Let’s be careful before we talk about rising anti-Semitism in Germany

Much has been made recently of a rising far-right and an influx of Middle Eastern immigrants fuelling a rise in anti-Semitism. But official figures don't seem to back these claims up.

Let’s be careful before we talk about rising anti-Semitism in Germany
Photo: DPA

At a ceremony on Saturday to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, Angela Merkel said that “it is inconceivable and shameful that no Jewish institution can exist without police protection, whether it is a school, a kindergarten or a synagogue.”

As if it weren’t worrying enough that, seven decades after the Holocaust, Germany still feels the need to put police in front of synagogues, rights organizations warn that the situation is getting worse.

The head of the German chapter of Human Rights Watch, Wenzel Michalski, said recently that anti-Semitism is growing “ever more virulent and more violent”.

Josef Schuster, director of the Central Council of Jews, told Bild on Sunday that taboos that had existed for decades after the war seemed to be crumbling.

“People increasingly dare to say things today that they always thought but never would have expressed,” he said.

Schuster added that tensions had been aggravated in the last two years by the influx of refugees “some of whom grew up with anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric”.

It is not just refugees who are being blamed for an apparent rise in hatred against Jews.

Deutsche Welle columnist Jens Thurau argued earlier this month that “anti-Semitism has clearly intensified over the course of the last several years. It seems that this taboo has been broken in these times of growing nationalism and right-wing populism.”

Thurau blames the Alternative for Germany, a populist party which won over 12 percent of the national vote last year, for stoking anti-Semitism.

“Far-right Alternative for Germany party firebrand Björn Höcke can label the Berlin Holocaust memorial a ‘monument of shame’ without fearing the consequences, not even within his own party. The genie is out of the bottle,” he warned.

In actual fact, the jury is still out on whether this much lamented rise in anti-Semitism is actually taking place.

While surveys among Germany’s Jewish population paint a sobering picture of the aggression they face in their everyday lives, there is no evidence in police statistics to suggest a downward trend.

Interior Ministry figures published in April show that overall anti-Semitic crime – which includes a variety of crimes from hate speech, to threats, to assault – has fallen since the start of the millennium, while anti-Semitic acts of violence have also dropped off slightly.

On average, 1,522 anti-Semitic crimes were committed each year between 2000 and 2015, the last year for which there are complete figures. Whereas in 2001 a total of 1,691 such crimes were recorded, this number had dropped to 1,366 by 2015.

“Figures for 2015 continued a trend of a drop in the number of anti-Semitic crimes that was seen between 2010 and 2013,” the Interior Ministry notes.

Preliminary figures for 2016 and 2017 suggest that the prevalence of this type of crime remained steady throughout the refugee crisis. In the first half of 2017 some 681 anti-Semitic crimes were recorded, a slight increase over the same time period in 2016 (654), but still below the average for the preceding decade and a half.

Official figures also provide no evidence of an increase in anti-Semitic violence. Compared to a high of 64 acts of violence in 2007, there were 36 recorded in 2015. (Preliminary numbers for the first half of 2017 show 15 acts of violence.)

There is also a weak link between immigrants and anti-Semitic crime. Of the 1,366 anti-Semitic crimes recorded in 2015, only 78 were attributed to migrants. The vast majority (1,246) have been pinned on the extreme right, although there has been criticism of how these crimes are categorized.

The Interior Ministry concludes that “anti-Semitism should be seen as an urgent problem.” But it also stresses that “anti-Semitic attitudes reached far further into the middle of German society in the decades after the war than they do now.”

And it is just as circumspect about attributing blame to specific actors.

“Few reliable insights into the extent and character of anti-Semitism among young migrants exist,” the report notes.

On the AfD, it notes that anti-Semitism “was not and is not a dominant theme among right-wing populist movements”. It adds though, that “the Jewish minority feels insecure even if right-wing populist parties are concentrating on Muslims and attempt as far as possible to avoid appearing anti-Semitic.”

It goes without saying that any anti-Semitism is too much anti-Semitism. But in a time when society's ills are too readily blamed upon new phenomena like refugees – or even the AfD – a lack of official evidence for a rise in anti-Semitism should give us pause for thought.


Black people in Germany face ‘widespread’ racism, survey finds

In the Afrocensus, a first-of-its-kind survey charting the lived experiences of black people in Germany, the vast majority revealed they experienced 'extensive' discrimination in almost all aspects of public life.

Dr Karamba Diaby
Dr Karamba Diaby, an SPD politician and anti-racism advocate, carries out voluntary work in his constituency of Halle, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

“The results of the Afrocensus indicate that anti-Black racism is widespread in Germany and anchored in institutions,” the authors of the new report said in a press release on Tuesday. “There is no area of life in which discrimination and racism are not extensive problems.”

Though the overwhelming majority of respondents said they had experienced discrimination at least ‘sometimes’ in almost all areas of life, housing was the area where they said they were discriminated against most often.

Just two percent of respondents to the Afrocensus said they had ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ experienced racism in the housing market, compared to more than 90 percent who said they had experienced it ‘often’ or ‘very often’.

READ ALSO: ‘Black lives need to matter in Germany’ New project to uncover racism in everyday life

Experiences with police and security personnel also counted among areas of life where racism was particularly prevalent: 88 percent of respondents had experienced discrimination from security staff ‘often’ or ‘very often’, while around 85 percent had had the same experience with police.

More than 85 percent had also experienced racism in their education or in the workplace ‘often’ or ‘very often’ in Germany. One in seven had lost their job during the Covid crisis. 

According to the report, 90 percent of respondents had also experienced having their hair grabbed, while more than half (56 percent) had been stopped by the police or asked for drugs by strangers.

Meanwhile, 80 percent said people had made comments about the colour of their skin or sexualised comments about their race on dating apps. A vast majority – 90 percent – also revealed they hadn’t been believed when they’d spoken out about racism in the past, or that people had said they were “too sensitive”. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: My experiences of everyday racism in Germany

In spite of widespread discrimination, almost half (47 percent) of the respondents were engaged and active in their community – mostly carrying out some form of social or voluntary work.

First of its kind

Based on wide-ranging data, the findings paint a vivid and concerning picture of what life is like for the one million or so black people living in Germany today.

To produce the report, researchers from Berlin-based Black community group Each One Teach One and Citizens for Europe conducted an extended survey of 6,000 black people from the Africans and Afrodiasporic community to try and discover more about on the everyday lives and experiences of this group. The survey was carried out between July and September 2020. 

It represents one of the first attempts to gather a wealth of quantitative data on this subject, and as such offers some of the first truly scientific insights into anti-Black racism in modern Germany.

“With the Afrocensus, we have succeeded in doing exactly what has long been demanded within the black community for a long time: making the realities of our lives visible within the framework of qualitative, but above all quantitative research,” Dr. Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana und Dr. Karamba Diaby wrote in a foreword to the report. 

Diaby, a high-profile politician within the centre-left SPD party, was one of only two Afro-German politicians in parliament when he first took his seat in 2013. He has since become known for promoting political engagement and empowerment within the migrant and black community. 

In January 2020, an unknown gunman fired shots through the window of his constituency office in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, in a suspected racially motivated attack. 

READ ALSO: How people with migrant backgrounds remain underrepresented in German politics

Since the Second World War, Germany has avoided gathering data that allows people to be traced by ethnicity as a means of protecting persecuted groups.

However, critics say this approach only works to make the issues faced by these groups invisible. 

Writing on Twitter, Daniel Gyamerah, Division Lead at Citizens For Europe, called for an “action plan for tackling anti-Black racism and for empowering black, African and Afrodiasporic people” and the establishment of advice centres for people facing racism and discrimination.

More research into the intersectional experience of black people in Germany is needed, he added.