Anti-Semitism: poison to any democratic society

31.07.2014 - Interview

Anti-Semitism does not only present a problem for Jews. A declaration of solidarity from the German Foreign Minister. Published in the Jüdische Allgemeine newspaper on 31 July 2014.

Anti-Semitism does not only present a problem for Jews. A declaration of solidarity from the German Foreign Minister. Published in the Jüdische Allgemeine newspaper on 31 July 2014.


In recent days, we have all been moved by the renewed violent conflict in the Middle East. On a daily basis we receive news of rocket attacks and deaths on both sides – in Israel and in the Gaza Strip. Solidarity with Israel is a fundamental tenet in our country. Israel has every right to defend its population from attacks, no country in the world would accept constant rocket fire on its cities.

Every innocent victim is a victim too many, everything possible must be done to avoid further civilian casualties. Hamas’s approach of positioning rockets and weapons depots in the midst of the civilian population and using people as human shields shows new levels of cynicism and it is innocent families, women and children who suffer from this. That is why we must reach a ceasefire as soon as possible. We can only do so if the Gaza Strip no longer serves as Hamas’s weapons depot and the living conditions of the people there are sustainably improved.

At the same time, we are all horrified by the spate of anti-Semitic hate-mongering and attacks which we have seen in our cities in recent weeks. Unfortunately we have been familiar with the phenomenon of latent anti-Semitic sentiment, which manifests itself in excessive criticism of Israel, for a long time. Yet what we are experiencing now is still shocking: people have shouted slogans expressing a hatred towards Jews which beggars belief. It makes anyone’s blood run cold.

ZERO TOLERANCE Open and vicious anti-Semitism is gaining ground here, in a loud, aggressive manner which is alarming for all of us but for Jewish citizens in particular. These appalling developments affect not only Germany but also other European countries. That is why I felt it was so urgent to issue a clear statement together with my French and Italian counterparts in Brussels last week: Europe must pursue a zero tolerance policy on anti-Semitism.

We respect the fundamental values of freedom of assembly and opinion, but nothing, including the dramatic military confrontation in Gaza, justifies such acts. Fundamental rights do not cover anti-Semitic slogans, these violate everything that our basic order and values stand for.

The whole country will stand at the side of its Jewish citizens in this situation. We are grateful that so many Jewish people want to live here after the Shoah. This is something which is by no means a given, and yet many, for instance Charlotte Knobloch, have explained why they want to live here – because Germany has become an open, tolerant and democratic country. That and nothing less than that is what we must defend.

RULE OF LAW We must face up to anti-Semitism with all our strength and we must crack down in a determined manner when it comes to intolerable chants or attacks on people, synagogues, cemeteries or other Jewish institutions. By we I mean the overwhelming majority of people in this country. As a matter of course this includes the state under the rule of law – it must make full use of all instruments available to it to repel anti-Semitic attacks and to protect Jewish life in Germany.

The very fact that this protection is needed at all is painful. Anti-Semitism, be it open or veiled, is poison to any democratic society, and therefore we must redouble our efforts to fight its causes. This is a task we all have to undertake. We are dealing with an explosive mix of ignorance and ideology.

For on one side, especially amongst young people with a biographical connection to the conflict in the Middle East or the Islamic world, we see a search for simplistic explanations and something which offers sense of identity. Many have never knowingly come into contact with a Jew or Israeli and this is where the danger of lapsing into anti-Semitic thinking is particularly high.

SALAFISM At the same time, extremist Salafism is disseminating a new ideology which sows resentment and marginalisation. That is a danger not only to Jews and those of other faiths but also to Muslims who do not share the fanatics’ dogmatic beliefs. And finally, people from the far-right and far-left camps who hate Jews also muscle into the demonstrations.

In the short term we must be resolute in using all the instruments of the rule of law to combat anti-Semitism, the long-term task is much harder, we must stop it from becoming lodged in the heads of young people. We can counter it with education and improved integration work, above all by facilitating contact and meetings.

We must do everything possible to ensure that Jews feel safe in Germany and in Europe – wherever they go and however they are dressed. We must never again allow doubt to be cast on this.

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