With rise in anti-Semitism, will Merkel’s support of migration pact endanger German Jews?

On the heels of several polls alerting to an alarming rise in anti-Semitism, German Chancellor Angela Merkel led the signing of a compact to facilitate migration to Europe. But what does it mean for a European Jewish population that already feels vulnerable?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on Oct. 4, 2018. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on Oct. 4, 2018. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.

On Dec. 10, on the same day that the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) reported on growing feelings of vulnerability among European Jews, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel led the signing in Morocco of a 34-page U.N.-sponsored document called the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”

The non-binding pact was the subject of fierce debate in Europe, which has been embroiled in debate over the impact of Merkel’s decision to allow more than 1 million Muslim migrants into Germany since 2015. Analysts and critics have argued that it would retroactively and going forward sanction migration as a “human right,” providing migrants—largely from African and Middle Eastern countries—with generous benefits and protections regardless of their legality.

Among Jewish advocacy organizations (such as the European Jewish Congress, which did not return comment), nary a word has been said about the pact, even as recent polls and experience show that Islamic anti-Semitism is a rising source of concern among Europe’s Jews.

A leading Jewish critic of the pact, well-known German writer, Henryk Broder, believes that the European Jewish establishment underestimates, or worse, denies problems that mass Muslim migration poses for Jewry.

“CNN and the Americans and stupid German Jews and the German media have a very clear idea, definition and framework of anti-Semitism, and it’s one word: the Holocaust,” he said, alluding to a recent CNN survey that found that 10 percent of Europeans hold an “unfavorable” attitude towards Jews, while 30 percent believe that Jews have too much worldwide influence in finance and business. The survey also cited lack of knowledge about Holocaust as a symptom of anti-Semitism.

Broder, who has researched anti-Semitism since his book The Eternal Antisemite came out in 1986, is skeptical of such polls.

“At least two or three times a year, there is news saying anti-Semitism is on the rise,” he said at an interview at a Berlin cafe. “That is absolutely not true. There is a constant anti-Semitism, but what has risen is the coverage of it. What has risen, which is true, is the number of anti-Semitic incidents since our beloved Chancellor invited half the world to come to Germany.”

He says one must differentiate between anti-Semitic attitudes, reports and incidents. Not all incidents, at least in Germany, are tagged as anti-Semitic. For example, a German court ruled that a 2014 firebombing of a Wuppertal synagogue by Palestinians was not anti-Semitic, just a protest against Israeli policies. Reported anti-Semitic acts with no known source are automatically labeled “right-wing.”

“The main obstacle in this kind of intellectual exercise is that anti-Semitism is still being defined by the Holocaust and Auschwitz. And they defend the notion that everything else is ‘Israel-Kritik’—criticism of Israel.”

Fears of fueling the far-right

Following the E.U.’s recent FRA survey on anti-Semitism, the American Jewish Committee has again called on governments to do more to combat anti-Semitism. According to the AJC, anti-Semitism in Europe began to surge during the outbreak of the Second Intifada from 2000-2005, and is a manifestation of several factors.

“There are incidents coming from the segments of the Muslim community, as well as anti-Semitism generated ever more frequently by the far-right and far-left, mixed in with conspiracy theories and old-fashioned anti-Semitic tropes dating back to age-old Christian stereotypes and to European racist theories of the 19th century, and we have today’s highly potent mix,” said Deidre Berger, director of AJC Berlin.

“A more recent wave of migrants to Europe as of 2015 are coming from Muslim majority countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan that propagate deeply anti-Semitic stereotypes on all levels of society,” she continued. “There are understandable concerns in the Jewish community that the new immigration can further exacerbate rising anti-Semitism if the issue is ignored or glossed over. That is why we advocate that governments take the issue of integration and language classes more seriously in terms of the values that are being inculcated in the new arrivals. This includes knowledge of Jewish life in Germany and respect for the essential nature of the German-Israeli relationship, which Chancellor Merkel has declared to be raison d’état for the German government. Fighting anti-Semitism and promoting democracy requires a substantial boost in curricula development and teacher training in Germany, not just in programs for immigrants, but also for German schools in general.”

Broder, on the other hand, is pessimistic about the prospects of successfully integrating Muslim migrants, saying “all efforts to enlighten them, inform them, educate them—are failing.”

He dubs polls on rising anti-Semitism as “job-creation machinery.”

Appointing “anti-Semitism czars,” like Felix Klein, Germany’s recently minted commissioner on anti-Semitism, he said, is ultimately fruitless in the face of continued Muslim migration and suppression about the anti-Semitism they generate.

As for the pact, said Broder: “There should be concern for the Jewish community, but not because of the treatment. Because they’re coming anyway.”

Practical effects of the pact remain unclear. The United States, Australia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Israel are among those who voted against it, thus diminishing the chances for the pact to evolve into soft-law, said Yonatan Jakubowicz, executive director of the Israeli Immigration Policy Center (IIPC). (Brazil pulled out this month.)

Jakubowicz ran a campaign urging Israel to vote against it, arguing that it would harm Israeli security, sovereignty and humanitarian conditions for both citizens and migrants alike, given the death toll involved in increased illegal migration to Europe.

“There are some clauses in the compact that are very radical, like Clause 17, which tries to regulate speech on immigration,” he said. “There are some additional clauses that we see as very problematic.” These include ones on family reunification, decriminalizing illegal immigration and minimizing detention.

“All these are tools that are necessary to control irregular immigration,” said Jakubowicz. Case in point: Israel stemmed the tide of irregular African migration in 2012 using such methods, which has been a hot-button issue in Israel since the government cracked-down on illegal migration mostly from Sudan and Eritrea.

Jewish views on the pact, he said, will invariably be divided along political lines. Some Jews fear that anti-Muslim sentiment will embolden the growing far-right, which may hold reflexive anti-Semitic attitudes. Jakubowicz argues that the pact would actually fuel far-right actors.

“If you have an irresponsible, uncontrolled immigration policy, putting aside anti-Semitism emanating from Muslim migrants, the direct affect of that is a rise of the far-right,” he said. “And the only way to stop the far-right is to have a balanced, responsible, fact-based, center-conservative discourse on migration, which is non-existent in Europe.”

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