German leader slams new persecution of Jews

Hate crime: Anti-Semitic graffiti has begun to appear on Jewish-owned businesses in Germany.

Yesterday, 75 years since the start of World War Two in which six million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out again against anti-Semitism. Why?

There was ‘not a single Jewish institution’ in Germany that does not require police protection in the current climate, said Angela Merkel yesterday at a mass anti-Semitism rally in Berlin. It was ‘every German’s duty’ to take a stand.

On stage, Chancellor Merkel began her speech saying the 100,000 Jews living in Germany were a ‘national treasure’. ‘Jewish friends, neighbours and colleagues, consider yourselves at home here,’ she told the 5,000 strong crowd.

Yet, chillingly, the Israeli Ambassador to Germany noted that, in 2014, Jews are being pursued in the streets of Europe as if it were 1938 — the year before Hitler unleashed a devastating war in Europe and inflicted a terrible genocide on the continent’s Jews.

Many blame the conflict between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza for the renewed violence. Although the fighting is currently on hold, clashes over the summer seemed to breathe new, ugly life into anti-Semitism across Europe, including the UK, where 240 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in July — roughly five times the monthly average.

But the situation has been deteriorating for some time. In May, a French national shot dead four people at the Jewish museum in Brussels.

In 2012, three children and an adult were shot and killed at a Jewish school in France. Such is the fear there that the number of French Jews looking to emigrate to Israel has rocketed.

The increase in violence against Jews in Germany is particularly painful for a country still haunted by its Nazi past. The government faces a dilemma; it must defend the right to protest against Israel’s attacks on Gaza, while ensuring that racism and violence are consigned to history.

Others take a simpler line: while discrimination against Jews is inexcusable, it is Israel’s actions in Gaza that have led to a surge in anti-Semitism. Many world leaders have condemned Israel’s attacks on Palestinians. Given the widespread disapproval many make the terrible mistake of blaming the actions of the state of Israel on all Jews.

The oldest prejudice

Out of this arises a key question: is today’s anti-Semitism caused by current events or by the return of ancient hatreds? Or both?

Many Jewish writers argue that this is at root the same prejudice that has plagued Europe for centuries. Jews have often struggled with the notion of being a ‘chosen people’. Being ‘different’ has always made others suspicious and, try as modern societies might, this resentment is always bubbling just below the surface waiting to rear its ugly head.

You Decide

  1. What can explain the rise of anti-Semitism across Europe?
  2. ‘Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. In groups, design a poster and devise a slogan condemning anti-Semitism. Decide which group in the class has the best slogan.
  2. Make a timeline of key events in Hitler’s rise to power, paying particular attention to Nazi persecution of the Jews.

Some People Say...

“Anti-Semitism is not caused by Jews; it’s caused by anti-Semites.’Elan Steinberg”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not Jewish, does this affect me?
It’s not just Jewish people who face violence and intimidation; there are reports of increased attacks against Muslims across Europe, too. But just because we may not be directly affected, it is important to speak up on behalf of those who do face discrimination all over the world, whether it is because of the colour of their skin, their religion, gender or sexuality.
Is the situation really as bad as it was in 1938?
There are several key differences. For example, unlike in the 1930s and 1940s, Germany’s leaders today are fiercely critical of anti-Semitism. It is also only a minority of the population engaging in racist slurs and discrimination. But there is certainly a feeling that it is the worst outbreak of anti-Semitism since the Nazis.

Word Watch

Anti-semitism
A form of prejudice against, or hatred, of Jews. It is not a new phenomenon: over the centuries, Jewish people have been forced out of many countries where they’d been living, including England, Spain and Russia.
Angela Merkel
Merkel has been the Chancellor of Germany since 2005 and is the first woman to hold the office. She was ranked the world’s most second powerful person by Forbes magazine in 2013; the highest ranking ever achieved by a woman.
Gaza
Gaza is a small strip of land sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, and is heavily contested by both Israelis and Palestinians. After the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in June, tensions escalated and thousands of Palestinians were killed, along with tens of Israeli soldiers.
Rocketed
It is estimated that 5,000 Jews will leave France this year, the highest number on record.
Nazi past
The rally in Berlin comes 75 years after the outbreak of the World War Two, in which six million Jews in Europe were killed by Nazi Germany.

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