Why Berlin is Europe’s antisemitism capital

Manfred Gerstenfeld

Berlin has become Europe’s capital of antisemitism. Those who have been accustomed to considering Malmö as such were, however, not wrong. Malmö still suffers from major antisemitism. Yet, antisemitic incidents require not only potential perpetrators. These in Malmö come mainly out of parts of the Muslim community. There must also be a sufficient number of Jews to harass.

Berlin, Germany’s largest Jewish community, has well over 30,000 Jews. The Jewish community in Malmö has shrunk to an estimated 500-600. Perhaps the best solution would be to establish different categories of European antisemitism capitals according to the number of Jews.

When the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, spoke a few months ago in Malmö, he was asked by Jewish and non-Jewish leaders to abolish his organization’s travel warning for the town. Rabbi Cooper answered that he would do so when finally one complaint about antisemitism in Malmö would lead to condemnation by a court. Although several years of numerous antisemitic incidents are behind us, this has not yet happened.

The Research and Information Center for Antisemitism in Berlin (RIAS) published a report that said in the first half of 2018, 527 antisemitic incidents were recorded in the German capital. These included 18 attacks, 21 intentional acts of vandalism and 18 threats. In the same period of 2017, 514 incidents were recorded. RIAS mentioned that there is particular reason for concern because of the increased number of attacks and threats.

In March 2018, a Berlin police report revealed that antisemitic crimes in the capital had doubled during the 2013-2017 period. Police sources told the German newspaper Tagesspiegel that the rise in antisemitism was connected to the increased number of migrants from the Middle East living in the city. National Antisemitism Commissioner Felix Klein has also admitted the statistics presented by the RIAS support the feeling among Jews that Muslims are far more involved in antisemitic incidents than official statistics indicate.

In September 2018, Senior Prosecutor Claudia Vanoni, was appointed as antisemitism commissioner of the prosecution of the Federal State of Berlin. Vanoni said one of her first targets was to unify the definition of antisemitism used, and it was to be based on that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Currently, every police commissioner, prosecutor and court can decide according to their own norms whether an act is considered antisemitic. Vanoni also mentioned that many victims do not complain to the police because they believe there will not be any follow-up.

A PARTICULAR problem is the harassment of Jewish school children. While adults can avoid certain locations, children have to go to school. One of the more extreme cases that became known in 2017 was the harassment of a Jewish youngster the media referred to as “Oscar Michalski.” To protect his identity, his first name had been changed. He was not only insulted, but an older student shot him with a realistic-looking gun of some sort. He also strangled Oscar to the point of unconsciousness. The school’s population is about 80% Muslim, mostly of Turkish and some Arab provenance.

Every year in Berlin, the anti-Israel al-Quds demonstration takes place. After the June 2018 demonstration, Berlin Senator of the Interior Andreas Geisel, a socialist, said the goal of these demonstrations was despicable, but one cannot prohibit a demonstration based on what people think.

There are many aspects to antisemitism in Berlin, of which only a few can be mentioned here. The Berlin University of Applied Science, founded in 1971, was renamed in 2009 for Christian Peter Wilhelm Beuth (1781-1853), a Prussian statesman and virulent antisemite. He called for the murder of Jews and, inter alia, embraced blood libel accusations.

The Jewish Museum is another problematic institution for different reasons. One would expect the museum to have a consistent attitude against antisemitism. Yet in July last year, Jeremy Isacharoff, Israel’s ambassador to Germany, had to complain to the museum’s management about a planned lecture by a hard-core anti-Israel speaker, US-based academic Sa’ed Atshan, a Swarthmore College professor of “peace and conflict studies” in Pennsylvania. Atshan is closely allied with the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. After the ambassador’s complaint, the museum canceled the lecture.

In September 2012, the museum held a discussion by US based academic, Judith Butler, in which she called for a boycott of Israel. She received much applause for her statements. The museum made it clear that questions from the audience would only be permitted in writing. Recently, the museum was accused of systematic omission of Jewish perspectives in its current exhibition titled “Welcome to Jerusalem.” The Jewish community has been complaining about the museum for a long time.

The Center for Research of Antisemitism at Berlin’s Technical University has, over the years, gained much expertise in the study of antisemitism. Yet, in October 2018, it came under major criticism for employing Luis Hernandez Aguilar, a researcher who works for a British organization that promotes the London version of the al-Quds rally. The deputy director of the center reacted by saying, “We are happy to have won Mr. Aguilar as a fellow and as an internationally recognized expert in the field of hostility to Islam.”

There is one more major reason to label Berlin as Europe’s capital of antisemitism: the German government that resides there has in recent years allowed hundreds of thousands of antisemites from Muslim countries to immigrate without selection.

Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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