Pointing the finger
Jews in the Muslim world are not "handled with kid gloves". Anti-Semitism is part of the education there. Germany has imported anti-Semitism along with the Muslim migrants. With these theories, expressed in the German news magazine "Der Spiegel", 37-year-old Jens Spahn, rising star of the centre-right CDU party, is leading the field.
A wave of outrage is currently surging through the public sphere, triggered by the anti-Semitism displayed by Muslim protesters at a number of rallies, including one at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. At protests against the declaration made by US President Donald Trump recognising Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel, participants burned Israeli flags and chanted anti-Jewish slogans
We underestimated the anti-Semitism among migrants from the Islamic world! Those who let the refugees into the country also let in hatred of Jews! Anti-Semitism is completely unacceptable here in Western Europe! Politicians were quick to make critical comments such as these, the most trenchant among them being Jens Spahn, who is a member of his party's executive council.
This is a textbook case of "political phenomena and their public interpretation". It raises the question of the minimum standards we expect in political discourse. When the promise of quick political gains tempts politicians to fall short of even minimum standards of intellectual insight, the time has come to remind people of some very simple facts.
As everyone knows, countries import products they do not make themselves. The concept and substance of Anti-Semitism, however, is a German patent, invented by racist agitators in the second half of the 19th century. They had hoped that their theory that "the Jews are the cause of our misfortune" would find broad agreement amongst the German people (other Western and Eastern European countries witnessed similar trends). The agitators were not entirely wrong in their assumption. "Not handled with kid gloves" would certainly not be the right phrase to describe the later treatment of Jews by the German state.
Former Nazis who escaped prosecution
After the collapse of Nazi Germany, anti-Semitism was by no means so "completely unacceptable" that "Hitler's elite" – i.e. proven anti-Semites – were not still able to ascend to the highest positions in ministries, administrations, the judiciary, the police, the Federal Intelligence Service, and the Federal Chancellery in the newly created Federal Republic.
Mass murderers responsible for the deaths of unimaginable numbers of Jews – numbers with several zeros – lived undisturbed in Germany for decades, eventually dying peacefully as free men without ever being held accountable for their crimes. We need cite only three examples.
Bruno Streckenbach was head of the Gestapo in Hamburg and a confidant of Heinrich Himmler. During the war, he first served as leader of a so-called "task force" (a code name for death squad) in Poland and then, during the Barbarossa campaign, as a planner for further "task forces" in the conquered areas of Russia. According to one indictment, he was responsible for the death of at least 1,000,000 (one million) people. Streckenbach was never sentenced. All proceedings against him were dismissed. He died in his hometown of Hamburg in 1977.
Werner Best, doctor of laws, was, among other things, chief legal adviser to the Gestapo during the Third Reich. In this capacity, he organised the disenfranchisement of Jews in Germany and was one of the main planners of the mass murder of the Jews in Eastern Europe. The third man in the SS behind Himmler and Heydrich until 1940, Best later cleverly concealed the part he had played in the Third Reich. Despite his leading role in the Holocaust, he never had to stand trial. Dr. Best died in 1989 in Mülheim an der Ruhr.
The case of Hans Globke is more well known. In 1936, Globke declared in a legal commentary that the Führer and the Party had been wise to pass legislation that "Germans" were no longer permitted to marry "Jews". Globke went on to explain why "race defilement" was a reasonable legal term and what was meant by "half- and quarter-Jews". He suggested identifying Jews in Germany by marking their passports with a "J". After the war, the top lawyer Dr. Globke was head of the Federal Chancellery under Konrad Adenauer (CDU) from 1953 to 1963.
Those who are aware of this history will think twice before spouting nonsense about imported anti-Semitism. Those who have any idea what murderous anti-Semites fine upstanding Central European men like Dr. Best and Dr. Globke could be will be wary of using phrases like "anti-Semitic Muslim mob" when referring to the people burning Israeli flags in Berlin.
Blind in the right eye
Stephan J. Kramer, a man of the Jewish faith, is not the president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in the German state of Thuringia today because that office is such a bulwark against Muslim anti-Semitism. His appointment was instead meant to send a signal to the neo-Nazis. The underground organisation "Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund" (National Socialist Underground) originated in Thuringia. It is not yet clear to what extent the police and intelligence services went easy on this murderous terrorist group. What is clear is that the overwhelming majority of anti-Semitic crimes in Germany, some 90 per cent, are committed by right-wing extremists, not by Muslims.
Rather than an import, we should speak instead of a German export. It's no secret how much effort the Foreign Office put into translating Hitler's book "Mein Kampf" into Arabic in the 1930s. The idea was not least to introduce the author's anti-Jewish ideas to Arab readers.
And indeed, anti-Semitic set pieces inspired by National Socialism can be found in many of the programmes and pamphlets of post-colonial political movements in the Middle East, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Baath Party. Alois Brunner, a leading organiser of the deportations to the death camps, i.e., the "final solution", even took refuge in Syria. From there, he expressed his anti-Semitic credo several times publicly in interviews. Brunner died after the turn of the millennium in Damascus.
European anti-Semitism for the East
The exportation of modern European anti-Semitism to the East is not a purely German affair. In the 1870s, French settlers in Algeria subjected the Jews there to bloody pogroms in response to a law passed in 1870 that made Algerian Jews French citizens with equal rights. The deadly attacks on Jews perpetrated by Christian colonisers showed Algeria's Muslim inhabitants what European anti-Semitism was all about.
A more recent example is provided by President Erdogan of Turkey. In response to Trump's "Jerusalem Declaration", he remarked: "Israel is a country that feeds on blood." This statement echoes the notion that Jews drink the blood of people of other faiths they have killed with their own hands. This is not a Muslim but an old European stereotype, which talented illustrators throughout Europe have depicted down through the centuries, from medieval images all the way up to the Nazi propaganda vehicle "Der Stürmer".
It is also true, however, that Muslim societies did not necessarily need the addition of European anti-Semitism. They have their own age-old anti-Jewish tendencies, ever since the prophet Muhammad came into conflict with his Jewish neighbours, who refused to accept Islam. This dispute found expression in the Koran.
It cannot be denied that anti-Jewish sentiments are part of Islam. Islamic anti-Semitism has broken out time and again in different places and different periods. The Jewish philosopher Maimonides and his family had to flee from Cordoba in the 12th century and later from Fez, to escape the violence perpetrated against Jews by the "Almohads" (al-Muwahhidun).
It is a misleading idealisation to claim that Islamic history and civilisation are characterised by religious tolerance and the cultivation of the sciences alone. While Aristotle and Galen were translated into Arabic, "prophet legends" claiming that the Jews were descended from apes were also written down. This trope is still quite popular to this day. The author of these lines has heard it often in sermons in both the Middle East and Germany, for example in 2002 out of the mouth of an Islam teacher in North Rhine-Westphalia who was paid by Saudi Arabia.
Stirring up anti-Muslim feeling
It is nothing new that Muslims in this country may have anti-Semitic tendencies. Shortly after 9/11, one could hear it said in German mosques that "the Jews did it."
For all that, however, we must not lose sight of the fact that neither the intensity nor the actual consequences of Muslim anti-Semitism are even remotely comparable to those of German anti-Semitism. Education and dialogue seem to be very effective tools for dealing with anti-Jewish sentiment among Muslims living in Germany.
But politicians like Jens Spahn are apparently not interested in that. Ostensibly, they are trying to stir up anti-Muslim feeling at a time when many politicians are vying with each other to adopt the position that is most critical of refugees.
What is really interesting is a deeper analysis of the statements made by Spahn and his ilk: if the Germans can point a finger at others for being "Anti-Semites", then the underlying message is: "we aren't anti-Semitic." In this respect, Spahn and others are performing what is possibly the final flourish in the act of self-exculpation. The first decades of the Federal Republic of Germany were marked by repression and cover-ups. Now, finally, the stigma can be shifted on to others.
© Qantara.de 2017
Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor