German President to Rivlin: Israeli Flag-burning at anti-Trump Protests Is Hateful Act That Has No Place in Germany

Speaking at Israeli Embassy in Berlin, president says he is 'horrified and ashamed' and vows that anti-Semitism has no place in Germany

Protesters hold a placard during the demonstration outside the U.S. embassy against President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital in Berlin, Germany, December 8, 2017.
Axel Schmidt / Reuters

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke on Thursday with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, where both Rivlin and his German counterpart condemned recent "disturbing manifestations" of anti-Semitism in Germany. The conversation followed the burning of Israeli flags and anti-Israel protests in Berlin last week after U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement on December 6 that the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

An announcement from the President's Residence in Jerusalem stated that Steinmeier told Rivlin that the incidents reflected hate and racism that have no place in Germany. The German president also promised Rivlin that German law enforcement agencies would bring those who break the law to justice.

Steinmeier reiterated his remarks on Friday at an event at the Israeli Embassy in Berlin. "The very week that our fellow Jewish citizens lit the candles of their menorah, Israeli flags were on fire on German squares. I am horrified and ashamed," he said. "Anti-Semitism must have no place in this Federal Republic!"

"There are things which are part of Germany. And one of these is our responsibility for our past. ... For this responsibility, no line can be drawn under the past for later generations – and no exceptions be made for immigrants," he added. "It is non-negotiable – for all who live in Germany and want to live here! ... Only if Jews are completely at home and at ease in Germany is this Federal Republic completely at ease with itself."

Jewish groups in Germany are pressing the authorities to crack down on anti-Semitic acts following the burning of Jewish symbols and Israeli flags at protests.

The American Jewish Committee Berlin, the JSUD group of Jewish university students, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and the German-Israeli Society have called for tougher law enforcement and for new laws to make it easier to ban or disband anti-Semitic demonstrations.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and other top German officials have condemned anti-Semitic acts seen at demonstrations against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and vowed to prosecute illegal acts.

The American Jewish Committee Berlin said a new study by an Indiana University professor showed broader efforts were also needed to fight anti-Semitic attitudes among Muslim migrants from Syria and Iraq.  

German has opened its borders to more than 1 million migrants mainly fleeing Middle East wars since 2015, sparking concerns about a further bump in already increasing anti-Semitism.

“Politicians must guarantee that anti-Semitic attitudes will not be tolerated and that infractions to laws and regulations will be prosecuted,” said the group’s director, Deidre Berger.

She reiterated a longstanding call for the German government to appoint an anti-Semitism commissioner to focus attention on the issue.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas and Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller vowed during a menorah lighting at the Brandenburg Gate on Tuesday to combat all forms of anti-Semitism, while demonstrators continued to voice anger at the U.S. move at a separate event near Berlin’s main train station.

The Central Council of Muslims in Germany has also condemned anti-Semitic actions.

Indiana University’s Guenther Jikeli, the author of the study, said group interviews of 68 migrants aged 18 to 52 conducted last year revealed widespread anti-Semitic attitudes. They showed rejection of the state of Israel and ignorance about the murder of 6 million Jews in Europe by the Nazis during World War Two, he said.

“There are strong anti-Semitic views among refugees that need to be addressed because otherwise they could become the norm,” he told Reuters TV.

Kurds and other refugees persecuted as minorities in their home countries had more nuanced views and more clearly rejected anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli perspectives, he said.

Fabian Weissbarth, spokesman for AJC, said the study should spur efforts to tackle anti-Semitism among migrants to ensure the findings were not misused by anti-immigrant far-right groups like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

“If we don’t address it as a society, then the AfD will, and that will lead to hate and incitement,” he said. “We need a differentiated view that recognizes that not all refugees are the same, and we need to look at solutions, such as integration measures, what needs to be included in integration courses, and changes in how social workers and politicians react.”