The political awareness of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Germany has been as distinct as no other Middle Eastern conflict, especially because of its prominence in the media. “The Middle Eastern conflict is seen through the Israel-Palestine-glasses,” states German Historian Michael Wolffsohn, who was born in Tel Aviv. (1) The refugee situation in Germany has been the dominant issue since 2015. The more political and intense the Middle Eastern conflicts get, the more political and intense the conflicts between ethnical and religious groups in Europe become.
It’s not clear how many Israelis live in Germany. In 2018, the Israeli Embassy estimated that there were around 10.000 Israelis living in Berlin, which comprises probably 10% of all Israelis living in Germany. What is clear is that there are around 100.000 Jews and 80.000 Palestinians living in Germany. (2)
Israelis and Palestinians protesting in Berlin 2018 against Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia 3
After a few scandals went viral about Jews being harassed in schools because of their religion by students with Arabian backgrounds, and after one man got assaulted by an Arabic speaking man on the streets of Berlin for wearing a kippah (yarmulke) in April 2018, anti-Semitism was more present in the media than it was for a long time in Germany. (4) Another contributing factor is the German right-wing party AfD. They aim to be an “Alternative for Germany” and gained more power in 2017, as they became the third strongest party with 12,6%. Even though they somehow managed to organize an initiative called “Jews for AfD”, it is clear that they are not only conservative, but also dangerously nationalistic. This became clear when the party’s head Alexander Gauland literally said in 2018, that in over a thousand years of successful German history, Hitler and the Nazis would only represent a time period the size of “bird-poop”. (5) A statement that undermines not only the high respect Germans show towards Jews, but also the Holocaust and its commemorative culture in German society.
The Many Shades of Anti-Semitism in Germany Today
Anti-Semitism has many shades. In Germany, it appears on the part of some Arabs, Islamists, the far Right and the far Left. Many have hesitated to address this problem because in the eyes of the general public, it has been, if not one of the most dominant taboos in German society. Anti-Semitism is always associated with the past. In school, this topic is dealt with in almost every subject over a few years over and over again, but apparently not effectively enough. Anti-Semitism in the past 15 years has often been associated with protesting Palestinians and clashes of Muslims and Jews on the streets of Germany. In a study from 2016, the majority of Israelis living in Germany stated they were worried about more Muslim migrants coming into Germany. Those worries are based on political reasons and the fear of rising Islamism and anti-Semitism in Germany. (6) In the “Berlin Declaration” 2004, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe officially condemned anti-Semitism as a threat to Europe’s security.
In December 2017, protests against Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital broke out. Over the course of two days more than 3000 people were demonstrating. The vast majority of Germans, Palestinians and Israelis were protesting peacefully, but some Palestinian groups stood out by burning Israeli flags, chanting anti-Semitic references and glorifying Hamas. Five years ago, there were a number of “Free Palestine” demonstrations in Germany, where a few dozen demonstrators held up signs picturing a crossed-out Star of David and screamed “Nazikillers Israel!” or “F***ing Jews, we will kill you!” (7) Can this be traced back to a problem of not only the Middle Eastern conflict that’s continuing in Germany, but also of integration into German society?
Analyzing the different generations of Palestinians in Germany helps identify the problems of integration. A correspondent of the Palestinian news agency WAFA, Abdul-Rahman Alawi analyzes the characteristics of these generations in his article in “The Palestine Portal”. Alawi states that only after the second generation of Palestinians emigrated in the 70s after the Palestinian resistance movement and the PLO was created, did they started differentiating: Not every Jew is Zionist or an Israeli. (8) This was the foundation for a better dialogue between the two communities.
The bigger problem lies with the third generation, the Palestinians that were born and raised in Germany. Alawi states that they are torn between their loyalty towards their parents and towards Germany; the country they study, live and work in. Very influential is the creeping Islamization that many Palestinians view as a form of counterpressure against Zionism. Because of the lack of separation between religion and politics in Israel and Palestine, the fronts are clear: Arabs versus Jews and Islamization versus Judaism. An overidentification with one’s “homeland” developed, so it became harder to not see the conflict from a one-sided perspective. (9)
The Problem with Black and White Thinking
The word Anti-Semitism today is overused, as it trivializes the hate against Jews in the third Reich that led to the Holocaust. The word being used against people, especially Palestinians, that simply criticize Israel’s politics, causes a literal inflation. As a result, the frontlines are hardening, as the black-and-white-thinking intensifies. You’re either Anti-Semite or Jew, nothing in between. (10) The one-sided perception of the developments in Israel and Palestine complicates the approach between the two sides. If a Palestinian today calls out for a “fight against Jews”, that doesn’t automatically make him an Anti-Semite. Possibly it’s related to Israel calling itself the state of the Jews. Of course, this doesn’t always apply – the line is crossed, when Jews are being harmed physically or verbally, like in the events described above.
Palestinians in Germany or German Palestinians should understand the hyper-sensibility of Jews towards any kind of discrimination, especially in Germany. Another factor, that needs to be understood is, that a Jewish German, even if he states he is loyal towards the state of Israel, isn’t automatically responsible for Israel’s brutal occupational politics. For this to be internalized by the German-Palestinian society, a high level of integration is required. Also, the German government is challenged to see the strong relationship between developments in the Middle East and religious conflicts in Germany. Bridges have to be built to expand the one-sided perspectives and to differentiate better in the anti-Semitism-debate. Not only the inner security will benefit from this, but it’s also a step towards a peaceful solution in the Middle East.
1. Frank, Johann; Matyas, Walter (Hg.) Author: Michael Wolffsohn, Marc Franco, Sigrid Faath. Strategie und Sicherheit, 2013. Chancen und Grenzen europäischer militärischer Integration. Böhlau Wien
2. Graw, Ansgar 2016. Israelis besorgt über mehr Muslime in Deutschland. Die Welt. 07.03.2016 | https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article153005146/Israelis-besorgt-ueber-mehr-Muslime-in-Deutschland.html
3. Anti-Israel-Protest: Al Quds Demonstration in Berlin – Jüdische Gemeinde hält Gegendemo ab. Epoch Times Germany. 09.06.2018
4. Rudolph, Kriss 2018. Israeli wegen seiner Kippa mit Gürtel verprügelt. BZ Berlin. 18.04.2018.
5. WELT. Gauland bezeichnet NS-Zeit als „Vogelschiss in der Geschichte“. Die Welt. 02.06.2018.
6. Graw, Ansgar 2016. Israelis besorgt über mehr Muslime in Deutschland. Die Welt. 07.03.2016
7. Ambrosi, Carolina; Caspari, Lisa; Woldin, Philipp. Der deutsche Nahost-Konflikt. DIE ZEIT. 21.06.2014
8, 9, 10. Alawi, Abdul-Rahman. Palestinians in Germany und their view on the Middle Eastern conflict. The Palestine Portal. Cologne. | http://www.palaestina-portal.eu/Stimmen_Palaestina/alawi_palaestinenser-deutschland.htm