The Victimhood Contest (2 of 2)

We'll go to the right

Anetta Kahane is a prominent representative of those who claim that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Germany. Kahane is the chair of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, founded in 1999, which "has been working in numerous ways to strengthen a democratic civil society to resist right-wing extremism." This is because "over the last decade, a youth culture of right-wing extremism has developed, particularly in the eastern part of Germany. Neo-Nazi and other right-wing organizations with racist and anti-Semitic propaganda enjoy ongoing popularity."

Anti-Semitism, emphasizes Kahane, is not ordinary racism, but "a sociopolitical view of how the world is ruled. It's a theory about society. At its foundation is the belief in the conspiracy of international Judaism."

So that in effect, anti-Semitism in Germany exists without Jews. There is not much physical violence against them, because "aside from the members of Chabad, how can one identify a Jew today in Germany?" But she feels that the theory of a Jewish conspiracy is striking more roots in German society. Her organization documents hate letters, the desecration of graves, threatening phone calls to Jews and to "others" who suffer from attacks. There have even been incidents of murder. In the past 14 years since the unification, says Kahane, Germans have murdered about 140 immigrants and foreigners in Germany. Not one of them was Jewish. One of the first people murdered by racists after the unification was Amadeu Antonio Kiowa, a worker from Angola who was beaten to death by a group of skinheads in a small town in Brandenburg in 1990. Kahane's organization is named after him.

About 7.4 million foreigners live in Germany today, comprising 8.9 percent of the population. Two million are from European Union countries, and another 2 million are Turks (aside from about 400,000 Turks who have already received German citizenship), who make up the country's largest Muslim and ethnic immigrant community.

One of the ways that Wetzel and Kahane gauge the rise in anti-Semitic feelings is by examining the Web sites. "The Internet has a de-civilizing role," says Sonja Margolina, a journalist and essayist who emigrated from Moscow in 1986, where she worked for almost 20 years in dissident circles. "On the Internet one can break a taboo, and a taboo is a layer of civilization." Margolina also examines Jewish forums in Russian. There she finds a large number of racist statements, such as "Drop an atom bomb" on the Palestinians, or "Let the Chechnyans have it." These are not documented or covered by the media as carefully and as prominently.

The body analogous to the Israeli Shin Bet security services, the department for the protection of the constitution (Verfassungsschutz) in the German Interior Ministry, keeps track of the activities of the extreme right, the extreme left and immigrant organizations, mainly Islamic ones, in order to analyze and locate threats to public welfare. The main danger, they explain, comes from the right. In a meeting with those responsible for the Berlin region, they emphasized that most of the documented (and punishable) incidents of racist violence are aimed against non-Jewish foreigners, and all are perpetrated by members of the extreme right.

Between 1998 and 2002, 265 incidents of physical violence by the right were documented in Berlin, with about 3.3 million inhabitants. Of them, four were defined as acts of violence against Jews (such as attacks on kippa-wearing men). The rest were "against foreigners, leftist activists and the police." In 2002, of about half a million crimes in Berlin, 950 were defined as "rightist," including 70 violent attacks, 650 hate letters, drawing of swastikas, and the rest were threats and insults.

Of the 440,000 immigrants living in Berlin, the majority, about 122,000, are Turkish Muslims. The next largest groups are Yugoslavs (about 55,000), Poles (32,000), Italians, Greeks and Lebanese (not more than 8,000, including Palestinians).

Kahane, who was born in East Germany to a Communist family, rejects any attempt to attribute the anti-Semitic and racist outbursts in eastern Germany since the unification to a historical-sociological context of poverty and frustration. "I don't like these explanations: Because we have no work, we have to kill someone. That's a reflex that people have learned, that if they have a problem, they have to kill a black man, or attack a Jew. It's a very strong tradition. In East Germany they never worked against that. I'm not asking why it exists, but why not, and why not more. Is it Germany? Yes. Is it a product of undemocratic traditions? Yes. Were they ever educated to oppose racism and anti-Semitism? No."

For the past 10 years, Oliver Tempel has been the educational coordinator in a school in an eastern suburb of Berlin, a typical East German neighborhood: relatively new apartment blocks, a quick solution to housing problems. Statistically, says Tempel, 40 percent of the incidents of racist violence in Berlin emerge from the two large neighborhoods, Hellersdorf and Marzhan. Unlike Kahane, he does suggest examining the unique socio-historical background of this population, without minimizing the severity of the constant search for the weak to serve as scapegoats. "In the period of East Germany, the official ideology favored solidarity with other peoples. `If that's the left,' said children in these areas - who personally experienced the deceptive talk and the gap between the reality of oppression and deprivation in which they lived, and the language - `then we'll go right.'"

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the children in the distant neighborhoods and the small towns hardly ever met "foreigners" (of whom there were few in East Germany). The fall of the wall brought them face to face with people and cultures foreign to them. Neo-Nazi leaders from West Germany came immediately to the east and began to "capture" children with a German-nationalist ideology of "one nation" and with social activities: They distributed food to the elderly, cleaned dog excrement from the streets. This activity was appreciated because many East Germans felt that they had been abandoned, that they had lost their past and that their future was neither promising nor assured. They expressed their internal weakness through demonstrations of strength by gangs, attacks on those considered weak, threats, a uniform violent appearance.

When it comes to anti-Semitism, to Israel, the Nazi "past" both amplifies and silences. Many think that Kahane is exaggerating in her description of the rise of anti-Semitism and its dangers inside Germany. These include such prominent Jewish representatives as Micha Brumlik, who also heads an institute for Holocaust research and is a member of the Frankfurt Jewish community; Julius Schoeps, who is also the chair of the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies; and Irene Runge, also from East Berlin with a Communist background, who heads a Jewish cultural association, and is active in joint activities against racism together with Palestinian, Turkish, Kurdish and Polish minority organizations.

Some fear that the focus on East Germany lets off the institutionalized, sophisticated, organized anti-Semitism in the extreme rightist organizations in West Germany. Cilly Kugelmann says that the German public is obsessive about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - more than about any other global conflict. And there are professors and journalists from liberal and leftist circles, who testify that they are careful not to say anything about Israel, because of the German past. They are so careful that in private conversations, they revealed that they choose not to know much about the Israeli occupation.

The dark-skinned side of discrimination

A., about 35, has stopped traveling to Munich by train. He got tired of being detained by the police and asked to show his passport. Once he asked by what right, and they took him to the police station. "The sophisticated racists," he says, "shake my hand and say `So when are you returning to your homeland?'" The less sophisticated won't even shake his hand.

He was born in Germany, completed his medical studies and is familiar with German discrimination from its dark-skinned, non-Aryan side. His father is Indian and his mother is German. He has been active for years in the Antifa, but is far from the Antideutsche. In demonstrations against neo-Nazism he works with a first-aid group, which treats the injured. He also works in a clinic that treats drug addicts and people suffering from AIDS or liver ailments. Because of the color of his skin, some people won't let him treat them. "We don't go to kanake" (a derogatory term for Turks), they say. One neo-Nazi patient took two years to start talking to him.

A.'s mother is not an "ordinary" German: She's a Jew, from a family that succeeded in hiding in Berlin during the war. One of his uncles is a Communist, another converted to Christianity and joined the Waffen SS. "He was a traitor who betrayed several members of his family. He remained a Nazi until he died two years ago. My mother, who didn't talk to him all those years, toasted with champagne upon his death."

In school the children used to push him into the garbage can - a punishment for being different. "I didn't say that I was Jewish, they cursed me anyway, so what difference did it make." Nevertheless, when the sixth-grade teacher told a joke - "How many Jews can you fit into a Volkswagen? Two in front, 2 in back and 17 in the ashtray" - he complained to the principal. The teacher was transferred to another class.

When he visits the Sachsenhausen concentration camp with his friends from the Antifa, he puts a kippa on his head. There was a time when he celebrated the Jewish holidays. Because of his Jewish background, it's hard for him to say whether critics who claim that the German left is obsessed with Israel are right. He thinks that the preoccupation is natural, because of the past. He thinks that the claims about a wave of anti-Semitism are "exaggerated." Although he doesn't deny that there are occasional remarks bordering on anti-Semitism, he says that the Antideutsche are artificially inflating the problem. The German left, as small and marginal as it is today, was in the past just as involved with South America, Vietnam, conflicts in Ireland and in Spain. Now it is very involved in support for immigrants and their right to stay.

Wetzel, of the institute for anti-Semitic research, confirms that leftist anti-globalization groups sometimes introduce anti-Semitic undertones. But she says that the leftist groups are willing to confront these incidents and to uproot anti-Semitic implications, for example, from criticism of Israel. "There's no point in meeting and explaining to the right," says Wetzel. "Anti-Semitism is at the basis of their ideology."

Aycan Demirel and Mattias Hippler consider themselves part of Antifa. Their views regarding Israel are similar to those of D., the Antideutsche activist. Both are social activists among immigrants, for whom they have initiated educational programs against anti-Semitism. Demirel is a 36-year-old native of Turkey who has been living in Berlin for 12 years, while Hippler, 27, is German.

During their many years of activity with immigrants, they say, they have definitely seen anti-Semitic feelings among adults and children: "Jew" is a curse, the Holocaust didn't happen, say the adults; or it's good that it happened, say younger people. Maybe the conflict in the Middle East has an influence, but there is a foundation that is not related to the conflict and the escalation of recent years. Demirel attributes it to a strong, if unrecognized, tradition of anti-Semitism in Turkey. There is a climate of demonization of Israel: The Middle East conflict provides an opportunity for the emergence of "essential" anti-Semitic feelings - in other words, independent of social or historical context. In much the same vein, Brumlik is particularly concerned by what he sees as the consolidation of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world.

In certain neighborhoods, one of the curse words is not only "Jew" but "victim" - opfer. Victim, in the jargon of the German extreme right, is a synonym for Jew. A dirty word. Social activists who work with children of Turkish origin were shocked to hear them "cursing" with this word, which has filtered in from the culture of the German right. A. (the doctor from the Antifa), says that among close friends, opfer has become an affectionate term. A kind of reverse logic.

Whatever the case, "opfer" seems to be mentioned frequently, in a kind of contest to see who is the greater victim. "The Germans like to say of themselves that they are victims of history," says D., the Antideutsche sympathizer. One can hear people complaining that they are "victims of the incessant preoccupation with the past," victims of blame that is passed on from generation to generation. The right side of the German political map will mention the massive bombardments of Dresden and the German victims, the suffering under the Soviet occupiers, the suffering of the ethnic Germans who were expelled from Poland and Czechoslovakia, the suffering of the victims of the Soviet regime.

Wetzel thinks that this is a kind of Holocaust denial: The comparison is meant to minimize the full significance of the Nazi extermination machine. Some explain the German enthusiasm for building a memorial to Jewish victims as nothing more than an escape from the burden of being the perpetrators: Schoeps, who would prefer that the huge budget for the memorial be used for education, says: "The Germans are creeping toward the role of the Jews (the victim), so they don't have to think about Auschwitz and about themselves."

And then come those who speak about the Palestinian victims and the Jewish perpetrators: For some Germans, this interest in the Palestinian victims is related to the idea of "If the Jews are causing such great suffering, then maybe what happened in Nazi Germany is not so terrible." There are neo-Nazis who have jumped on the bandwagon, and at pro-Palestinian events introduce their anti-Semitic slogans. Israeli and Jewish activists, like Irene Runge, speak to their Palestinian acquaintances and to others, and warn them not to fall into the trap. Wetzel says that the Muslim Federation in Germany has already addressed the problem and has spoken against joining the anti-Semites.

Some feel they are "victims" of the massive official study and memorial activity in Germany. The student rebels of the 1960s, whose slogan was "Nie Wieder Deutschland" - No More Germany - say that their children "don't want to hear about the Holocaust." This is especially true of the children of Arab and Turkish immigrants. In order to integrate into Germany they are required to learn the German past and to take "responsibility" for something that is unrelated to them, the Holocaust. They also see it as a "source of power" for Israel in the struggle against the Palestinians.

The Russians enter Berlin

In the immigrant community, where there is competition for resources and attention, everyone knows that the victim status of the Jews is a source of strength for the Russian Jewish immigrants. The Arab and Turkish immigrants have a myth that Jewish immigrants don't have to undergo the same tortuous route as do others who want to become citizens, and that they receive German citizenship "within a week of their arrival." That's true of ethnic Germans who come from Russia, but it's entirely untrue of Russian Jews, who also have to wait eight years before applying for citizenship. Their initial "benefit," because of the "victim status" of their people, was their right to immigrate to Germany. Indeed, the authorities are less strict with them than with other immigrants regarding proof of ability to earn a living (one reason being that many are of retirement age). A young Palestinian had a hard time believing that 70 percent of the Jews in Berlin live on some kind of welfare.

In the immigrant community, the Jewish community is seen as very powerful. But the Jews are aware of the numerical, cultural, economic and political weakness of their community. The core group - the children of the DPs and the survivors - suffer inner conflict about living in Germany. Most Russian Jews didn't experience the Holocaust like the Polish Jews. The Red Army veterans - who are proud that they fought against Nazi Germany - don't mind, for example, meeting with Wehrmacht veterans, as they did recently at the Russian embassy in Berlin. So despite the image, most of the Jews in Germany today don't share the "formative experience" of the Holocaust. But they do "benefit" from it.

Here is an example: Margolina says that Germany is afraid of the Jews "because they can say who is anti-Semitic. They operate as `Germany's conscience,' and they have a monopoly on

defining anti-Semitism. The Jewish community doesn't have real, inherent power, but rather power derived from the media, from the very fact that its members are sought after for interviews. All the talk about anti-Semitism is a way to attract attention, in order to obtain power in German society."

What cannot be erased

Professor Micha Brumlik, who considers Islamic fundamentalism the main anti-Semitic danger today, insists that the discussion of anti-Semitism in Europe is "Israeli and American propaganda - particularly American." He thinks the United States is bitter about "the unwillingness, mainly of France and Germany, to participate in the war against Iraq. The American delegate to the EU spoke as though anti-Semitism today in Europe is worse than in the 1930s. That's nonsense, of course - although it's true that in France, there are more anti-Jewish incidents than at any time since 1945. Israel is powerful against the Palestinians and in the Middle East, but such power is useless. No power continues forever. In the United States the Jews are a very strong ethnic religious group, but far less so than the Evangelical right. And in Israel - there's military power, and yet, they are still incapable of solving the Palestinian problem."

As opposed to historians who emphasize that racist anti-Semitism is a product of European secular modernism, Schoeps finds that "anti-Semitism is a story of Christian society, and in Germany, particularly of Protestantism. Deep in German thinking, German identity is ethnic - although there was no ethnic uniformity in Bavaria and Saxony, for example. In the 19th century, the German Reich created a German identity that needed the enemy, the stranger, someone to blame for all the problems. These were the Jews, the Gypsies, the Poles. The image of the Jewish enemy was internalized in poems, in folk tales, in language. That cannot be erased. If you do so, there won't be any more German-Christian society.

"As a Jew I live in a society with an anti-Semitic tradition; for me it's not a problem, I'm aware of it. Anti-Semitism is a problem of the non-Jews. But for the Jewish world, in Israel and here, anti-Semitism is a way to build Jewish identity, now that it's no longer clear what that is."

Schoeps, the historian, who edited the writings of Herzl, says that all his life he has "worked on Zionism. If you look at the first Zionists, they wrote that Zionism needs anti-Semitism. Herzl wrote that Zionism needs Jewish distress. Nathan Birnbaum wrote that if anti-Semitism didn't exist, it would have to be invented. That's the problem of Zionism: It needs anti-Semitism. That's very hard to explain to a non-Jew. The non-Jews think that Zionism is related to religion, but it's an answer to anti-Semitism. The Holocaust is what made the establishment of the state possible in 1948. Without the Holocaust, the UN would not have decided on the establishment of a Jewish state. Were it not for the Holocaust, another, perhaps binational state would have been established."

Some claim that anti-Zionism is a kind of anti-Semitism. Brumlik (a former Zionist, a former activist in the radical left, today a member of a liberal-religious community, which he founded) replies with a story about a 65-year-old taxi driver who recently drove him. "The driver started to talk about the Middle East conflict. He told me that Israel must keep the Golan Heights and the Palestinian territories, he said that his daughter had visited Yad Vashem and emerged in tears." Here is someone "pro" (Jewish or Israeli), thought Brumlik. And then, unexpectedly, "The driver declared `These people understand something about money, after all. The fact is that we still have to pay them.'"