Speech by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth at the debate in the German Bundestag on antisemitism and Jewish diversity in Germany
Let me be quite frank. When my parliamentary group asked me yesterday to speak in today’s debate on our efforts to combat antisemitism, I hesitated for a second or two. Not because the topic isn’t important to me – nothing could be further from the truth! But because with a topic like this, no matter how right and proper the words might be, there is always the danger of ending up with too many platitudes.
Yet, today I stand here at the lectern. Because this is not the time to be silent.
We must not remain silent. Particularly after the events of recent days, clear words and decisive action are more important than ever. The hatred and hate speech being poured out over Jews in streets and squares in Germany and on the Internet are a disgrace.
Yesterday evening, my friend Avitall from Berlin said to me: dreadful, horrifying! I could run away. A young German of Jewish faith recently wrote to me:
“For the first time in my life, I am scared to venture out on the street. I keep turning around ... because I’m scared that someone is following me, for example on my way to the synagogue!”
Can we even imagine the scars such hate speech is leaving on these young people? On older people who experienced the unimaginable murder, the Holocaust, at first hand? On the children and grandchildren of survivors who grew up hearing about persecution and death?
What I had to read on social media in recent days – and believe me, I am used to quite a lot – has shocked me to the core. After I spoke out clearly and unequivocally about Israel’s right to exist and right to self-defence, I met with much support but also a storm of outrage. What sounds absolutely obvious to the vast majority of us is unfortunately anything but obvious to others in this our country. The distrust, indeed the deep contempt with which Israel and the people of Jewish faith are met to this day, is simply contemptible.
Clearly my image of my own country, my image of my Europe, was too optimistic. Or to put it another way, I was clearly too naive. We are experiencing this hatred in Germany of all places, the country which in the darkest hour of its history showed where the most horrific form of hatred of Jews can lead, the country of all places in which the ideology for the murder of European Jews was conceived, spread as propaganda, planned and implemented. Six million murdered Jewish women, children and men serve as a constant reminder – yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Antisemitism, ladies and gentlemen, may be centuries old but it is extremely adaptable. Police crime statistics differentiate between right-wing, left-wing and Muslim antisemitism. All forms must be fought with absolute determination.
Now I turn to you, my fellow member of parliament. The nationalists and populists in the AfD are very vocal in their disgust about so‑called imported antisemitism, as if we did not have antisemitism in Germany that is firmly anchored even at the very core of our society.
You members of the AfD are providing the breeding ground on which precisely this antisemitism can grow and flourish. You refer to National Socialism as “just bird poo”. You call for a “180‑degree turnaround” in our culture of remembrance. You are dismally failing in the fight against antisemitism and racism and hatred of the Jews.
However, one thing is also clear. Today, Germany is happily a colourful, diverse society. We live in a country in which it must not be allowed to matter where you come from, what you believe in and who you love, a country in which we can all be different without fear. For all that colour and diversity, there must, however, never be compromise on one point: Germany stands firmly at Israel’s side. For us, Israel’s right to exist and right to self-defence are non‑negotiable. After all, our history and the Holocaust generate a very special, unique duty for Germany. And that really has to hold true for all people living here:
for those who were born here, as well as those who are seeking or have long since found a new home in Germany. There must not be any compromise here, nor must there be any tolerance.
Esteemed colleagues, even if the clear commitment to Israel has been part and parcel of Germany’s national ethos for decades, exactly as Mr Klein just said, I do keep hearing criticism. Why are these clear words not followed up with similarly clear actions?
This I want to contest in no uncertain terms. Antisemitic attacks must be severely punished and we have the wherewithal to do so.
That is why it was right for the coalition, as proposed by my parliamentary group, to make the burning of flags a punishable offence.
Now that the courts have this offence on the books, they must sentence accordingly. Those who burn Israeli flags need to be handed down tough punishments.
Based on the Act to Combat Right-wing Extremism and Hate Crime, antisemitic motives are now to be taken into account as an aggravating factor. After all, we know that people of Jewish faith in particular are time and again directly confronted with this hatred.
I would at this juncture like to appeal to everyone, particularly to our esteemed coalition partner, to finally have the courage to bring about a breakthrough in supporting projects to promote democracy and participation.
Talking about antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments has to be an integral part of education on democracy. And I fail to understand why we have not moved forward on this.
To put it plainly, the massive conflicts in the Middle East leave none of us cold but they are no justification for antisemitism. All too often these days, antisemitism is concealed behind supposedly legitimate criticism of the Israeli Government.
How presumptuous is that? Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East with a vibrant, diverse and critical civil society.
They don’t need lectures from us.
We are starting to play with fire when antisemitic stereotypes are used to poison the atmosphere and the flames are fanned when the Holocaust is trivialised and falsified. Ensuring that Jewish life in Germany can today blossom and flourish is something we owe not just to the six million murdered Jews and their descendants, we owe it above all to our own self-respect, our self-respect as a free, democratic Germany at the heart of a united Europe.