'Jews Still Make the Best Scapegoats': Germany Records Spike in Antisemitic Crimes

The majority of antisemitic assaults in 2021 are linked to far-right extremists, a government report shows, fueled in part by conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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Supporters of Germany's right-wing AfD party wave flags in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany in 2018.
Supporters of Germany's right-wing AfD party wave flags in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany in 2018.Credit: Michael Sohn / AP
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

There was a sharp spike in the number of antisemitic crimes in Germany last year, according to a new report by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, with the majority being perpetrated by right-wing extremists.

There were 3,027 recorded incidents in 2021, up from 2,351 the previous year – an increase of nearly 29 percent.

Based on statistics reported in May by the Federal Criminal Police Office (Germany’s equivalent of the American FBI), the report showed that the vast majority of incidents were linked to right-wing extremism. However, antisemitic incidents involving Islamist extremists were also on the rise, with 122 reported cases last year compared to 26 in 2020.

Most reported crimes related to illegal statements and publications – Holocaust denial and other forms of hate speech are outlawed in Germany – including online. But attacks on people and synagogues were also registered.

As in previous years, the number of incidents soared when tensions were high in the Holy Land: May 2021, during the 11-day flare-up between Israel and militant groups in the Gaza Strip.

In the midst of the fighting, Germany’s Jewish community called on the government to step up protection of Jewish institutions throughout the country, after Israeli flags were burned in front of two synagogues.

Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said at the time that “the threat to the Jewish community [is] growing” and that “we expect solidarity with Israel and the Jewish community from the citizens of Germany.”

The most worrying trends were burgeoning conspiracy theories relating Jews to the coronavirus pandemic and measures to curb it, leaders and watchdogs said.

“Clearly the pandemic and QAnon and [the anti-lockdown] Querdenken movement spread conspiracy theories globally based on the old antisemitic stories,” said Stephan Kramer, a former general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. He now serves as head of the domestic intelligence agency of the German state of Thuringia.

“That is a reason why I think we will see an increase of antisemitism in the coming months and years, because more people believe that ‘something must be right with those stories,’” he said, adding that “Jews still make the best scapegoats.

“Also, fake news and theories spread by foreign governments feed into that,” Kramer said.

People attend a protest rally against the coronavirus restrictions in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, in 2020.Credit: Michael Sohn /AP

According to a European Commission report released last June, anti-Jewish motifs proliferated on social media during the pandemic, with a 13-fold increase in antisemitic posts on German accounts since the beginning of the global health crisis.

According to that report, the “most dominant antisemitic narratives were conspiracy theories about Jews ruling international financial, political and media institutions, which comprised 89 percent of German antisemitic content and 55 percent of French.”

Right-wing extremist motivation continued to far outstrip any other categories in the German study. Out of the 3,027 cases, 2,552 were attributed to neo-Nazi ideology. Of those, 64 were violent crimes, including 51 cases of physical assault.

In April, 61 properties in various parts of Germany were raided and four alleged members of a far-right group were apprehended as part of a government investigation targeting several extremist organizations.

Prosecutors said at the time they were investigating 21 people suspected of keeping alive the banned Combat 18 Deutschland group, as well as 10 people suspected of being members of or supporting an organization called Atomwaffen Division Deutschland, which they described as a terrorist group and a German offshoot of Atomwaffen Division (a white supremacist organization that has existed in the United States since 2015).

Germany is struggling to tackle a rise in far-right radicalism, which has culminated in attacks that included a shooting rampage in Hanau in February 2020, when a racist gunman killed 11 people, including migrants and himself.

That attack came only months after a gunman carried out an attack outside a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle, on Yom Kippur 2019.

During his trial, Stephan Balliet admitted that he wanted to enter the synagogue and kill all of the 51 people inside. When he was unable to open the building’s heavy doors, he shot and killed a 40-year-old woman in the street outside and a 20-year-old man at a nearby kebab shop, and wounded several others.

The recent rise in antisemitic incidents is part of a larger pattern, with the number of politically motivated crimes increasing across the board in 2020 – including a 15 percent rise in antisemitic offenses. The number of antisemitic crimes reported to police across Germany jumped from 2,032 in 2019 to 2,351 in 2020.

Reuters, JTA and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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