The Official German Commitment to Fighting Anti-Semitism
On May 6, 2013, in a major speech to the World Jewish Congress in Budapest, German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle continued an official German tradition. Like German foreign ministers and chancellors before him, he enunciated the five golden rules of Germany’s postwar commitment to Jews: acknowledgement of the breadth and depth of the crimes of the Holocaust; recognition of the political and societal responsibility that derives from that rupture of civilization; constant engagement to uphold the memory of the “darkest chapter of German history”; sanctity of the German-Israeli relationship and of the existential security of the State of Israel (without forgetting Palestinian aspirations for statehood); and vigilance against anti-Semitism in any form.
While all of these German commitments were welcomed in the standing ovation on the part of the Jewish audience, the most resonant commitment on that occasion was Germany’s continued promise to “stand up against anti-Semitism.” The World Jewish Congress had chosen Budapest as the location of its 14th Plenary Assembly in order to send a signal to Hungary, considered in a ten-country survey by the Anti-Defamation League as the most anti-Semitic country in Europe.
The signal was directed to both the avowedly anti-Semitic Jobbik party, which has more than 10 percent of the seats in parliament, and to the Hungarian government, which has established a pattern of infringing on constitutional rights and failing to censure the Jobbik party. The Budapest Plenary Assembly made crystal clear that Jews were neither voiceless nor alone. Indeed, Westerwelle proclaimed to the audience that “Germany stands by your side” and “anti-Semitism has no place neither in Berlin nor in Budapest nor anywhere else in Europe nor in the world.”
Westerwelle also expressed frustration in Budapest with the limited, inflexible tools the EU possesses to sanction a country like Hungary for its anti-democratic behavior. He noted that “[b]etween the toothpick and the big bazooka, there is not an instrument we can use” to confront governments or countries on issues of human rights violations, including anti-Semitism and racism.
In March, after the Hungarian parliament’s introduction of severe limitations on the authority of the constitutional court (the fourth constitutional amendment in a year), Westerwelle joined Denmark, Finland, and Holland in calling for more than the “toothpick” approach: the granting of new powers to enable the EU to freeze budget funds of member states violating the Union’s “fundamental values.”
The cloudy “bazooka” approach currently available involves activation of Article 7 of the EU treaty, which, after a laborious process, can lead to the suspension of voting rights of the country involved in a breach of values. Article 2 of the treaty defines “values” as “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.” In March, Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed the criticism of her foreign minister and urged Hungary to take the EU’s concerns seriously.
Cooperation with Israel
In addition to fora such as Jewish organizations and the EU, German officialdom has also tackled the anti-Semitism issue in its discussions with Israel. During Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s 2000 visit to Israel, the Israeli government thanked the German leader for his engagement against anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism. During Chancellor Merkel’s first visit to Israel in 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert noted Germany’s commitment to the “struggle against anti-Semitism.” In December 2012, the joint declaration following the annual German-Israeli cabinet consultations emphasized the two countries’ “total engagement for human rights and for the fight against all forms of anti-Semitism and racism.” This joint concern about anti-Semitism includes disquiet about attitudes and actions in Germany.
Anti-Semitism in Germany
German official concern about anti-Jewish sentiment gave rise to an August 2011 expert report, commissioned by the Interior Ministry, on “Anti-Semitism in Germany.” The 200-plus-page report looked at the manifestations, causes, and potential policy responses to the phenomenon. From the detailed analysis and data, seven main points emerge:
1. Latent anti-Semitism hovers around 20 percent in Germany;
2. In addition to the traditional religious and racial bases of anti-Semitism, there are two newer forms both related to Israel, namely militant Islamic fundamentalist anti-Jewish hatred and the blending of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism;
3. Manifestations range from anti-Jewish statements to the destruction of Jewish property to physical attacks on Jews;
4. According to police authorities, the number of criminal acts in 2010 stood at 1,268, down from 1,690 in 2009 (with the high point in the last decade occurring in 2005 with 1,682 incidents);
5. The majority of anti-Semitic acts are perpetrated by right-wing extremist groups and sympathizers;
6. The majority of criminal acts are committed by young people between17 and 24, with over half being under 22;
7. Compared to eight other European countries, Germany sits in the middle with respect to anti-Jewish attitudes.
The report urged a comprehensive, regularized approach, involving consolidation and expansion of measures already taken at the federal, state, and local levels in the arenas of politics, law, education, training, and research, as well as greater coordination.
Anti-Semitism in Germany is of concern not only to the government but also to significant segments of German society, which have been involved in major debates about the phenomenon (for example, over the remarks of Jürgen Möllemann, Martin Hohman, Martin Walser) and in counter demonstrations and acts of solidarity toward Jews.
The World Jewish Congress and other Jewish organizations will be watching Hungary, and other European countries, carefully. The German foreign minister and other German officials will accompany Jewish representatives in their vigilance, perpetuating a well-established tradition and demonstrating an obligation to remember and to act.