Interview'Jewish life is a part of Germany'

German envoy to Israel: Rise in anti-Semitism threatens cohesion of our society

‘We all regret that these fantastic Jewish institutions and schools have to be protected,’ Ambassador Susanne Wasum-Rainer tells Times of Israel. ‘But that’s our responsibility’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: June 10, 2014, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, a man wears a kippa with the flags of Germany and Israel. (Frank Rumpenhorst / dpa / AFP)
Illustrative: June 10, 2014, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, a man wears a kippa with the flags of Germany and Israel. (Frank Rumpenhorst / dpa / AFP)

The current rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Germany jeopardizes the country’s social cohesion, Berlin’s ambassador to Tel Aviv said Tuesday, vowing to take the fight against Jew hatred “very seriously.”

Speaking to The Times of Israel in the wake of a renewed focus on the topic, which was triggered last week when a senior official in Berlin said he could not promise that Jews wearing skullcaps would be safe in every part of Germany, Ambassador Susanne Wasum-Rainer expressed regret at the fact that Jewish institutions still need protection.

“We are convinced that this anti-Semitism harms our country, risks the cohesion of our society. And the government is taking its responsibility here very seriously,” she said.

“Jewish life is a part of Germany. We are glad and happy that after World War II, Jewish life was once again possible in Germany, and therefore the government considers a particularly great responsibility toward Jewish life in Germany.”

Anti-Semitic crimes, which an annual survey last week showed increased in 2018, are an “attack on our freedom and our democracy,” Wasum-Rainer said. “It’s an attack on human dignity, on freedom, liberty, peace and tolerance. It’s an effort to unsettle our democratic system.”

Also on Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel, in an interview with CNN, acknowledged that Jewish institutions need constant protection.

“There is to this day not a single synagogue, not a single daycare center for Jewish children, not a single school for Jewish children that does not need to be guarded by German policemen,” Merkel said.

Germany’s Ambassador to Israel Susanne Wasum-Rainer (courtesy German Embassy Tel Aviv)

Asked if, in light of this fact, it was not unrealistic to expect that Jews could wear skullcaps everywhere on German streets, Wasum-Rainer replied: “I regret — we all regret — that these fantastic Jewish institutions that were created in Berlin and elsewhere have to be protected. We regret that schools have to be guarded. But it’s part of our responsibility to guarantee the unrestricted free exercise of one’s religion. Germany is committed to this responsibility.”

It is the state’s responsibility to guarantee that freedom of religion is possible “everywhere in Germany, without any limitations,” the German diplomat said. “It’s the state’s job that no one is being attacked or antagonized because he is wearing a kippa, or any other religious symbol.”

The ambassador, who is currently on her second tour in Israel, after having served at the Tel Aviv embassy between 1993 and 1997, said she could not predict the future, but promised that Germany “will always do everything to provide security so that Jews everywhere in German can show their religion.”

Felix Klein, the German government’s first-ever special envoy to the Jewish community, at the ‘Berlin wears a kippa’ protest, April 25, 2018 (courtesy BMI)

The statement from Felix Klein, the German government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, that he “cannot recommend to Jews that they wear the skullcap at all times everywhere in Germany,” caused outrage and alarm across the Jewish world, including in Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin, for instance, on Sunday said he was “deeply” shocked by Klein’s admission, stressing that it was the responsibility of German law enforcement agencies to ensure that Jews can freely practice their religion.

“We acknowledge and appreciate the moral position of the German government, and its commitment to the Jewish community that lives there, but fears about the security of German Jews are a capitulation to anti-Semitism and an admission that, again, Jews are not safe on German soil,” Rivlin said.

“We will never submit, will never lower our gaze and will never react to anti-Semitism with defeatism — and expect and demand our allies act in the same way.”

Wasum-Rainer, who has been Germany’s ambassador to Israel since September 2018, said she did not interpret Rivlin’s words about a “capitulation” as a criticism of Germany’s response to anti-Semitism.

“President Rivlin said exactly what Chancellor Merkel’s spokesperson said Monday: The government is committed to its responsibility toward Jewish life, and that it is not capitulating,” she said.

The German government is pursuing every single anti-Semitic incident, but in addition is investing many resources in preventive programs, Wasum-Rainer stressed.

“Klein’s appointment as special envoy for Jewish life in Germany, which took place last year, is one of many measure the government is taking to prevent such things from happening. Others are in the areas of criminal prosecution, prevention, education, creating awareness. There are many other currently ongoing programs.”

An anti-extremism program called “Living Democracy,” which also includes specific projects tackling anti-Semitism, in 2018 received more than 100 million euros in state funding, she said.

The May 27, 2019 front page of German daily Bild, featuring a cut-out kippa and urging readers to wear the Jewish skullcap in protest of anti-Semitic attacks. (Twitter)

In light of the renewed attention to anti-Semitism rearing its head in the country that perpetrated the Holocaust, Bild, Germany’s largest daily newspaper, printed a cut-out kippa, asking readers to wear it in solidarity with the Jewish community.

“The kippa is part of Germany,” the paper’s editor-in-chief, wrote in an accompanying article. Many prominent Germans, including Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, published photos showing them wearing the Bild kippa.

Asked if such one-day-of-solidarity gestures are helpful or if they are merely a well-meant but ultimately meaningless publicity stunt, Wasum-Rainer replied: “I welcome every gesture coming from civil society, every sign of solidarity with the Jews in Germany, this important group in Germany, wherever it may come from.”

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