The head of the German Jewish community said that he had abandoned hope of his country ever being free of antisemitism.
Speaking at an event in Frankfurt, Josef Schuster — president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the country’s EJC affiliate — said that recent protests against coronavirus restrictions, many of which have featured antisemitic tropes, had persuaded him to abandon the “utopian” notion that Germany society could shake off the pervasive influence of antisemitic beliefs.
“Unfortunately, what we are experiencing at the moment does not surprise me,” Schuster said.
At the same time, Schuster emphasized that the majority of Germans were resolutely opposed to antisemitic agitation. After the gun attack by a neo-Nazi at a synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur last October, the response of a wide swathe of German society had “very encouraging and compassionate,” Schuster noted.
Schuster’s comments came as the international human rights NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) fired a rare salvo against antisemitism specifically, noting that the coronavirus protests had been used by some Germans “as a pretext for displays of antisemitism, or open or thinly veiled support for neo-Nazi ideology.”
A statement from Hugh Williamson — the director of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Division — argued that concern over the protests had to be understood in the broader context of rising antisemitism. Antisemitic attacks in Germany in 2019 increased by 13 percent on the previous year, with more than 2,000 incidents reported.
“A time like this, in which far-right antisemites can weave their toxic ideology into what should be peaceful protests about public health measures, requires vigilance,” Williamson stated.
Williamson called on the German government to increase its vigilance.
“Addressing Germany’s Jewish community on the night of the Halle synagogue attack, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared her government would ‘do everything possible to ensure that you can live in safety,” Williamson recalled. “The Covid-19 crisis is a sad reminder that work is still needed to make this a reality.”