A leader of Berlin’s Jewish community has called for a “paradigm shift in the fight against anti-Semitism” in the wake of a poll showing that a large minority of citizens in the German capital believed that Israeli policies toward the Palestinians were as deadly as the persecution and mass murder of Jews by the Nazis, alongside the view that the creation of the Jewish state in 1948 should have been rejected.
Writing in the local Jewish news outlet Jüdische Allgemeine, Sigmount Königsberg — the Berlin Jewish community’s commissioner on anti-semitism — declared that despite a profusion of voices urging “the Jews to shut up about anti-Semitism … we will not do so.”
Königsberg was responding to the publication last week of the “Berlin Monitor 2019” — a survey of 2,000 of the city’s residents that examined their attitudes toward democracy, along with anti-democratic prejudices such as anti-Semitism and racism.
While much of the local media coverage of the survey highlighted the relative tolerance of Berliners compared with the rest of Germany, Königsberg stressed that enmity toward the State of Israel had become the principal channel for the expression of anti-Semitism.
“700 years ago, Jews were accused of infanticide,” Königsberg wrote, referring to the medieval libel that Jews murdered Christian children as part of their religious rites.
“These days, it is Israel that is called a ‘child murderer,’ and that provides a pretext to attack people wearing a kippah,” he continued.
The project of a group of social scientists at the Universities of Leipzig and Magdeburg-Stendal, the 2019 study of Berliners’ attitudes was strongly focused on anti-Semitism, gathering responses to a range of anti-Jewish statements that reflected both well-established and more modern forms of the prejudice. “It is no surprise that Israel-related anti-Semitism has much higher levels of approval than the ‘classical’ forms,” said Königsberg.
The survey showed that 21 percent of Berliners without German citizenship — the great majority of whom come from Muslim countries — agreed largely or completely with the assertion that “Jews are responsible for most wars and conflicts in the world.” That same view was shared by only 7 percent of Germans with an immigrant background.
However, there was greater agreement among new arrivals and those with an immigrant background that the founding of the State of Israel was a “bad idea.” Among new immigrants, 45 percent agreed with that statement, as did 42 percent of those who come from immigrant backgrounds.
The survey found that the depiction of Israel as a state carrying out Nazi-like policies was even more entrenched. A majority of new immigrants — 55 percent — agreed largely or completely with the statement, “Israel’s policy in Palestine is as bad as Nazi policy during World War II.” Among those with immigrant backgrounds, 42 percent were in agreement.
At the same time, the survey demonstrated that anti-Semitic prejudice among native Germans in Berlin was widespread, as was hostility toward Israel. Twenty-eight percent of German-born respondents agreed that Israel’s founding had been a “bad idea,” while a full 35 percent endorsed the analogy between Israel and Nazi Germany.
Even more strikingly, 36 percent of native Germans agreed partially or wholly with the contention that demands for Nazi-era financial reparations exist primarily to fund “a Holocaust industry of resourceful lawyers.”
Respondents agreeing with more traditional anti-Semitic canards were fewer in number, but visible nonetheless. Sixteen percent of Berliners thought that “the influence of the Jews is too great,” against a national average of 21 percent in agreement with the same. And one in ten Berliners believe that Jews are more prone than other groups to deploying “dirty tricks” to achieve their goals, compared with a national average of 14 percent who agree that this is the case.
In his response to the survey data, the Jewish community’s Königsberg criticized the tendency in media coverage to regard intense hostility to Israel as a “subordinate” concern.
“The high level of support for Israel’s demonization and delegitimization must result in a paradigm shift in the fight against anti-semitism,” Königsberg wrote. He said that organizing visits to Israel for all Berlin school children was an “essential building block,” alongside the expansion of partnerships between Berlin and cities in Israel.
In common with the rest of Germany, anti-Semitic outrages have been rising in Berlin, with 51 anti-Semitic incidents reported in the first five months of 2019, compared with 38 incidents for the same period in 2018. The true scale of the problem is greater, however, with several researchers and government officials expressing the fear that as few as one in five anti-Semitic incidents in Germany are reported to the police. pjc