'Nearly seven incidents per day'

Antisemitism levels remain high in Germany amid fears of right-wing surge

Data from 2022 shows an overall decrease in incidents nationwide, but an increase in violent attacks; Netherlands also sees dip in cases

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Police secure a synagogue in Essen, Germany, October 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Police secure a synagogue in Essen, Germany, October 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

AMSTERDAM — A German watchdog on antisemitism documented 2,480 incidents nationwide in 2022, constituting a nine percent decrease in comparison to the 2021 statistics.

Separately, in the Netherlands, Jewish community professionals recorded a 15% decrease in antisemitic incidents in 2022 over the previous year, down to 155 incidents last year.

“That is nearly seven incidents per day. Antisemitism in Germany remains at a high level,” Germany’s Federal Association of Research and Information Centers on Antisemitism, or RIAS, wrote in a statement about its annual report published Tuesday.

Despite the decrease it records, the tally nonetheless constitutes a 26% increase over the 2020 statistics, RIAS wrote.

A similar trend emerges from Monday’s report by CIDI, the Dutch Jewish community’s watchdog organization. The 2022 statistics by CIDI, the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, are 14% higher than the ones from 2020.

The 2021 data in both countries reflected a spike in antisemitic activity during Israel’s fighting with Hamas in the Gaza Strip that year.

The incidents recorded in Germany in 2022 included nine cases of extreme violence, up from six in 2021. In the Netherlands, CIDI recorded three violent incidents in 2022, the same as in 2021.

One of the extreme violence cases in Germany was a shooting in November at a rabbi’s residence at the Old Synagogue of Essen. Bullet holes were discovered in the residence’s windows.

Illustrative: People with Israeli flags and banners attend a rally against antisemitism near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Sunday, September 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

In the Netherlands, the incidents included a fistfight that broke out on Amsterdam’s Dam Square, a monument to the victims of World War II. Jews who were celebrating Purim there were assaulted by a group of young individuals, of whom one was detained by police, CIDI wrote. The report did not specify the ideological motivation of the attackers.

About three quarters of all incidents in Germany last year were what RIAS calls “abusive behavior,” meaning antisemitic statements made in public or the scrawling of antisemitic graffiti. The group, which is funded by the German government, also registered 56 assaults, down from 63 in 2021, 186 cases of targeted damage of property and 72 threats. RIAS recorded 426 antisemitic gatherings in 2022, down from 449 the previous year.

In slightly more than half of all incidents, RIAS was not able to identify an ideological background. In the incidents where an ideological background could be ascertained, conspiracists were responsible for 21%, right-wing extremists or populists contributed 13% and anti-Israel activists were responsible for 7%. Islamists were responsible for only 1% of incidents where an ideological background could be ascertained.

The breakdown does not necessarily reflect the distribution of perpetrators in real life, according to Ariel Muzicant, the president of the European Jewish Congress.

“There is considerable antisemitic agitation in far-right circles in Germany, and you have individual neo-Nazis who might carry out an attack on a synagogue or beat up a rabbi on the street,” Muzicant told The Times of Israel. “But the driving force of lethal antisemitism, which is endangering Jewish lives, in Europe today, is extremist Muslims.”

People from Muslim environments in Western Europe are responsible for at least 50% of physical assaults on Jews in Western Europe today, he said, adding that Iranian propaganda is “a serious factor, inciting attackers to act.”

Far-right German lawmaker Robert Sesselmann, center, visits a butcher shop in Sonneberg, Germany on April 27, 2023. (Robert Sesselmann)

The RIAS report was published shortly after a symbolic victory for the German far-right. The populist AfD party on Sunday won a district council election for the first time in Sonneberg, a rural area in eastern Germany.

The AfD party is polling at about 19-20% nationally, about eight points over its gains in the 2021 legislative elections, in which it emerged as third-largest in parliament. The Social Democratic Party of Chancellor Olaf Scholz clinched 20% of the vote in that elections, trailing only the center-right party of former chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Sunday, Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called the regional election in Sonneberg “a watershed [moment] that this country’s democratic political forces cannot simply accept.”

The International Auschwitz Committee commemoration group called the election “a sad day for the Sonneberg district, for Germany, and for democracy.”

“A majority of voters have obviously said goodbye to democracy and deliberately opted for an extreme right-wing party of destruction dominated by a Nazi,” said the committee’s executive vice president, Christoph Heubner, referring to Björn Höcke, a regional leader of AfD who is widely considered to be an extremist even within the party.

Höcke, who in a 2017 speech said he wished to see a “180-degree change” in how Germany commemorates the Holocaust, has denied being pro-Nazi. The Third Reich has “no relation to our program at all,” he has said.

In the Netherlands, political parties that have been accused of antisemitism or xenophobia are also a prominent force, accounting for a total of 15% of the electorate as per the 2021 legislative elections.

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