By Jens Henning Fischer
(This post was originally published on Facebook)
Last week brought a flurry of news, so I thought I’d provide an overview, references (in German) are at the end.
I’ll discuss the events in more detail, but this is what happened: (I.) A young man wearing a kippah was attacked on the street in open daylight in inner-city Berlin, and (II.) two “Gangster rappers” named “Kollegah” and “Farid Bang” received awards despite lyrics that many perceive as anti-Semitic.
As a consequence, a new wave of discussions has erupted over the extent to which Jews in Germany are under threat if they openly show their faith, e.g. by wearing a kippah / yarmulke in public, and whether “Germany is losing the fight against anti-Semitism”.
I. The attack
On 17 April, two men wearing kippahs were attacked by three young men in an inner-city district of Berlin called Prenzlauer Berg. One attacker first used a belt and then a glass bottle. (1)
The event was videotaped and is available on Facebook. (2)
The event was condemned by a wide array of political and societal actors, amongst them chancellor Angela Merkel, the Lord Mayor of Berlin Michael Müller and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. (3)
Whilst most politicians reacted with an air of outrage and surprise about the incident, others were less impressed. Former Israeli ambassador to Germany Shimon Stein said in a TV discussion he was “surprised that anyone was surprised” by the incident. (4)
And looking at numbers, he is right: In 2017, 947 anti-Semitic attacks were reported in Berlin alone, an average of two to three per day. (It should be noted that this number also includes events that do not amount to a criminal offense but create a hostile environment for Jews in Germany.) (5)
It later transpired that one of the victims of the attack was an Israeli Arab, who had put on the kippah as an “experiment” because he did not believe the rumours that it was unsafe to be recognized as Jewish in Berlin. (6)
One of the attackers was a 19-year old refugee from Syria, who turned himself in to the police a few days later. (7)
A discussion has now started if such an attack is enough to deport him from Germany, mostly with the argument that you cannot expect protection if you behave in such a fashion.
There was also remarkable tweet by Jakob Augstein, a well-known left-wing commentator and publisher working for Der Spiegel: “Wie gestört ist unsere Wirklichkeit, dass jemand auf die Idee kommt, das Tragen der Kippa als Provokation zu nutzen - und damit auch Erfolg hat! Deprimierend. Deutschland 2018.” (“How distorted is our reality, that someone has the idea to wear a kippah as a provocation – and is successful! Depressing. Germany 2018” (8)
This tweet has been widely criticized for also being anti-Semitic.
II. The awards
(Update from the 26th of April: the "Echo" awards will not happen again, as was announced today.)
Almost at the same time, on 19 April (Israel’s 70th birthday) the “Echo”, an award by the music industry, was awarded to body builders and rap artists Kollegah and Farid Bang. The award is typically handed out based on record sales, even though apparently there is an ethics committee.
This drew a lot of criticism because these artists routinely breach taboos. One of the songs features the abhorrent line “Mein Körper definiert wie von Auschwitz-Insassen” (“My body is defined like that of Auschwitz inmates”).
Despite numerous calls that the awards should be taken back, so far that has not happened.
This has prompted a soul searching on the part of the media looking for reasons why these artists are so successful; most commentators attribute this to the breach of taboos which makes them attractive also to middle-class kids. (9)
As a consequence, a fair number of artists returned their Echo awards, amongst them Daniel Barenboim. (10)
III. Two observations
In this discussion, I see a worrying tendency of vilifying and scapegoating all Muslims for (Arab) anti-Semitism. Now this kind of anti-Semitism in some clearly poses a problem, and yes, too little is done to address it. But it also glosses over anti-Semitic sentiment in society as a whole, and thus compounds the problem.
Further, it remains to be seen how the right-wing party AfD is going to deal with this. (Parts of) the party are clearly anti-Semitic (as an example, just look up Björn “Bernd” Höcke), but at the same time they have been feverishly and in many cases unjustifiedly attacking refugees for criminal behaviour. How they are going to square this circle of hell is unclear.
3. See Fn 1 above
6. See Fn 1 above