IntelBrief: The Comeback of Hate in Europe
May 20, 2019

The Comeback of Hate in Europe

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Bottom Line Up Front

• Germany is experiencing a renewed wave of virulent anti-Semitism and intimidation and violence directed toward immigrants, especially Muslims.

• Some German politicians have displayed admirable leadership to speak out strongly against anti-Semitism and calling for fellow Germans to ‘stand against this with all our means.’ 

• This trend has not merely been relegated to Germany, as other European countries—including France and Belgium—have also experienced a sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks and behavior.

• European leaders, at multiple echelons and levels of government, need to continue to speak out against the plague of anti-Semitism and demonstrate strong leadership on this issue.

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Germany is experiencing a renewed wave of virulent anti-Semitism and intimidation and violence directed toward immigrants, especially Muslims. The influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa has exacerbated underlying tensions in German society and reignited debates over immigration, tolerance, and the potentially destabilizing effects of changing demographics. In some cases, Germany’s Jewish population has received threats from both the far-right in the country as well as newly arrived migrants from the Middle East. A Syrian refugee attacked a man for wearing a kipa, or skullcap worn by some practicing members of the Jewish faith, in Berlin in April 2018. Still, the majority of anti-Semitic attacks are linked to members of Germany’s far-right, perpetrated by native Germans. Anti-Semitic crime, as well as hate crimes committed against foreigners, spiked in 2018.

In the eastern city of Chemnitz late last summer, protests included brazen displays of racism and ethnic intimidation perpetrated by neo-Nazis and their supporters. The primary offenses included hate speech, anti-Semitic graffiti, and displaying the swastika, which is banned in Germany. In addition to far-right extremists willing to engage in vandalism, harassment, and violence, there is also a groundswell of more ‘legitimate’ seeming actors. Supporters of the Identitarian movement in Germany, which has rebranded itself as ‘the new right,’ seeks to normalize far-right ideology and are doing so through a muted yet seemingly effective campaign that includes recruitment on university campuses. Members of a far-right youth movement named Generation Identity have a history of neo-Nazi affiliations. This movement receives backing from political parties in Germany, including the Alternative for Democracy (AfD). The AfD has been accused of soft-pedaling the Holocaust and failing to recognize the severity of the crimes committed by the Nazis and Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

Given that Germany’s history includes Hitler, Fascism, and the Holocaust, resurgent anti-Semitism and a rise in hate crimes are even more complicated than in other countries. The painful legacy of the Holocaust makes frank and open discussions of anti-Semitism more precarious, while attitudes surrounding how serious of a threat anti-Semitism is varies by geography and demographics. Some German politicians have displayed admirable leadership, speaking out strongly against anti-Semitism and calling for fellow Germans to ‘stand against this with all our means.’ German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer offered an unequivocal appeal to ‘bring the scale of this into people’s consciousness,’ according to an article in the New York Times. Still, much more needs to be done in publicly renouncing all forms of hate, including anti-Semitism, while dedicating resources to protecting vulnerable minority groups being targeted by hate crimes, intimidation, and violence.

This trend has not merely been relegated to Germany, as other European countries—including France—have also experienced a sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks. The country was shocked when in March 2018, an 85-year-old grandmother and Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knoll, was murdered in her home. Two suspects were subsequently charged with an anti-Semitic hate crime. In February of this year, a Jewish cemetery in France had its headstones vandalized with swastikas, while in Belgium, a parade float featured a caricature of an Orthodox Jew sitting on bags of money. European leaders, at multiple echelons and levels of government, need to continue to speak out against the plague of anti-Semitism and demonstrate strong leadership on this issue. The rise of populism in many European Union countries has been accompanied by a renewed tribalism and promotion of identity politics, which propagates an ‘us versus them’ mentality in politics. This trend is having corrosive effects on societal cohesion, a worrying signal for the future of Europe.

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