Statistics do not show an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Germany, but that may be because they are underreported or not well-recorded, says the country’s ambassador to Canada.
Sabine Sparwasser told an overflow audience at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount, Que., that, according to official data, about 90 per cent of the country’s anti-Semitic incidents were perpetrated by right-wing extremists, but that may not tell the full story.
She is deeply concerned by the large number of young migrants who grew up in a culture of hatred toward Jews and Israel.
“The numbers do not bear out that anti-Semitism is on the rise, but there is a universal feeling that it is,” Sparwasser said during a panel discussion on May 29, titled “Is There a Future for Jews in Germany?”
The main speaker was Gemma Wasserman-Michalski, a British-born Jewish woman who lives in Berlin. She described in vivid detail how her 14-year-old son was “verbally and physically abused” by his Muslim classmates over more than three months last year, because he was Jewish.
The abuse escalated to the point where the boy was terrorized by what she terms a “mock execution” with a realistic-looking toy gun and then choked until he lost consciousness.
Wasserman-Michalski is the daughter of Montreal-born Gordon Wasserman, a member of the British House of Lords. He offered introductory remarks.
Wasserman-Michalski and her husband, Wenzel Michalski, a German-born Jew, have gone public because they say that officials at their son’s public school “did absolutely nothing” to help him. In the end, they were forced to remove their son from the school.
Wasserman-Michalski described herself and her husband as very liberal politically, not observant Jews, nor the type that “sees anti-Semitism everywhere.” She said this was the first time she had experienced anti-Semitism since moving to Germany more than 20 years ago.
The couple had previously not been worried about the growing Muslim population and had, in fact, hosted refugees in their home.
“There is growing open anti-Semitism in Germany and civil society is failing to deal with it,” she argued. She said the hatred directed at her son was not expressed by a few bad kids, but was school-wide and became “normalized.”
“Otherwise, they were lovely kids, so nice before they knew Oscar was Jewish,” she said.
Despite their repeated – and always polite – pleas for intervention, school officials continued to make excuses for the students’ behaviour. They were told that their son’s presence in the class was a “provocation” and that his tormentors were “exploring their identity.”
“You want a Jew-free zone, is that what you are saying?” was Wasserman-Michalski’s response.
Sparwasser thinks it was “disgraceful” and said that she has “no explanation or excuse” for how the school reacted.
“As long as Jewish kids get abused, as long as people fear to wear kippot, as long as synagogues are guarded by police, it’s a shame for our country, and my fellow Germans feel the same,” she said.
“We are extremely grateful that Jews have come back – there are about 200,000 today. It is a huge gift, a privilege for us. Our duty and obligation is to make sure they can live safely in Germany. If not, then there is no future for the Germany we want to live in.”
Sparwasser said anti-Semitic sentiment is getting explicit. “What was taboo or unthinkable even a few years ago is showing its face more,” she said.
Classic “conspiracy theory” anti-Semitism continues, she said, but studies have indicated that a form that is “Israel-related or uses Israel as a pretext” is more common nowadays. And many teachers are “overwhelmed” as Middle East conflicts play out in their classrooms, said Sparwasser.
The answers are not simple, she acknowledged, but noted that the Bundestag adopted a “strong” resolution against anti-Semitism in January that established the office of a commissioner who will report to parliament on the situation.
There is growing open anti-Semitism in Germany and civil society is failing to deal with it.
– Gemma Wasserman-Michalski
“I believe anti-Semitism appears with the rise of populist nationalism, identity politics and chauvinist sentiment. We are witness a coarsening of tone, discord and a loss of civility. People are being vilified and de-humanized, and we Germans know that is the way to the worst possible destruction,” said Sparwasser.
The Shaar’s Rabbi Adam Scheier, who has been working with the Jewish community in Germany for 20 years, said its rebirth is “our greatest revenge against the Nazis,” and that Jewish life is “flourishing,” at least in Berlin. He helped establish the first postwar yeshivah there in 2000.
He said that rapid demographic changes due to mass immigration, mainly by visible minorities, does pose a challenge, and there is uncertainty about what will happen after Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves office.