Germany Federal commissioner to combat antisemitism, Felix Klein: “The fact that we must guard synagogues is a disgrace”
Starting May of this year, Felix Klein was appointed by the Federal Government of Germany to be Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany. In this week’s interview he explains how he wants to stop antisemitism in Germany.
“In school I had Jewish friends”, says Felix Klein. People with whom I got along well, and with whom I am still friends today. “At the age of 18, he went to Israel for the first time, as part of an orchestral exchange. “We were welcomed in Haifa, at the conservatory, and we tried to play Beethoven.” Many young Israelis had the same interests as he did, he noted then, claiming that at the same time the country was so different, that is Oriental. “It interested me from the beginning, and there I thought: Yes, this is a country that is worth dealing with.”
Later, as a diplomat, he always conducted a dialogue, and again, what to do, with Judaism and with Israel. Felix Klein was appointed in May of this year by the Federal Government of Germany to be Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany. In 2014, Klein was offered by the Foreign Ministry the post of special supervisor for relations with Jewish organizations. “I did not hesitate, and as a result, I also became the Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life.”
According to the latest developments, the job is supposed to be very demanding. Monica Schwartz-Freisel, director of online research on antisemitism at the Technical University of Berlin, recently noted a number: 1062. Politicians have stated so often in recent years that the country has to act against antisemitism “with all severity and intransigence”.
Were words followed by actions? That is, statements of opinion, solidarity demonstrations, and above all consistent judgments? No. A study published in July stated: “These are empty promises. I do not see this severity and toughness,” says Schwartz-Friesel.
antisemitism comes in various forms. Klein reports that in his private life, he has always noted prejudices against Jews, as well as what is known as secondary antisemitism, which draws its motifs from politics. “If we say for example that the Jews should not be surprised, if they are attacked in Europe.” According to the claim, relations between Israel and the Palestinians are also a source of this antisemitism. “It is no different from the way the Nazis treated the Jews in the 1940s.”
“Ancient antisemitism that has existed for hundreds of years”
“Connections around the world”, “Child Killers,” – the Berlin study lists one of the words that emerge in the Internet: compact formulas that are easily grasped and which certainly have an effect on those who settle for slogans. “These are images and sequences of arguments that have existed for centuries, and which play a role again and again,” says Felix Klein. “These terrible and frightening antisemitic images appear again and again.” The fact that criticism of post-Nazi antisemitism is partly disappearing, is particularly outrageous. An example of this is the statements made by the chairman of the “Alternative to Germany” faction, Alexander Gawland. “His statement that the twelve years of the Nazi period is a “glimpse” in history worries me, because in this atmosphere antisemitic theories can flourish again.”
It is not only verbal attacks. The Jewish restaurateur, Yurai Feinberg, found last December antisemitic hatred in front of his Berlin business. The video of the incident was later published on Internet. In April, a young Syrian refugee attacked two men wearing a skullcap, and in April he was sentenced to four weeks’ imprisonment.
“antisemitism appears quite openly”
“This worries me a lot”, says Felix Klein. “In my view, there has always been antisemitism in Germany, but it has not appeared as openly and blatantly as it does now. This is very strongly related to the Internet, which contributed to neutralizing all inhibitions. This virtual world is becoming more and more like the real world, and has negative consequences for our personal conduct within society.”
How do we act against antisemitism? Klein points to the law on online enforcement from last year. According to him, its application must be strengthened. In addition, we are talking about increasing the political sensitivity to the issue. Anyone who sees antisemitic content on the Internet is supposed to report it.
According to police statistics published by the Ministry of the Interior, right-wing extremists are responsible for 90 percent of antisemitic criminal offenses. Klein called to “look again” at the statistics. According to him, the numbers are amazing. “When we ask Jews, they feel something else – above all, when it comes to physical attacks, where antisemitism of Muslim circles, is seen as a much larger scale.”
At the same time, Klein opposes the term “Muslim antisemitism.” According to him, the term is not exact, “because it establishes a direct link between Islam as a religion and antisemitism, and I don’t think this is true.”
It is alleged that antisemitism emanates from Muslim people. “This is actually a growing problem, a great challenge that we must face, especially in connection with the great refugee crisis of 2015. We are dealing with people who have been socialized in countries where antisemitism is on the agenda and even almost belongs to the doctrine of the state, and here we have a tremendous integration mission.” But we must also say this: “These people did not come to us to spread antisemitism, but because they feared for their lives, and therefore we offer them protection.”
But much more worrisome and shameful, he says, is the fact that it is also necessary to put policemen outside the synagogues in Germany. “We do not have to get used to seeing police vehicles in front of Jewish institutions. I will do everything possible to stop this as soon as possible.”