German Jews call for crackdown on anti-Semitism, including among Muslims

Almost 40 Jewish groups urge Berlin to require organizations to publicly renounce anti-Jewish sentiment and BDS as a condition for receiving funds

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: A participant wears a kippah during a 'wear a kippah' gathering to protest against anti-Semitism in front of the Jewish Community House on April 25, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. (Carsten Koall/Getty Images via JTA)
Illustrative: A participant wears a kippah during a 'wear a kippah' gathering to protest against anti-Semitism in front of the Jewish Community House on April 25, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. (Carsten Koall/Getty Images via JTA)

Dozens of Jewish organizations in Germany have called on the government to crack down on anti-Semitism following a string of anti-Jewish attacks.

In an open letter signed by 38 groups, the country’s Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism (JFDA) on Monday outlined a policy statement, urging Berlin to condition funds for civil and religious organizations on them issuing public declarations distancing themselves from anti-Semitism in all its forms.

The statement called on authorities to take the experiences of attack victims more seriously and increase their investment in support projects and democracy promotion programs. It called for recognition that anti-Semitism is an “attack on the entire liberal democratic community.”

It urged the government and all state-funded groups to adopt the working definition for anti-Semitism devised by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which categorizes some criticism of Israel as well as support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign as anti-Semitic.

Better understanding of anti-Semitism in all its forms is needed among Germany’s police and judiciary, among youths in schools, among refugees and in the country’s media, the statement continued.

It also said the fight against anti-Semitism should take into account its prevalence over centuries and not be equated with other prejudices such as hatred of Muslims.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Friday, June 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

“Anti-Semitism cannot be successfully fought as a mere subcategory of racism,” the German-language statement said. “Anti-Semitism, racism and Islamophobia cannot be equated.”

Lala Süsskind, chairwoman of the JFDA, told Deutsche Welle that the statement was also directed at Muslim organizations, warning against playing down anti-Semitism among Muslims in Germany. She said that denying anti-Jewish tendencies among Muslim groups, out of fear acknowledging them will fuel Islamophobia, is “detrimental” to combating anti-Semitism and a “mockery of the victims.”

Aiman Mazyek, president of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, responded by telling the website he didn’t think the Jewish initiative was directly addressing his organization, adding: “I take note of the appeal, and I believe it’s correct and important to highlight painful issues, to make every necessary effort to fight anti-Semitism, and we remain committed to this fight with all the social power that’s available to us.”

Aiman Mazyek, chairman of Germany’s Central Council of Muslims, poses for the media prior to a press conference in Berlin, Germany, February 3, 2016. (Michael Sohn/AP)

But Süsskind called that response “regrettable” and said the statement should be “explicitly understood as an invitation to all religious groups, political parties and social associations,” Deutsche Welle said. “There are few Muslim associations to which you can speak openly,” she said of previous attempts at Jewish-Muslim dialogue on the subject.

Germany’s government is yet to respond to the Jewish organization’s appeal, the report said, adding that Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had already pledged last week to increase annual funding for the Central Council of Jews in Germany from €10 million ($11.7 million) to €13 million, due to “the growing threat to Jewish life in Germany.”

“Those who threaten our Jewish citizens threaten us all,” Seehofer was quoted as saying.

Alarm bells have been raised about renewed anti-Semitism in Germany from both the far-right and a large influx of predominantly Muslim asylum seekers since 2015.

Germany was shocked by a case of anti-Semitism in April involving a Syrian migrant who lashed out with his belt at an Arab Israeli man wearing a kippa. A video of the street assault, filmed by the victim on his smartphone, sparked widespread public revulsion as it spread on social media and triggered street rallies in solidarity with Jews.

A court convicted Knaan al-Sebai, 19, a Syrian migrant of Palestinian origin, on assault charges and he was sentenced to four weeks of juvenile detention for the attack.

An Arabic-speaking man is seen preparing to whip a kippah-wearing non-Jewish man in an anti-Semitic attack in Berlin in a video published on April 18, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

On Sunday, a group of 10 people — reportedly Syrians — were arrested after attacking a man in a Berlin park wearing a Star of David pendant. Police said the victim had approached the group in a park to borrow a lighter, but his cigarette was snatched away.

The 25-year-old had his Star of David chain ripped from his neck by one of the men, who were spewing “anti-Semitic insults.” The attacker allegedly repeatedly punched the victim in the face, before fleeing. The victim was treated in a hospital after suffering cuts to the head.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking with Israeli television in April, said she was “saddened” that her country has not been able to snuff out anti-Semitism for good, and that to this day, Jewish schools, kindergartens and synagogues require police protection.

“We have refugees now, for example, or people of Arab origin, who bring a different type of anti-Semitism into the country,” she said. “But unfortunately, anti-Semitism existed before this.”

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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