Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the opening of theEuropean Network “Combatting Anti-Semitism Through Education”

14.05.2019 - Speech

No more school! Most people probably know this feeling.

At the moment, several thousand pupils in Berlin are thinking just that, for they are currently sitting the intermediate school leaving certificate (MSA) or their final university entrance qualification exam (Abitur).

I myself haven’t forgotten how I felt all those years ago. To be honest, I was relieved that it was finally over. However, my head was still spinning from everything we had had to learn in the weeks and months leading up to these exams.

And that was despite the fact that the volume of quickly available information was still relatively modest by today’s standards. A recent study concluded that in 2020, i.e. next year, the volume of data generated, shared and consumed will be roughly fifty times as much as it was three years ago.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Digitisation promises access to an almost infinite amount of knowledge. You get the impression that answers to even the most complex issues are sometimes only a click away.

However, we’re also aware that available knowledge doesn’t necessarily end up in our minds.

According to a CNN study, 40 percent of young Germans admit that they don’t know very much about the murder of millions of European Jews.

I think we should be concerned by that. For an understanding of our own history is more than just knowledge about the past. It’s the best immunisation against intolerance, racism and anti-Semitism. For remembering also has something to do with the future.

That’s why we have to close gaps in knowledge. That applies all the more in the age of the digital transformation. For it’s not only facts that are always available but also half-truths, lies and hate.

Ever more frequently, we see a radical minority shouting loudly while the vast majority of people seem to remain silent. That applies to the Internet but also to the streets and squares of our towns.

Only two weeks ago, uniformed neo-Nazis marched through Plauen. And AfD supporters roar quite blatantly “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” (Germany, Germany above all). We find these images deeply shocking. However, they should prompt us not merely to be shocked but also to stand up against so much mindlessness and malice.

Mr Hizarci, you’re one of those who have stood up. You and your supporters are trying to combat these gaps in knowledge.

This task has also grown due to the arrival of refugees during the last few years. That cannot be denied. For anti-Semitic clichés have been drummed into many of those who have come to our country at an early age.

Only a few days ago, the journalist Constantin Schreiber published a book containing examples of how even school textbooks in some countries vilify Jews. Such distorted images become branded on people’s minds, especially the minds of young people who are still developing. And they don’t disappear when people cross the border into Germany.

That’s why organisations such as the Kreuzberg Initiative against Anti-Semitism (KIgA) which educate people about anti-Semitic stereotypes are so important. Also because they know how pupils in Berlin tick.

By the way, there are now organisations of this kind in many European countries – fortunately!

Some of them are already in contact with each other, sharing their experiences as well as their recipes for success or approaches which haven’t worked so well. However, a permanent and thus effective network hasn’t come to fruition so far.

We want to change that. It’s not a day too soon given how anti-Semitism, hate and violence against minorities are spreading.

According to an EU study, 89 percent of Jews across Europe believe that anti-Semitism is increasing in their country. And more than a third find it difficult to pluck up the courage to openly demonstrate their religious affiliation or are even thinking of emigrating.

We therefore intend to make the fight against anti-Semitism one of the priorities of Germany’s EU Council Presidency next year. And we want the network we’re launching here today to play a key role.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We’re currently celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Basic Law. Our constitution is a godsend, for it’s completely uncompromising in one thing: it places human dignity above all else. This key pledge to protect and defend human dignity at all costs, expressly applies to every single individual.

I’m stressing this today because we must not allow right-wing populists and nationalists to instrumentalise the fear of anti-Semitism to justify anti-Muslim racism.

In a free and tolerant Europe, we have to protect women wearing headscarves from insults and attacks in the same way as we do men wearing kippahs.

Hand in hand against all forms of racism – that’s also what the transatlantic working group on Jewish-Muslim alliances, which KIgA is to found in 2019 parallel to the European network, stands for.

We’re happy to support you.

How important it is to act hand in hand against anti-Semitism and and anti-Muslim racism is also demonstrated by the cooperation between the American Jewish Committee and the World Muslim League launched just over two weeks ago.

We wish you, too, every success and we will support your work!

Ladies and gentlemen,

While we’re talking about cooperation between people of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, I want to make another thing clear: anti-Semitism isn’t imported. We Germans in particular must remind ourselves of that time and again.

Right-wing extremists are responsible for the most of the anti-Semitic crimes committed here in Germany. The most recent statistics from the Interior Ministry are very alarming: in Germany alone, there are estimated to be more than 12,000 right-wing extremists willing to resort to violence.

Indifference remains the best breeding-ground for hate and intolerance. For that reason, there’s only one thing that helps, not only in relation to this issue but perhaps especially with regard to this issue: it’s vital that we speak up and oppose these views!

Above all, the network launched today is an appeal against indifference. It shows that those of us working to promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence are the overwhelming majority, not only in Germany but on this continent. And I’m very, very certain of this because I see this on my trips throughout Europe. Ladies and gentlemen, that inspires me with genuine hope, also with regard to what we’re doing today.

On that note, I would like to sincerely thank everyone who has made this network possible and who have worked so hard. Allow me once again to bid you all a very warm welcome to the Federal Foreign Office! We’re delighted to have you as our guests. I wish you all the best and every success with your work!


Top of page