World / Crime & Legal

Germany sees 'frightening' rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes

AFP-JIJI

Anti-Semitic offences rose almost 10 percent in Germany last year, and violent attacks were up more than 60 percent, crime statistics showed Wednesday, sparking alarm in the Jewish community.

Police recorded 1,646 offenses motivated by hatred against Jews, the highest level in a decade, said a government answer to a request by far-left Die Linke party lawmaker Petra Pau.

Among these were 62 violent offenses that left 43 people injured, up from 37 physical attacks the previous year, according to the preliminary police data.

The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, said the statistics reflected a “frightening trend” and confirmed what was already a “subjective impression among Jews.

“Considering that acts below the threshold for criminal liability are not included, the picture darkens further,” he said, urging “a stronger commitment against anti-Semitism by politicians, the police and the judiciary.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer, stressed that “there is no place for anti-Semitism in Germany” and that Jewish life in Germany must be allowed to “develop freely and safely.”

Germany, like other western countries, has watched with alarm as anti-Semitic and other racist hate speech and violence have increased in recent years as the political climate has coarsened and grown more polarized.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday condemned an “unacceptable increase” in anti-Semitic hate speech, amid outrage over anti-Jewish graffiti and vandalism in and around Paris last weekend.

A mass influx of mostly Muslim refugees and migrants to Germany from 2015 drove the rise of the far-right and anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which since late 2017 is the biggest opposition group in parliament.

Leading AfD members, aside from railing against Islam and multiculturalism, have also made comments that play down the Holocaust.

Party co-leader Alexander Gauland has described Nazi Germany’s industrial-scale murder of Jews and other minorities as a mere “speck of bird poo in over 1,000 years of successful German history.

Another leading AfD politician, the nationalist Bjoern Hoecke, has criticized Berlin’s sprawling Holocaust memorial as a “monument of shame.”

At the same time, Germany has also witnessed a rise in anti-Semitic attacks committed by migrants from Arab states.

In one prominent case last year, a 19-year-old Syrian man was convicted for assault after lashing out with his belt at an Israeli man wearing a Jewish kippa skullcap while shouting “yahudi,” Jew in Arabic.

A video of the street assault, filmed by the victim on his smartphone, had sparked widespread public revulsion as it spread on social media, and triggered street rallies in solidarity with Jews.

News of the belt attack coincided with another public outcry, over a rap duo who made light of Nazi death camp prisoners but went on to win the music industry’s sales-based Echo award, which was subsequently axed.

Days after the belt assault, some 2,000 people rallied at a “Berlin Wears Kippa” solidarity demonstration, matched by smaller events in several other German cities.

However, most anti-Semitic offenses were committed by far-right perpetrators, the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel reported in an article on the new crime statistics.

Pau in her statement charged that “we are seeing that militant right-wing extremists can openly call for the desecration of Jewish institutions and attacks against Jewish people.”

A rising number of people and groups in the “gray zone between conservatism and right-wing extremism are denying the Holocaust and engaging in anti-Semitic agitation,” she said.