Is Anti-Semitism Really on the Decline in Germany?

Is Anti-Semitism Really on the Decline in Germany?

In February of this year, Germany's influential Bertelsmann Foundation published the results of a new public opinion survey on anti-Semitism in Germany and the view of Germany among Jews in Israel and the United States. The Bertelsmann study made for headlines both in Germany and around the world: among other reasons, because it came to the conclusion that anti-Semitism is on the decline in Germany. The Bertelsmann findings thus plainly contradict the widespread assessment of both academic specialists and journalistic observers, who have pointed rather to a remarkable banalization of anti-Semitic prejudice in Germany in recent years. This process of banalization comprises both "classical" anti-Semitic prejudice and what researchers have dubbed "secondary" anti-Semitism: a peculiarly German phenomenon that might best be described as resentment of Jews not in spite of the Holocaust, but rather precisely because of it.

Thus in late February, just two weeks after the release of the Bertelsmann study, 83-year-old Holocaust survivor Isaak Behar was forced to interrupt his lecture in a Berlin police academy when students complained that they "did not want constantly to be reminded of the Holocaust." Some months earlier, in September 2006, the members of the Jewish soccer club TuS Makkabi were serenaded by fans with anti-Semitic threats and insults - including "Auschwitz is back" and "Gas the Jews" (link in German) -- during an amateur soccer game also in Berlin. When Makkabi player Vernen Liebermann appealed to the referee -- saying, on his account, "if you have the slightest shred of decency in light of the history of this country, you have to do something to help us now" -- he was given a red card and thrown out of the game. Weeks before that, during a summer festival in the small town of Pretzien, a group of local youngsters ritually burnt a copy of Anne Frank's diary, with one of them reportedly saying "it's all lies anyway."

Anti-Semitic crime has remained high in Germany during the entire decade, with over 1000 cases being officially registered every year since the year 2000. The desecration of Jewish graveyards, synagogues and Holocaust-related monuments is a regular occurrence throughout the country. Acts of violence against persons increased every year from 2001 to 2005 (reaching a high of 49 in 2005 and then falling, according to the official statistics, to 21 in 2006).

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