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Anti-Semitism in the European Union: Germany

(Updated December 2003)

Since 1989 the Jewish community has more than doubled and now numbers about 100,000 in a total population of 82 million. Since the early 1990s waves of racist violence were frequently directed against migrant minorities among which the Turks form the majority group (2 million; total Muslim population: 3,2 million). The number of anti-Semitic incidents since the early 1990s also clearly exceeds those of earlier decades. This is mainly due to an active far-right scene. After a fall in the number of incidents between 1996 and 1999, there has been an increase since 2000, when it tripled in the last three months of the year. This dramatic increase is “due in large part to the al-Aqsa Intifada which inspired radical Islamists to anti-Jewish acts and served as a catalyst for extreme right-wing anti-Semites”. In 2001 anti-Semitic incidents, numbering 1,629 cases, reached an historical high, although the great majority were propaganda offences.

Like other EU countries, Germany suffered anti-Semitic incidents in early 2002. During the first three months 127 cases were registered: 77 of which were incitement of hatred; 26 were propaganda and five were violent offences; in addition, there were four cases of damage to property, three cases of desecration of graves, and twelve other offences. But the main problem in Germany is not an increase in physical attacks on Jews or their organisations, but a more subtle form of anti-Semitism, which is mainly expressed in anti-Jewish attitudes and statements. From the beginning, the debate about anti-Semitism was closely linked to the question of how far criticism of Israeli policy in the Middle East conflict can go. Leading representatives of the Jewish community continuously expressed their view that criticising Israel has never been a taboo subject, but allusions to or comparisons with the behaviour of the Nazi regime would be unacceptable and unjustified. Nevertheless, the basic question, regarding what kind of criticism is justifiable without running the risk of being called anti-Semitic, remains unanswered.

Since the escalation of the Middle East conflict and the increase of anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Germany, the Jewish communities have been expressing growing concern. Anti-Semitism became one of the main topics in the German media from mid May till the end of June – mainly because of two interconnected incidents: the Karsli and the Möllemann cases (see below)

1. Physical acts of violence

No incident of physical violence was reported between 15 May and 15June in Germany. In the previous month (April) four cases were registered:

14 April: in Berlin two Jewish women wearing a Star of David necklace were attacked. 15 April: graffiti was found on the synagogue in Herford reading: “Six million is not enough.”

20 April: in Dachau the monument near the site of the concentration camp was desecrated and gravestones in the nearby Jewish cemetery were damaged.

28 April: in Berlin a bottle with flammable liquids was thrown at the synagogue on the Kreuzberger Fraenkelufer without causing any damage.

Physical threat

There was one case of a bomb scare that was possibly committed for anti-Semitic reasons. On 28 May, an unidentified man called the Hessischen Rundfunk (Hessian Broadcasting Corporation) in Frankfurt and asked whether the live programme “Achtung Friedman!” (showmaster Michel Friedman, vice-chairman of the Central Council of the Jews in Germany, was currently in the news because of a heated argument with Jürgen Möllemann, see below) was to be broadcast that evening. After a corporation employee confirmed this, the man said that a bomb would blow up the main tower, the building where the talk show takes place. Police evacuated the building, the search was called off without any results, and the talk show took place with a 45-minute delay.

2. Verbal aggression/hate speech

Indirect threats

Since early April the Jewish communities and the Central Council of the Jews in Germany have received a huge amount of anti-Semitic letters, e-mails and phone calls with an increasingly aggressive tone. Representatives of the organisations, e.g. the chairman of the Jewish Community in Berlin, Alexander Brenner, noted that the writers of these agitation letters no longer even shy away from signing the letters with their complete name and address. In Brenner’s opinion many writers disguise their anti-Jewish aggression as criticism of Israel. The weekly Jewish newspaper Allgemeine Jüdische Wochenzeitung released a sample of these letters. On 3 June 2002, the offices of the Munich Jewish Community received, for the third time, a letter with threats of murder involving the heads of the umbrella organisation of the Jewish communities in Germany and against the President of the Jewish Community in Munich. The letter contained a specific threat to plant an explosive charge near a kosher butcher shop in Munich.

On 21 May the German branch of the anti-globalisation organisation “attac” invited to an anti-Bush demonstration in Berlin. The leaflet for the demonstration used the well-known picture of “Uncle Sam” but with a Stürmer-style portrait with a “typical Jewish nose”. This implied the supposed Jewish world conspiracy because on the forefinger of “Uncle Sam” hangs the world on a thread. Portraying “Uncle Sam” as Jewish refers to the supposed Jewish influence on the United States policy and connects anti-Jewish and anti-American feelings.


The former member of the Green Party (Bündnis90/Die Grünen) Jamal Karsli, a German with an immigrant background (Syria) who applied for admission in the liberal-democratic party FDP on 30 April, launched a public debate about criticizing Israel’s policy and anti-Semitism with an interview given to the weekly right-wing newspaper Junge Freiheit on 3 May. Karsli said that the “very big Zionistic lobby” was controlling the major part of worldwide media and, therefore, would be capable of “getting down on every person no matter how important”. Michel Friedman, vice-chairman of the Central Council of the Jews in Germany, indirectly accused Karsli of being an “anti-Semite, and Paul Spiegel, chairman of the Central Council, demanded that the FDP should refuse Karsli’s admission to the party. The deputy-chairman of the FDP and party leader in North Rhine-Westphalia, Jürgen Möllemann, rejected this demand, although other leading FDP politicians, including chairman Westerwelle, supported it. Nearly all public opinion leaders distanced themselves from Karsli’s statements, except Möllemann. On 22 May, Karsli withdrew his application for admission to the FDP due to “public hounding”. Möllemann launched another debate closely linked to the “Karsli case” in early April, when he commented on the Palestinian suicidal attacks on Israelis with the words: “I would also defend myself, (...) and I would also do it in the land of the aggressor”. Expressing understanding or even sympathy with the Palestinian people was interpreted by German media and politicians as legitimising suicidal attacks and brought him the reproach of anti-Semitism from, amongst others, Michel Friedman. In the course of the debate about Karsli’s statements, Möllemann accused Friedman of himself being partly responsible for anti-Semitism in Germany. He said that he feared that hardly anyone else would make anti-Semitism more popular than Prime Minister Sharon in Israel and Michel Friedman “with his intolerant and spiteful way” in Germany. A few days later Möllemann called Friedman “obviously megalomaniac” and renewed his accusation that Friedman would provoke “anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic resentments” with his “unbearable, aggressive, arrogant way of treating” people who criticise Sharon. Möllemann said that he had received more than 11,000 approving letters.

The discussion about Möllemann’s statements in particular and the attitude of the FDP in general dominated the media for weeks. Politicians of all democratic parties in Germany blamed Möllemann for using this debate to get more votes for the Liberal Party in the federal election in September, and Westerwelle, leader of the FDP, even admitted that he is seeking to win votes from people who had voted for right-wing parties in the previous federal election. After Karsli had left the parliamentary group of the FDP in North Rhine-Westfalia, Möllemann declared publicly: “If I have hurt the feelings of Jewish people, I want to apologise to them”. However, he renewed his attacks on Friedman and excluded him deliberately from his apology. A few days before the Federal election (22 September) Möllemann spread a flyer repeating the accusation against Sharon and Friedman. The chairman of the FDP forced him to resign as a vice chairman a few days later, arguing that his playing with anti-Semitism has caused a considerable loss of votes for the FDP. Finally on 20 October Möllemann resigned also as party leader in North Rhine-Westfalia.

Reaction and public debate about Möllemann and Karsli

The “Karsli case” and the argument between Möllemann and Friedman have evoked anti-Semitic and hate reactions in Germany. On the Internet website of the FDP parliamentary group ( the discussion forum “Speaker’s corner” has been used to for all kinds of anti-Semitic statements, such as: Germany has to free itself from “the chains of bondage of Israel”; “The Jews themselves propagate the so-called ‘anti-Semitism’ in order to punish everyone who contradicts them”. Statements which praised Möllemann for his comments about Israel and Friedman can be found on several discussion for a of the Liberal Party. Countless racial and anti-Semitic statements were also sent to Möllemann’s own website before it had to be shut down because of a hacker attack. The online discussion forum of the weekly magazine Der Spiegel ( was also used for anti-Semitic hate speech.

Public discourse

The broad discussion about a novel by Martin Walser, which had not yet been published, led to a further escalation in the anti-Semitism debate. The author Walser, who was accused of serving anti-Semitic tendencies by the former chairman of the Central Council of the Jews, Ignatz Bubis, four years ago, because he described Auschwitz as a “moral cudgel” in Germany, was attacked by parts of the media. The editor of the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), Frank Schirrmacher, said that his latest novel Tod eines Kritikers (“Death of a Critic”) would serve anti-Semitic resentments. He thus refused the planned pre-release serial publication in his newspaper. Walser himself rejected any accusations of being anti-Semitic. He claimed that the novel is about “power in the world of culture”, not about Jewry. This statement was doubted in parts of the media, but even assuming that Walser had not intended to play with anti-Semitic resentments, he should have been able to anticipate how his novel might be (mis)read and interpreted by others. The argument between Walser and Schirrmacher was linked to the heated debate about anti-Semitism in Möllemann’s statements and was dealt with in numerous articles in German newspapers.


On 31 March the radical Muslim organisation “Hizb-ut-tahrir” (Liberation Party) published a leaflet on its German homepage containing the following statements: “The Jews are a people of slander. They are a treacherous people who violate oaths and covenants (…). Allah has forbidden us from allying ourselves with them. (…) Indeed, that you should destroy the monstrous Jewish entity. (…) Kill all Jews (…) wherever you find them.” The organisation has been observed for a longer time by the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz) but did not receive public attention before they organised a public lecture on “The Iraq – e new war and its consequences” at the Berlin Technical University in October 2002 where also representatives of the German extreme right-wing party NPD (National Democratic Party) participated.

3. Research studies

On 31 May, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) released a study in Berlin about how the German print media reported four major incidents in the Middle East during the second Intifada between September 2000 and August 2001. The study, conducted by the Linguistic and Social Research Institute in Duisburg (Institut für Sprach- und Sozialforschung), came to the conclusion that the reporting of the Middle East conflict in the newspapers and magazines examined was biased and showed anti-Semitic elements which would often be liable to (re)produce existing anti-Semitic and racial prejudice. The reporting also used terms to describe the behaviour of the Israeli troops, which make the reader associate their actions with genocide and suggest similarities to fascism (e.g. “massacre”). Generally speaking, the media was criticised for its anti-Semitic allusions and stereotypes. According to the study, there are deeply latent anti-Semitic and Anti-Zionist prejudices in the German public, usually hidden behind “concealed” and “vague allusions”. The study was criticised by the weekly newspaper Die Zeit because it refused to provide proof as to whether and how the way of reporting affects reception in Germany. Another study on reporting of the Middle East conflict showed that, in comparison to some other countries (USA, South Africa, the UK), TV reporting in Germany encompassed a broader spectrum of neutral presentations of events.

In the monitoring period three surveys were conducted which posed questions concerning anti-Semitism. According to the study “Political Attitudes in Germany”, conducted by the Sigmund-Freud-Institut in Frankfurt in April 2002, anti-Semitic tendencies have increased since 1999. The statement “I can understand well that some people feel unpleasant about Jews” was confirmed by 36% (1999: 20%). The second statement offered by the study, that the Jews are responsible for the problems in the world, showed in contrast a reduction in anti-Semitic attitudes. A further study from April 2002, “Extreme Right Attitudes in Germany”, included three statements on anti-Semitism: “Even today Jews have too much influence”; “The Jews simply have something particular and peculiar about them and are not so suited to us”; “More than others, the Jews use dirty tricks to achieve what they want”. The study showed that in comparison to 1994 and 2000 there was a strong increase in the number of negative answers; surprisingly, however, these came from those questioned from West Germany. This indicates an effect determined by current events: many West Germans reacted to Israeli policy and the heated debate about the bounds of legitimate criticism of this policy, whereas these issues found obviously less resonance amongst East Germans. A poll conducted by NfO Infratest in June had different results: generally speaking, the given answers lead to the conclusion that anti-Semitic resentments have been slightly decreasing in Germany over the past 11 years. In June 2002, 68% of those polled rejected the statement “The Jews are partly responsible for being hated and persecuted”, while 29% confirmed the statement (in 1991 confirmation was 32%). The question “How many Germans have an anti-Jewish attitude?” was answered as follows: 2% believed “most of the Germans”, 13% “a high number of Germans”, 57% “a small number of Germans”, and 26% said “hardly anyone”. Nevertheless, 29% confirmed the statement that “Jews have too much influence on the world”. This number is lower than in the 1991 poll, when it was agreed by 36%. Between 16 May and 4 June respectively between 9 and 29 September surveys commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in New York, “European Attitudes towards Jews, Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict”, were conducted in ten European countries, including Germany (see Table: Report on Belgium) Here the agreement with anti-Semitic stereotypes was on similar levels as in France and Belgium%). From the four stereotypical statements presented, 19% of respondents agreed to at least three. With 55% the Germans agreed on an average with the statement “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country” (average 51%).

4. Good practices for reducing prejudice, violence, and aggression

In the period from 15 May to 15 June, 2002 there were many appeals for solidarity with the Jewish communities and calls for promoting an inter-religious dialogue. Appeals were made by the chairman of the Central Council of the Jews, Paul Spiegel, but also from representatives of the Christian churches, for example by the chairman of the German Conference of Bishops (Deutsche Bischofskonferenz), Karl Lehmann, the Bavarian bishop Dr. Johannes Friedrich or the chairman of the Council of the Protestant Church, Manfred Kock. Beside calls for solidarity with the Jews, there have also been efforts to improve the inter-religious dialogue. The German Coordinating Council of Societies for Christian-Jewish Cooperation (Deutscher Koordinierungsrat der Gesellschaften für Christlich-Jüdische Zusammenarbeit; member of the International Council of Christians and Jews) organised a meeting in June in which the importance of an inter-religious dialogue was discussed.

An inter-religious discussion group was recently also established in the city of Bremen. A few weeks prior, the Muslims had invited the Jewish community in order to foster a dialogue and to promote a peaceful way of living together. This started a process of setting up a discussion group which is presently not only made up of Muslims and Jews, but also of non-Muslim Palestinians, Protestants, Catholics, peace campaigners, politicians and trade unionists. They are attempting to maintain positive inter-cultural relations in Bremen as an example for other towns. In Germany there are some non-governmental programmes and initiatives, which aim to combat anti-Semitism, although no further initiatives were started in the relevant period. The Turkish Association Berlin-Brandenburg, the Turkish Community Association of Germany as well as the Central Council of Muslims all sharply criticised the FDP’s vice-chairman Möllemann at the beginning of June. “To employ an anti-Semitic climate for political purposes must be taboo”, declared the chairmen. The Turkish Association Berlin-Brandenburg called upon its members to protest together with the Jewish community in front of the FDP headquarters in Berlin against “playing with anti-Semitism”.

5. Reactions by politicians and other opinion leaders

Almost all public leaders distanced themselves from Jürgen Möllemann’s statements in relation to the current debate about anti-Semitism and pronounced (Chancellor Gerhard Schröder) their fear of negative consequences for Germany’s reputation abroad which might arise from the ongoing debate. Möllemann’s statements received positive reactions from some right-wing parties such as “Die Republikaner”, the NPD (National Democratic Party Germany) and the DVU. But the vice-chairman also had to face criticism from within his own party as well. With regard to the parties, the Liberal Democrats as well as the Social Democrats/the Greens have submitted separate but identical applications to the German Bundestag (lower house of the German parliament) demanding that anti-Semitic tendencies be eradicated and that anti-Semitism may not be exploited for election campaigns. The Bundespräsident (Head of State of the Federal Republic of Germany), Johannes Rau, had already entered into the discussion in May by meeting representatives of the Central Council of Jews in order to express his solidarity with the Jewish communities. In an interview with the Jewish newspaper Allgemeine Jüdische Wochenzeitung he remarked on his fear of a decreasing level of inhibition for making anti-Semitic statements, although he pointed out that criticism of Israel is not tantamount to anti-Semitism. Even a trade union reacted directly in relation to the anti-Semitism debate. The “IG Bauern-Agrar-Umwelt” split from their member Jürgen Möllemann by “mutual agreement” as a result of the politician’s statements.

On 19 April the German Interior Minister Otto Schily, together with his colleagues from France, Belgium, Spain and Great Britain, presented a joint declaration on “Racism, Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism” which appealed for preventive measures and a European-wide coordination of all responsible agencies and offices.

From 29 September 2002 the Jewish Museum in Berlin opened a short three-week exhibition that showed letters written during the Möllemann campaign to the Jewish journalist Henryk M. Broder and to the “Allgemeine Jüdische Wochenzeitung” under the title “Ich bin kein Antisemit” (I am not an anti-Semite).

In early July a panel Forum on Anti-Semitism as concerted action to stem escalating violence in conjunction with the 11th annual Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was held in Berlin. This session was followed up on the initiative of German Bundestag Member Gert Weisskirchen and United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith by a meeting of members of the Commission and a German Bundestag delegation in Washington DC in December. The Forum heard experts on Anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States and a “letter of intent” was signed by Gert Weisskirchen and Christopher H. Smith.

Sources: C.R.I.F. - Released by the European Jewish Congress