Welcome

Speech by Minister of State Gernot Erler at the opening of the exhibition "Anti-Semitism? Anti-Zionism? Criticism of Israel?"

03.08.2007 - Speech

Mr Avraham,

Professor Benz,

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the exhibition "Anti-Semitism? Anti-Zionism? Criticism of Israel?" organized by the Centre for Research on Anti-Semitism of the Technische Universität Berlin and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

- This exhibition really ought not to be taking place.

- An exhibition on anti-Semitism ought really to be hosted by a historical museum.

- The international community today ought really to be immune to anti-Semitism, as a plague of the past.

But:

- sadly, this current exhibition is appropriate and necessary.

- It is, unfortunately, also fitting that the venue is not the Museum of Contemporary History of the Federal Republic of Germany, but the Federal Foreign Office, where today's and tomorrow's foreign policy takes shape.

- For, sadly, anti-Semitism has not stayed where it belongs – in the poison cabinet reserved for the pathogens of hard-to-cure diseases of the past – unfortunately it is a phenomenon of today's Europe which our foreign policy, too, has to confront.

This exhibition is devoted to an infection within our society which has mutated and hence acquired renewed virulence. The problem is not restricted to the western world. A new anti-Semitism whose borders with anti-Zionism and criticism of today's Israel are blurred is finding growing resonance once again in both western and Islamic societies.

On the whole the renaissance of Jewish life in Germany is experiencing positive development:

- Germany now has active Jewish communities with more than 100,000 members.

- Since 1990, 200,000 Jews have come from the former Soviet Union alone, although many have moved on in the course of the Alija to Israel.

- The national agreement of 2003 provides a firm foundation for Jewish life here, and the Jewish community receives financial support to the tune of 3 million euro each year.

- I am pleased that training for religious education teachers and rabbis is available once again in Heidelberg and at the University of Potsdam respectively, and that three rabbis were ordained in Dresden in 2006, and one in Berlin in 2007.

- Another sign of the vitality of Jewish life in Germany is the construction of numerous new community centres and synagogues in Frankfurt/Main, Würzburg, Munich and other places.

Yet we can also observe gaps in our immunity to anti-Semitism, and that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Germany has now been rising constantly for five years. Of the approximately 16,000 crimes perpetrated by right-wing extremists in 2006, around 10 percent were motivated by anti-Semitic sentiment. Between 40 and 50 violent attacks take place each year. These figures reflect the brutality and dullness of the extreme right. The anti-Semitic slogans of the Neo-Nazis are hard to bear. They hamper the return of normal Jewish life in our country. We must not accept that, and we do not intend to do so. Civil resistance has been mobilized in response to the return of the ghosts of the past. Numerous initiatives are committed to fighting right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism, with considerable financial support from the Federal Government.

However, new, complicated forms of anti-Semitism have emerged, and I am grateful to the authors who prepared this exhibition for drawing our attention to them. Today, anti-Semitism no longer consists solely of the racist views which sowed the seeds for the policy of Jewish annihilation in Germany during the Third Reich. Anti-Semitism today draws on various sources, it assumes new forms and creates new negative stereotypes but always focuses on the Jews as its eternal foe.

A debate on "new anti-Semitism" has flared up. The hostility of some young people whose families originate from Islamic countries, for example, is fuelled by their experiences of the unresolved Middle East conflict, and the number of such incidents is directly proportionate to the current state of crisis in the region. These clashes often stem from a shocking lack of political education and awareness. Fortunately some institutions have recognized this. In Berlin, for example, I am thinking of the Kreuzberger Initiative gegen Antisemitismus (Kreuzberg initiative against anti-Semitism), which is committed to bringing together young people from diverse backgrounds and encouraging them to talk to one another (the exhibition features more information on this).

This exhibition also confronts us with new conspiracy theories which feed anti-Semitism. Whatever happens, the more difficult it is to find an explanation, the easier it is to blame it once again on Jewish string-pulling behind the curtains of the world stage. This applies to everything, from 11 September 2001 to the tsunami.

And there is also a debate on the right kind of solidarity with Israel. Of course, in every democracy, including ours, people have the right to express criticism, including their views on concrete Israeli Government activity. However, we have drawn the line at calling into question Israel's right to exist. Israel's right to live in peace within recognized secure borders is and remains an absolutely non-negotiable principle for the Federal Republic of Germany and for our foreign policy. Anyone who, like the Iranian President, questions Israel's right to exist or denies the Holocaust in an indirect attempt to invalidate this right to exist will reap widespread disapproval from us and must reckon with protests in the strongest terms. They will also isolate themselves within an international community which remembers the victims of the Holocaust every year on 27 January, within the framework of the United Nations, for example.

The Federal Foreign Office takes these new forms of anti-Semitism very seriously. Let me remind you that three years ago we invited the OSCE states to Berlin for a major international conference on this subject. A follow-up to this conference recently took place in Bucharest, where I was privileged to represent the Federal Government. The event in Berlin was an impressive declaration of political consensus that there can never be any excuse for legitimizing anti-Semitism, even under the pressure of current crises. We must maintain and deepen this consensus.

I would like to thank Yad Vashem and the Centre for Research on Anti-Semitism of the Technische Universität Berlin for organizing this important exhibition to improve our knowledge, heighten our awareness and thus equip us to take a more effective stand against the new face of anti-Semitism.

I therefore wish the exhibition every success, both here in Berlin and subsequently in the other planned venues - Magdeburg, Munich, Halle and others.

Thank you very much. I would now like to hand over to Mr Avraham.

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