German Jews Demand Government Protect Synagogues After Israeli Flag Burnings

In one case, the window of a synagogue door was shattered and in another a fire was lit over a monument marking the site of a synagogue destroyed by the Nazis in 1938

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Policemen secure the area around a memorial commemorating Kristallnacht near a synagogue in Dresden, Germany,Oct.9, 2019.
Policemen secure the area around a memorial commemorating Kristallnacht near a synagogue in Dresden, Germany, Oct.9, 2019. The subjects have no connection to the content of the article.Credit: Rober Michael/dpa/AFP

Germany’s Jewish community called upon the German government on Tuesday to step up protection of Jewish institutions throughout the country after Israeli flags were burned in front of two synagogues, apparently in response to the latest escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Police arrested 13 people in the northwestern city of Münster after witnesses reported a group of about 15 people of “Arab appearance” shouting and burning an Israeli flag in front of the synagogue.

In Bonn, three suspects in their 20s were detained in connection with the burning of an Israeli flag outside a synagogue there. A window in the door of the synagogue was also shattered. The suspects admitted to police that hostilities between Israel and Hamas and its allies in Gaza had motivated them to throw stones at the building.

A fire was also lit above a stone marking the site of a synagogue in Düsseldorf that was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938 during Kristallnacht, and in the town of Gelsenkirchen, antisemitic in addition to anti-Israel slogans were chanted in front of a synagogue.

Demonstration in front of synagogue in Gelsenkirchen.

“Israel and Jews as a whole are exposed to hatred and agitation, especially on social media,” Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement.

“The threat to the Jewish community is growing. This is shown by the burning of Israeli flags in front of the synagogues in Bonn and Münster. The protection of Jewish institutions must now be increased. We expect solidarity with Israel and the Jewish community from the citizens of Germany. We must all together stand on the side of the Jewish state.”

German political and religious leaders also condemned the incidents. “This antisemitic hate is a disgrace,” German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said. “Synagogues and Jewish sites should be firmly protected.”

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer declared that “never again can Jews be forced to live in fear in our country,” the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported.

Bishop Georg Bätzing, who heads the German Bishops’ Conference, called the incidents “pure antisemitism that cannot be justified” and declared that “a political conflict must not be connected and charged with religious fanaticism.”

Armin Laschet, the premier of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the incidents occurred, said police would boost security at Jewish sites in the state, Germany’s most populous, which borders on Belgium and the Netherlands.

German federal antisemitism commissioner Felix Klein said that he expected domestic antisemitism to continue to increase, telling the media outlet Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland that “if the current tensions in Israel continue to rise, I assume that this will again have an impact on criminal offenses in this country.”

He described recent events as part of a “classic pattern to hold Jews in Germany responsible for what the Israeli government does – a government over whose actions they have no influence,” the Judische Allgemeine reported.

For her part, Germany’s ambassador to Israel, Susanne Wasum-Rainer tweeted a statement in which she expressed regret and condemnation over “attacks against Jewish institutions in Germany under the pretext of events in Israel and Palestinian territory. Those attacks are absolutely unacceptable - zero tolerance applies.

The number of politically motivated crimes rose sharply in Germany last year, including a 15 percent increase in antisemitic offenses. The number of antisemitic crimes reported to police across the country jumped from 2,032 in 2019 to 2,351 last year.

Calling the rise in antisemitism “frightening but not surprising,” Klein told Der Tagesspiegel last week that “in times of crisis, people are more open to irrational explanatory patterns, including antisemitic stereotypes. Unfortunately, it has been a tradition in Germany for centuries that Jews are held responsible for crises.”

Antisemitic incidents spiked in Germany during Israel’s ground operation in Gaza in 2014, with the number of violent incidents more than doubling over the previous year, according to the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University. Chants of “gas the Jews” were heard at a number of German protests against Israel in response to the 2014 military campaign.

In 2015, a German court ruled that a firebombing of a synagogue in Wuppertal, which was carried out at the height of anti-Israel protests in Germany, could not definitively be declared an antisemitic act. The defendants claimed they were angry over Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip.

In December of last year, a German court convicted a right-wing extremist of murder and attempted murder for a 2019 attack on a synagogue in the city of Halle. Stephan Balliet, who later confessed to antisemitic motives, killed two people on the street after failing to break into the synagogue during Yom Kippur services.

JTA and Reuters contributed to this report.

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