Merkel to headline rally against anti-Semitism

German foreign minister laments that such a demonstration necessary after ‘dark 20th century history’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a meeting of the German parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin, on Thursday, March 20, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Michael Sohn)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a meeting of the German parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin, on Thursday, March 20, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Michael Sohn)

BERLIN (AFP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Jewish leaders will speak Sunday at a Berlin rally against anti-Semitism after the latest Gaza conflict sparked an upsurge in hate speech against Jews.

Under the banner “Stand Up: Jew Hatred – Never Again!” political and religious leaders and thousands of people are expected at the rally from 3 p.m. (1 p.m. GMT) at the iconic Brandenburg Gate.

The event, to be attended by German President Joachim Gauck, coincides with a meeting in the capital of the World Jewish Congress, whose president Ronald S. Lauder is among the speakers.

It comes 75 years after the outbreak of World War II, during which Nazi Germany murdered six million Jews, a crime that remains a source of enduring shame in the country.

Germany’s Jewish community in July, at the height of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, condemned an “explosion of evil and violent hatred of Jews” at pro-Palestinian rallies where some demonstrators chanted that Jews should be “gassed.”

The spate of ugly incidents that deeply unsettled Germany’s resurgent 200,000-strong Jewish community also saw a petrol bomb hurled at the facade of a synagogue in the western city of Wuppertal.

Levi Salomon of the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism said that after “outrageously anti-Semitic” chants drew widespread political and media condemnation, rally organizers merely shifted their language from attacking “Jews” to “Zionists.”

Although the street protests were dominated by young Muslim men, Salomon pointed out in an essay, they also drew support from an alliance of “neo-Nazis, Israel-boycott activists, left anti-imperialist and Islamist groups under the banner of hatred.”

“The trigger for the flare-up of anti-Semitism was the escalation in the Middle East, but the cause was the anti-Semitism that remains rooted in large parts of German society,” he wrote.

‘Dark 20th century history’

Merkel, in her latest weekly podcast, vowed to “personally do everything I can — as will my entire government — to ensure that anti-Semitism doesn’t have a chance in our country.”

But the chancellor — who has won Israel’s highest civilian honor for her efforts against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial — stressed that “we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

“We can see that there is not a single Jewish institution here that doesn’t require police protection… That’s something that very much concerns me.”

Her government, including Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has urged citizens to show up and lend their support in great numbers.

“Unfortunately, recent weeks have shown that anti-Semitism and racism rear its ugly head again and again in this country despite our dark 20th century history,” Steinmeier told newspaper the Ruhr Nachrichten. “We must resolutely confront this.”

He added that he wished events like the rally were not necessary and called for a sustained societal effort against anti-Semitism “on the other 364 days” of the year.

Prominent personalities and media have also joined in the campaign.

A commentary in mass-circulation daily Bild said: “Stand up! Banish Anti-Semitism forever! By joining forces on Sunday at the Brandenburg Gate we will send a clear message against hatred towards Jews. Enough is enough! Anti-Semitism has no place in Germany!”

The publisher of Bild, Axel Springer, is marking the event with a 180-square-metre (2,000-square-foot) light installation on the facade of its Berlin headquarters that says “Speak out! Never again hatred of Jews.”

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