Anti-Semitism rows highlight challenges of religious pluralism in Germany

Germany is often perceived as a country that has dealt exceptionally well with the ghosts of its past, most notably with respect to the reflection on the Holocaust. Yet upon closer inspection, the old demons do resurface and intermingle with contemporary political predicaments.

Nothing shows this more clearly than a series of ongoing rows that touch upon the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in the context of a pluralistic society marked by strong immigration. Several events in recent months have shone a particularly harsh spotlight on the question of the prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes among Germany’s growing Muslim population.

 

Anti-Semitic bullying at a Berlin school

In spring, a case of anti-Semitic bullying at a public school in Berlin made headlines. A 14-year-old pupil of Jewish faith was withdrawn from his school by his parents after having experienced four months of what appeared to be anti-Semitically-motivated taunts as well as severe physical aggression. The perpetrators had mostly been of Arab and Turkish extraction.(( http://www.spiegel.de/lebenundlernen/schule/antisemitismus-junge-verlaesst-schule-in-berlin-friedenau-nach-angriffen-a-1141494.html ))

The boy’s parents accused the school of having done too little too late to protect their son. The Friedenau Comprehensive School prides itself on being a multicultural and diverse environment and has the tagline “school without racism” as its motto. Consequently, the reproach implicit in many of the ensuing criticisms of the school’s handling of the case revolved around the fact that ‘political correctness’ towards mainly Muslim children appeared to have prevented a clear and resolute stance against anti-Semitism.(( https://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article163675459/Der-hilflose-Anti-Antisemitismus.html ))

Defending the school

This, in turn, propelled into action a group of parents, who issued a public letter defending the school against what they deemed “unreflective and one-sided” reporting. The parents asserted that they were “left aghast by the attack” on the Jewish pupil and declared their solidarity with him and his family.

Yet they also stressed that tensions between different groups of students were the “outgrowth of international conflicts” in the Middle East, which made “religiously motivated disputes” inevitable.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/antisemitischer-vorfall-in-berlin-eltern-der-friedenauer-schule-nehmen-stellung/19623020.html )) The letter was met with a sceptical echo from Jewish voices, as well as from politicians.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/nach-uebergriff-an-friedenauer-schule-volker-beck-sieht-antisemitismus-in-elternbrief/19635496.html ))

Muslim anti-Semitism

The Friedenau school case highlights the complexities of religious coexistence in an increasingly pluralistic society. In recent years, Germany has witnessed a marked growth of both its Muslim and its Jewish population.

At the same time, a sociological study conducted in Germany has highlighted a persistently higher level of anti-Semitic attitudes especially among young people of Arab extraction, but also among their Turkish counterparts.(( https://causa.tagesspiegel.de/gesellschaft/antisemitismus-unter-muslimen/muslimische-jugendliche-haben-haeufiger-antisemitische-einstellungen-als-deutschsstaemmige.html ))

Derviș Hızarcı, chair of the Initiative against Anti-Semitism in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, nevertheless sought to stress in an op-ed for the Jüdische Allgemeine newspaper that while there is Muslim anti-Semitism, “there has also never been more Muslim engagement against anti-Semitism and for Jewish-Muslim dialogue than today.”(( http://www.juedische-allgemeine.de/article/view/id/28253 ))

Islamic voices for inter-religious dialogue

Subsequently, a group of six Imams and 12 Muslim organisations based in Berlin issued a brief public statement in which they condemned anti-Semitic hatred and urged all Muslim believers to “act in ways that are worthy of our faith”. The statement also suggested that Muslim and Jewish representatives join hands for joint visits to schools in Berlin where anti-Semitic incidents have been reported.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/downloads/19752144/2/gemeinsamer-brief-von-muslimen-gegen-die-diskriminierung-und-ausgrenzung-von-juedischen-mitschueler.pdf ))

Responding to the Friedenau case, Ármin Langer and Ozan Keskinkılıç, the respectively Jewish and Muslim founders of the “Salaam-Schalom” initiative for inter-religious dialogue, stressed that both Jews and Muslims are often made to feel foreign in Germany. Similarly, both groups are constantly identified with external political groups and agendas – with political Islam or jihadism in the case of Muslims, with the policies of Benyamin Netanyahu in the case of Jews.(( http://www.fluter.de/antisemitismus-und-islamophobie-bei-salaam-schalom-kaempfen-juden-und-muslime-gemeinsam-dagegen ))

Against this backdrop, the two men urged a Muslim-Jewish entente against various racisms. Muslims should not be presented as a homogeneous anti-Semitic problem group; rather, care should be taken to strengthen the potential for inter-religious dialogue and to harness Muslim voices to a quest against discrimination targeting Muslims and Jews alike.

Division tactics by the populist right

Needless to say, bringing about this unity is far from easy. In the aftermath of the events at the comprehensive school, Frauke Petry, chairwoman of the far-right AfD party, sought to play upon the tension between Jewish and Muslim communities by asserting that her party was the “guarantor of Jewish life” in Germany.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/frauke-petry-nennt-afd-garant-juedischen-lebens-a-1142090.html ))

She went on to suggest that the increased immigration of Muslims was a direct threat to Germany’s Jewish population. This particularly blatant justification of the AfD’s Islamophobic agenda came shortly after a high-ranking AfD politician had disparaged the central Holocaust memorial in Berlin as an objectionable “memorial of shame” and called for “a 180 degree turn” in the ways in which Germans remember their past. Unsurprisingly, leading Jewish voices thus retorted that the AfD continued to be “unelectable” for Jewish voters.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/frauke-petry-nennt-afd-garant-juedischen-lebens-a-1142090.html ))

Shelved anti-Semitism documentary

The debate on anti-Semitic attitudes among Muslim immigrants and their descendants received further nourishment when the Franco-German TV channel Arte refrained from airing a documentary on anti-Semitism that it had commissioned in a joint venture with German public broadcasters WDR and ZDF.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany demanded that the documentary be shown and a range of public figures accused Arte of censorship. Conservative circles’ particular ire was reserved for the fact that the movie, which had focused on anti-Semitism of Muslim populations, had been shelved for what was deemed ‘political correctness’.

To right-wing commentators, the decision not to air it pointed to the widespread complicity of the liberal media in the Jew-hatred of the Islamic world.(( https://www.welt.de/kultur/article165401199/So-ist-die-Doku-die-von-Arte-zurueckgehalten-wird.html )) Conservative German-Israeli historian Michael Wolffsohn spoke for many like-minded observers when he accused Arte of “caving in to Islamist terrorism in preemptive obedience ”.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/medien/streit-um-antisemitismus-doku-zensur-bei-arte/19907424.html ))

Bumbling defence of the broadcaster

Initially, the WDR broadcaster’s editorial team asserted that the documentary had been shelved for its “one-sidedly pro-Israeli” stance.(( https://www.welt.de/kultur/article165401199/So-ist-die-Doku-die-von-Arte-zurueckgehalten-wird.html )) Subsequently, Arte issued a second, more elaborate press statement defending its decision not to air the documentary.

The channel’s director for programming, Alain Le Diberder, asserted that the commission for the documentary feature had explicitly demanded that the film provide “an overview of the contemporary strengthening of Antisemitism in various countries of Europe […], including in Norway, Sweden, Great Britain, Hungary and Greece”.

However, the directors had taken the liberty to fundamentally alter the project by creating a product focused on the Middle East. “We cannot accept that a producer and writer attempts to choose his subject freely in a unilateral manner and without consultation with Arte.” Le Diberder argued that Arte had been “consciously left in the dark with respect to these fundamental changes” to the film.(( http://www.arte.tv/sites/de/presse/files/antwort-von-alain-le-diberder-an-den-zentralrat-der-juden-in-deutschland.pdf ))

Limited Muslim reactions

Public comments by Muslim figures on the affair surrounding the documentary were relatively scarce. Ahmad Mansour, a well-known psychologist and public commentator on issues of (de-)radicalisation, wrote in a Facebook post that while he had not been part of the film crew, he “support[ed] the movie and its contents”. He castigated Arte’s decision to shelve the movie as “unacceptable and worrisome”.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/medien/streit-um-antisemitismus-doku-zensur-bei-arte/19907424.html ))

Yet for the most part, the discussion of the documentary subsequently turned into a shouting match as to whether and how the critique of Israel and of Zionism could be distinguished from anti-Semitism.(( http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/kultur/-maischberger–zur-antisemitismus-doku-wolffsohn-lobt-wdr-haemisch-fuer–gelungene-pr–27839684 ))

Ultimately, the documentary did air on German public TV, yet with critical commentary and an additional “fact checking” feature. Of course this fact-checking device was hardly able to counter-balance the fiercely ideological positions that many of the documentary’s viewers undoubtedly held already before the turned on the TV to watch the film.

Comparing Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The State of the Field

An article by Farid Hafez, University of Salzburg, published in ISLAMOPHOBIA STUDIES JOURNAL VOLUME 3, NO. 2, Spring 2016, PP. 16-34.

ABSTRACT
In the European public discourse on Islamophobia, comparisons of antiSemitism and Islamophobia have provoked heated debates. The academic discourse has also touched on this issue, an example being the works of Edward Said, where he alludes to connections between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Following the 2003 publication of the Islamophobia report produced by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), which discusses the similarities between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, scholars in various fields began a debate that compares and contrasts anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Participants in this debate include Matti Bunzl, Brian Klug, Sabine Schiffer, Nasar Meer, Wolfgang Benz, and many others. To some degree, the academias of the German- and English-speaking worlds have conducted this discourse separately. This paper surveys, to a degree, the state of the field of the comparative approach to studying Islamophobia and anti-Semitism as a pair, and also presents some central topoi and associated questions. It aims to highlight primary insights that have been gained from such a comparison, including how this comparison has been discussed and criticized, and what similarities and differences have been identified on which levels. It questions which epistemological assumptions were made in taking such a comparative approach, and which political discourses—especially regarding the Holocaust and the conflict in Israel/Palestine (which are not part of this discussion)—have shaped this debate in many forums, including academia. Furthermore, this paper discusses which possible aspects of comparative research on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have not yet been explored, and where there could perhaps lay more possibilities for further investigation.

Read more
Hafez, Farid. “Comparing Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The State of the Field.” Islamophobia Studies Journal, Volume 3, No. 2 (Spring 2016): 16-34.

 

First Skokie mosque proposed at old Holocaust Museum site

Vacant for the last five years, the former home of the Holocaust Museum on Main Street in Skokie (a suburb of Chicago) could become the new home to the first mosque in the village.

The Skokie Plan Commission on Aug. 1 unanimously recommended a special use permit to the Kaleemiah Foundation, which would use the building at 4255 Main St. as a mosque – a Muslim place of worship – and not as a community center.

 

The Skokie Village Board has final say at a future meeting.

According to the foundation’s mission statement, its primary goal is “to provide a nurturing place of worship.”

 

Under the Foundation’s proposal, the building will be open every day for prayer. Most sessions will last 10 or 15 minutes with one 45-minute session on Friday.

 

“This building has been vacant since 2008,” said David Hartmann. “A vacant building adds nothing to a neighborhood and, in fact, detracts from a neighborhood. The longer it is vacant, the longer there is wear and tear on the building.”

 

Temple Judea Mizpah Rabbi Amy Memis-Foler, a member of the Niles Township Clergy Association, and later Asaf Bar-Tura, representing the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, also spoke in support of the mosque and its positive impact on diversity in Skokie.

 

The Chicago area has 32 mosques including 11 in Chicago, two in Evanston, one in Morton Grove, one in Des Plaines and one in Northbrook.

 

“The mission of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center is to teach universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice, indifference and intolerance to help put an end to genocide around the world, ensuring that ‘never again’ becomes a reality for all people,” Hirschhaut said.

“As such, the museum is committed to operating in a manner that reflects that teaching and honors the right of all people to practice their faith.”

French Imams assemble at Holocaust Memorial

04.02.2012

Le Figaro

For the first time in France around 50 imams from all over the country have come together with members of Islamic associations , representatives of other religions as well as the French Secretary of State to assemble at the Shoah Memorial in Drancy.

The assembly was organized by Hassen Chalghoumi who is the founder of the Conference of French Imams (Conférence des imams de France), which remains unrecognized by the French Council of the Muslim Faith. Chalghoumi came to be known for opposing the full veil and practicing an Islam compatible with secularism. He has received fierce opposition from groups associated with the salafi mileu and has been provided police protection after being threatened with death. Chalghoumi’s involvement in the initiative has further brought up questions of legitimacy and representativity of the meeting. A point in question is also Chalghoumi’s attempt to render Drancy a fort against fundamentalism and racism.

Anti-Sharia Leader Yerushalmi Claims ‘I’ve Never Called For Discrimination Against Muslims’

On July 30, the New York Times profiled David Yerushalmi, the man behind the anti-sharia movement, looking into the hysterical claims of the “creeping sharia” crowd, as well as Yerushalmi’s own history of inflammatory and bigoted statements.

Yesterday, Yerushalmi responded in the American Thinker, accusing the writer Andrea Elliott of taking his words “out of context” (his standard claim whenever confronted with his own past writings) and insisting, “I have never written anything that calls for discrimination against…Muslims qua Muslims.”
Really? Here’s Yerushalmi on the very same website in 2006:

Islam was born in violence; it will die that way. Any wish to the contrary is sheer Pollyannaism. The same way the post World War II German youth were taught by their German teachers and political leaders to despise the fascism of their fathers, with strict laws extant still today restricting even speech that casts doubt on the Holocaust, so too must the Muslim youth be taught from the cradle to reject the religion of their forebears.

I’d say that advocating a legal regime that forces Muslims to reject Islam pretty clearly qualifies as “calls for discrimination against…Muslims qua Muslims.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry to host major prayer event in Houston

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who is expected to announce his presidential candidacy in the next few weeks, will start to change that on Saturday, by hosting a day of prayer and fasting in Houston dubbed “The Response.”

Some of the groups and figures involved in prayer event are highly controversial. Following the Fort Hood shootings two years ago, a top official at the American Family Association, Bryan Fischer, said Muslims should be not allowed to serve in the U.S. military. He has also suggested Adolf Hitler and the German soldiers who carried out the Holocaust were gay, and their sexual orientation was part of the reason they orchestrated the mass killings.

David Carney, Perry’s top political adviser, said that economic issues will be the biggest focus in next year’s election, but he argued that voters would not punish a candidate for talking about his religion.

Dutch Arab European League Fined for Printing Cartoon

August 19 2010

A Dutch appeals court has fined the Dutch arm of the Arab European League 2,500 euros for causing “unnecessary offence” publishing a Holocaust-denying cartoon. The cartoon was printed last year, with the AEL claiming to point out double standards In Dutch society. The organization was acquitted of insulting Jews in April, but appeals judges this week overturned the decision, determining that the cartoon was more offensive than could be justified by the debate.

European Muslims Perceptions of the Holocaust

International Conference Religions and Migrations

Local Diversity and Global Challenges
Religions and Migrations in Southern Europe

September 30 –October 1, 2010

Faculty of Arts of the University of Porto
(Via Panorâmica, s/n, 4150-564 Porto)
Porto, Portugal

Dutch court clears Arab League’s holocaust cartoon

Dutch judges have found the European Arab League not guilty of insulting Jews in publishing a cartoon suggesting they invented the Holocaust. The cartoon, first published four years ago and reprinted last year, was intended “to highlight double standards in society”. Judges ruled that while the court considered the cartoon insulting, the right to freedom of expression is more important, Nos tv reported.

Calgary imam Syed Soharwardy reflects on fatwa against terrorism

Calgary imam Syed Soharwardy is no stranger to media coverage. It just usually isn’t favorable. His detractors are not convinced of the purity of his intentions, arguing that Syed Soharwardy should be judged by his more notorious statements, not his recent, noble ones. Mr. Syed is still shocked that his fatwa against terrorism has been condemned by so many.

One critic dismissed the imam’s fatwa against terrorism as “propaganda.” B’nai Brith Canada also scoffed, noting the imam “has trivialized the Holocaust and prophesized the extinction of the Christian faith.”