“Anti-Semitism has become louder, more aggressive”

A man with a star of David on his kippah follows the ceremony during a commemoration event at the synagogue Rykestrasse in Berlin, Germany, 09 November 2018. [EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN]

National socialism, only a ‘bird’s shit’ in history as a German right-wing politician indicated lately? Years ago nobody would have dared to say this, believes Sigmount Königsberg. A ‘double interview’ with him and Sawsan Chebli.

Sawsan Chebli is plenipotentiary of the state of Berlin at the Federal Government and State Secretary for Citizenship and International Affairs. Sigmount Königsberg is a commissioner against anti-Semitism at the Jewish Community in Berlin.

They spoke to EURACTIV Germany’s media partner ‘Der Tagesspiegel’.

Ms. Chebli, Mr. Königsberg, 89% of the Jews in Germany have the impression that anti-Semitism is getting more and more intense. Do you feel the same?

Königsberg: Yes. Anti-Semitism has become louder, more aggressive. The number of people with anti-Semitic attitudes may not necessarily have increased. But a few years ago nobody would have dared to call the Nazi period a “bird’s shit in history”.

Chebli: We have known for decades that we have 20% of latent anti-Semitism in society. What’s new is that it leaves the latent realm much more often and appears to be blatantly coming from many directions. Certain things become more telling. That’s why it’s so important to bring the red lines back to consciousness. Nobody takes that responsibility away from us. Each and every one of us is required to act.

Are authorities, are politics and society attentive enough?

Königsberg: In fact, our warnings, some of which we already issued 15 years ago, are heard today. The increased number of anti-Semitic incidents certainly plays a role here as well. There is an increased sensitivity in both civil society and politics on the subject.

Chebli: We take these numbers very seriously. I can assure you of that. The awareness that we need to do more to safeguard Jewish life is there – with all  sides involved. The fact that the Senate has launched the working group against anti-Semitism shows that the Senate also takes this very seriously.

In the debate, there is often the talk about immigrated anti-Semitism. Is this also used to spread anti-Muslim stereotypes?

Königsberg: You cannot fight anti-Semitism with Islamophobia, this is not possible. Who does that pours oil into the fire. I can only deal with anti-Semitism among Muslims together with Muslims. Likewise, I cannot keep silent when Muslims are discriminated against. This is another reason why it is important for Muslims and Jews to work together.

Chebli: I am one of those who say: Yes, there is anti-Semitism among Muslims. We should not paint a simple and nice picture here. The clearer and more honest we handle it, the better for everyone. And the willingness of Muslims to deal with it even more critically has never been more pronounced than it is today.

At the same time, we experience how the AfD is trying to propagate Islamophobia under the guise of fighting anti-Semitism. We should not fall for those Islam haters. We must do both: name anti-Semitism without exception as such, but on the other hand, not stigmatise or criminalise a group as a whole.

The creation of the working group on anti-Semitism was accompanied by the criticism that it is lead by a Muslim woman. Does this criticism still prevail?

Chebli: I do not know this criticism and if it would exist, it would be absurd.

Königsberg: The presence of Muslim members has strengthened us. Without this perspective something would had been missing. I feel that cooperation with Muslims in the fight against anti-Semitism is a beneficial enrichment.

Anti-Semitic prejudices are often disseminated on social media. How important are contributions such as that of then German justice minister Heiko Maas, who on Twitter repeatedly denounced anti-Semitism?

Chebli: Politicians must take the very clear stance that anti-Semitism should have no place in this country. I am ashamed to hear that Jews are thinking about leaving this country. Politics alone will not be able to defeat anti-Semitism. We also need a strong civil society, which pulls the same string with us. Everyone in this country has a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism. Anyone who expresses anti-Semitist statements, should not weigh oneself in security, but must meet a decided contradiction.

Königsberg: One cannot respond to such hate speech with silence. Silence is consent. On the contrary: A strong and loud with a clear attitude is needed here.Otherwise you leave the field to the enemies of democracy.

As a strong signal against xenophobia and anti-Semitism was last seen by more than 200 000 people visited the “Unteilbar” [indivisible] demonstration. An important sign also to the Jewish community?

Königsberg: “Indivisible” has shown that all parts of society, all communities, stand together and can not be separated. We called for participation and I would do it again. The basic attitude of the demonstration was very well perceived by our members. It’s a signal, but there has to follow more.

One aspect is anti-Semitism in schools. Sawsan Chebli had initiated obligatory visits to concentration camp memorials. Is that a good idea?

Königsberg: I ​​think it’s a good approach, but only on one condition: such visits must be thoroughly prepared and post-processed. Driving to Sachsenhausen from one day to the other and cross it off a list, I think nothing of that.

Which other modules must follow?

Chebli: There is a lot going on in the education system management when it comes to anti-Semitism: in the education and training of teachers, in the reporting of anti-Semitic bullying. The working group demands that this should be systematically expanded and that the awareness of all subjects should be extended.

Is it enough, as happened this year for the first time, to let 20 teachers travel to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial?

Chebli: It’s good that these visits are there. In future, we also want to promote even more the exchange of young people – and especially migrants – to Israel. Many have no experience with either Jews or Israel. In my view, there is hardly anything more important than education and encounter to reduce hatred.

Königsberg: The point is to recognise different forms of anti-Semitism in the first place. Here we have had deficits in the past, which are now being worked up. It is therefore important that awareness of anti-Semitism becomes an elementary part of teacher education.

Currently there is a survey on anti-Semitism in Berlin schools. How serious is it that reliable figures are currently missing?

Chebli: That’s a problem, even if Berlin is exemplary in terms of data collection. Most recently, the Federal Association of Research and Information Center Antisemitism (RIAS), which already exists in Berlin, was founded in order to facilitate comparisons between the federal states in the future. Nevertheless, we know that police coverage of politically motivated crime is not enough. Valid numbers are important in order to signal to the Jews that politics and the state take the issue seriously.

Königsberg: In the past it has happened that anti-Semitic incidents were not registered as such with the police. Of course this does not promote confidence. With the RIAS, the procedure has improved significantly.


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