during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, September 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

He called the attack “a disgrace for our whole country.”

“With our history, something like this should not happen in Germany,” Seehofer said. “Unfortunately, we must look the truth in the face, and the truth has been for a long time that the threat from anti-Semitism, right-wing extremism and right-wing terrorism in Germany is very high.”

Earlier Thursday President Reuven Rivlin asked German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier to “take uncompromising action” to counter anti-Semitism in Germany, the president’s office said in a statement.

Mourners light candles on October 10, 2019 at the synagogue in Halle, eastern Germany, one day after the deadly anti-Semitic shooting. (Ronny Hartmann / AFP)

“We appreciate the efforts taken by the German authorities to protect and to secure German Jews, and still there is more to be done, and the fight has to be without hesitation or compromise. I appreciate your willingness and the willingness of the Chancellor to express your personal support for the Jewish community and your visit to the synagogue earlier today,” Rivlin said.

“We are partners in the fight against anti-Semitism and neo-Facism. We must learn from this incident to make sure that nothing similar ever happens again. Fascism, neo-Fascism and anti-Semitism are a source of concern for the whole world,” Rivlin said.

Steinmeier, who met with Jewish community representatives earlier Thursday and visited the scene of the attack, called on ordinary Germans to step up in the struggle against anti-Semitism.

“Mr. President, I feel your pain, concern and fear and I share it. I said in my statement today that it is not enough to deplore and denounce. The German state has to live up to its responsibility to protect Jewish life. The vast majority of Germans who want that must be more active and more vocal,” Steinmeier said.

(L-R) German President’s wife Elke Buedenbender and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrive at the synagogue in Halle, eastern Germany, on October 10, 2019, one day after the attack where two people were shot dead. (Axel Schmidt/AFP)

Speaking at the synagogue, Steinmeier also said “it is not enough to condemn such a cowardly attack.”

“It must be clear that the state takes responsibility for the safety of Jewish life in Germany,” he added, saying that society as a whole must show “a clear, determined position of solidarity” with Jews.

“History reminds us, the present demands of us” that Germans must stand by their Jewish compatriots, he said. “Those who so far have been silent must speak out.”

A police officer runs on a road in Halle, Germany, following a shooting outside a synagogue, October 9, 2019. (Sebastian Willnow/dpa via AP)

Synagogues are often protected by police in Germany and have been for many years amid concerns over far-right and Islamic extremism. There has been rising concern lately about both anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism in the country.

The shooter live streamed the attack for 35 minutes on the online platform Twitch. During the video he delivered an anti-Semitic diatribe denying the Holocaust and blaming Jews for being “at the root of problems” in Western societies.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency says the number of anti-Semitic acts of violence rose to 48 last year from 21 the previous year. It also said the number of far-right extremists rose by 100 to 24,100 people last year, with more than half of them considered potentially violent.

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