The supreme irony of German anti-Semitism is that it took the horrors of the Holocaust and the near-total destruction of German (and European) Jewry to banish it from wholesale public acceptance.
These days, anti-Semitism still has a bad name in Germany, at least under the law. It's illegal there to incite hatred against Jews (and other ethnic and religious groups) or to deny and even minimize the nation’s Nazi-era Holocaust crimes.
But that hasn't been enough to keep anti-Semitism from reemerging in Germany in a big way of late, particularly among the far-right and Muslim immigrants. I’ll say more below, but for now just keep this in mind: the Israel angle.
Germany, of course, isn't the only European nation to fall prey to a re-run of what many over the years have labeled the world’s oldest hatred. Examples abound in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary and elsewhere.
Nor is rising anti-Semitism in the West confined to Europe. It's being more freely expressed in the United States -- remember Charlottesville? -- and in Canada, as well.
By way of illustration, here’s a bit from a recent story from Poland by JTA, the global Jewish news wire service. (Journalists and others with an interest in Jewish-related news should read it regularly; it's free, meaning there's no wall.)
Things went from bad to worse following a row between Poland and Israel over Warsaw passing a law in January that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes. The dispute unleashed the worst wave of anti-Semitism since the fall of the Iron Curtain, according to Rafal Pankowski, co-founder of the Polish anti-racism group Never Again.
In the wake of the fight over the law, he told JTA: “In the space of one month, I have seen more anti-Semitic hate speech than in the previous 10 years combined.”
Ah, another Israel-angle tease. But first, a personal aside to make my bias clear.
Poland is the nation that my mother’s family left to escape anti-Semitism (my father’s did the same, but from what is now Belarus). My wife’s family also had Polish roots, but lived in Germany. Her mom lost about a dozen relatives in the Holocaust. The survivors mostly moved to Israel, where she was born.
In short, I strongly identify as a Jew and with Israel.
Now back to Germany, currently the headline-grabbing center of European anti-Semitism. It holds that title, for now, because of the recent, so-called yarmulke/kippah/skullcap incident and its aftermath.
For years, Jews have been warned in Germany, France and other European nations not to wear in public a skullcap of the sort worn by those who are religiously observant. This Associated Press story (as carried by Religion News Service) sums up the yarmulke incident and its aftermath quite well, if you need a refresher.
Did you notice that the individual who’s victimization sparked this latest German anti-Semitic uproar was a Palestinian Israeli -- a non-Jew -- who wanted to test whether it is, in fact, dangerous in Germany for Jews to show outward signs of their religious ethnicity?
Another irony, I’d say.
The other day, The Washington Post published two pieces on the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Germany.
The main story was headlined: “After a refugee influx, does Germany have an imported anti-Semitism problem?” The sidebar, a Q&A interview with Felix Klein, Germany’s first anti-Semitism commissioner, carried this hed: “Germany’s first-ever anti-Semitism commissioner says the problem is becoming ‘more aggressive.’ ”
In his interview, Klein was asked to compare the anti-Semitism coming from the German right with that perpetuated by some among the many thousands of, mainly, Middle East Muslims that have arrived in Germany fleeing war and poverty. He replied:
WP: When it comes to those two different categories -- the anti-Semitic incidents that are perpetrated by migrants or refugees, and the anti-Semitism that’s perpetrated by the far right -- what is your sense of which one is more pervasive?
FK: I wouldn’t like to prioritize the kind of anti-Semitism to combat first. It is generally unacceptable. But what I think is particularly difficult, and absolutely unacceptable, is the way the extreme right is threatening and insulting Jews, also with historical prejudices and arguments. That’s particularly insulting to them. Whereas I think more aggression and physical attacks maybe generally fall more into the category of anti-Semitic attacks that are motivated by Muslims.
Now, for why anti-Semitism in Germany is likely to get worse, despite the support that non-Jewish German citizens and residents, including some Muslims, have shown for their Jewish neighbors.
It's the Israel angle I've been teasing; specifically the long Arab and global Muslim conflict with Israel's Jewish majority and the nation's very existence.
It’s my experience that many, if not most, Middle East and other Muslims fail to distinguish between Israeli Jews and Jews in general. Nor do they generally distinguish between Jews, Israeli or otherwise, who support Israeli government actions against Palestinians -- the main beef -- and those Jews who oppose Israeli policies over the 70 years of its existence.
In fact, multiple surveys have shown that more and more American Jews, particularly younger ones, have completely separated themselves from Israel. Some are even fervently anti-Zionist — including a minority who wear a religious skullcap. But how do you tell them apart on the street?
To be fair, it's also my experience that a great deal of generalized prejudice exists within the Jewish world toward Arabs and Muslims. Decades of hatred and war does that to people. All peoples. It's called circling the wagons, tribal style.
Now for the kicker.
For the reason I noted just above -- the lumping together of all Jews, regardless of their individual views -- anti-Semitism, in Germany and elsewhere, is likely to increase as Israel and Muslim Iran slide toward war, perhaps, but hopefully not, to a degree the Middle East has not before seen. Iran keeps trying to increase its military assets in Syria for predicted use against Israel and Israel keeps attacking those assets to deter Iran, which constantly threatens Israel with destruction, from achieving its goal.
This past weekend was no different. Click here to stay abreast.
If you keep up with news from the Middle East, you probably realize that one mistake, one stupid move by any of the competing parties, could be the disastrous spark that sets everything ablaze. The U.S. will inevitably be drawn into such a conflict.
Journalists outside of the Middle East: Sadly, this is probably a good time to reconnect with your best sources on all sides of this many-pronged conflict.