Defending religious freedom

06.09.2012 - Interview

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has called for religious traditions to be defended. Condemning the recent attack on a Berlin rabbi, which is suspected to have been carried out by a number of ethnic Arab youths, he has asserted the need to ensure that there are no impediments to Jewish life in Germany. This interview was published in the Jüdische Allgemeine newspaper on 6 September 2012.


Minister, you spoke up the week before last for ensuring that Jewish traditions could be lived out in this country without people feeling they might be breaking the law. How do you square that with the fact that rabbis are facing charges in Germany for carrying out a rite within the Jewish faith?

Religious freedom and religious traditions are protected in Germany, and they have to stay that way. The Bundestag has put forward a cross-party motion calling on the Government to clarify the legal situation as soon as possible, and we feel we have an obligation to do so. It has to be made clear that Jewish and Muslim traditions are protected in Germany.

In that context, what’s your reaction to the attack on Rabbi Daniel Alter?

I am deeply shocked by the brutal attack on Rabbi Alter and his daughter. It is extremely painful to find that it was possible for such an act of violence against Jewish citizens to be perpetrated right in the middle of our capital city. The onus remains on every single one of us to stand up for a culture of tolerance in our country. I find it encouraging that attendance was so high at last weekend’s demonstration of solidarity with Rabbi Alter.

What is your take on the tone and the substance of the circumcision debate?

I would call on everyone in this public debate to show respect for the Jewish and Muslim traditions of our fellow citizens. Jews and Muslims are an integral part of our tolerant and open society here in Germany.

There are voices in Israel – including President Shimon Peres – unequivocally demanding that Jews be allowed to enact their traditions in Germany without impediment.

The open dialogue we enjoy with our Israeli partners is something that I value very highly. We absolutely concur with our friends in Israel that there must be no impediments to Jewish life in Germany.

Is Germany’s image as a land of religious tolerance at stake?

I am very glad to say that more and more Jews are choosing to live in Germany and that a vibrant element of Jewish culture and Jewish thought has become re-established in Germany. These people are coming here because they see Germany as a tolerant and cosmopolitan country. An open society needs citizens who are proactive and vigilant – and we have them in Germany. I am convinced that we will soon find a sensible solution in the issue of circumcising sons.

You have said that the rules need to be clarified soon. Is there consensus on that in the FDP, including Federal Justice Minister Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger?

The Federal Justice Ministry is working as quickly as possible, and with the requisite care and attention, on evaluating all the aspects involved, after which it will put forward a proposal. We owe it to our Jewish and Muslim fellow citizens to establish legal certainty swiftly.

This interview was conducted by Detlef David Kauschke and reproduced by kind permission of the Jüdische Allgemeine.

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