Dr.Gerstenfeld’s article was first published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Affairs (BESA) and republished here with the author’s consent.
THE SOCIETAL ASPECTS OF THE FAILED HALLE SYNAGOGUE MASSACRE.
Antisemitism in the Western world – and in the Muslim world – cannot be eliminated. It is far too deeply rooted. In the West it can however be contained to a certain extent if appropriate efforts are made. After the failed massacre at the Halle synagogue by an extreme right-wing perpetrator on Yom Kippur the question must once again be asked to what extent the German government makes all normal attempts to keep the antisemitic violence and hatred in check.
Even on the holiest day of the Jewish year the local police did not guard the Halle synagogue. It took them time to arrive on the scene after the community’s call for help. There was thus hardly any effort by the authorities to prevent a mass murder of Jews. Two non-Jewish people who happened to be in the area were tragically murdered by the terrorist instead.
The failure of the authorities is clear. The priorities for the understaffed police force are set by the government of Saxony Anhalt.1 Its Interior Minister, Holger Stahlknecht, a Christian Democrat (CDU), claimed there was no failure. He said that the police regularly passed by the synagogue. He added that there had been close contacts and regular conversations between the police and the Jewish community. All requests for protection had been positively answered. According to the minister, there had not been any requests for protection of the synagogue on Yom Kippur.
Stahlknecht told the daily, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, that the police had done a good job and need not reproach themselves. The police acted according to the risk assessment of the Domestic Security Agency (BKA) 2
Stahlknecht’s statement was criticized by Josef Schuster, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. He said that it was untrue that in the past the police had always complied with the demands of the community. Schuster added that with such an uncritical evaluation one should wonder whether there was a willingness to learn from past mistakes.3
Additional insights in police negligence concerning Jewish communities in Saxony Anhalt can be attained from an interview in the daily Die Welt with Vadim Laiter, the head of the Jewish community in the state capital of Magdeburg. He said that when he heard about the attack on the Halle synagogue he called the local police for protection. Laiter was concerned that his synagogue might also be attacked. He was told that all police officers were in Halle. Laiter said: “We were deeply shocked as we were totally without protection. Three hours later the police finally came to guard our synagogue. That happened only after Minister Stahlknecht had personally ordered this.”4
Looking at police actions to protect Jews is only one aspect of the guilt issue. Key persons in the two German government parties used the attack on the synagogue to confront the populist AfD party. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, chairperson of the CDU, said: “The AfD is the political arm of the right-wing radicalism.”5 Earlier, Michael Roth, a prime candidate for one of the two chairperson positions in the socialist party (SPD), said the same about the AfD: “In the German parliament and in the federal state parliaments sits the political arm of right-wing terrorism.”6
If this is the opinion of the two government parties, one wonders why German liberal democracy has been unable to outlaw the AfD. It would be interesting to hear legal opinions on whether Germany’s constitutional court would be willing to do so.
The AfD is not a homogeneous party. It has both a mainstream and a highly problematic “ethnic” wing. Various reactions ranging from the latter to the Halle attack once again proved this.7
Yet the political attacks on the AfD backfired. The AfD spokesperson on antisemitism is deputy chairperson, Beatrix von Storch, who belongs to the party’s mainstream. In the Bundestag, the German parliament, she raised a number of very unwelcome facts for the established parties and in particular for the SPD.8
Von Storch said that violent neo-Nazi groups have existed for decades in Germany. Their ability to establish themselves showed the total failure of the established parties in domestic and security policy. The same was true concerning Islamists, left wing extremists and criminal clans. Her remarks were accurate and are yet another indication of the dysfunctional state of law in Germany’s liberal democracy.
Von Storch stated that left wing extremists had in 1969 laid a bomb at the Jewish community center in Berlin. They were also responsible for the terror attack on the Air France flight which was hijacked to Entebbe, Uganda in 1976. She also mentioned the murder of Israeli athletes by Arab terrorists at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics.
Von Storch continued by saying that antisemitism was not a marginal phenomenon in Germany caused by violent extremists. It comes also from the middle of left-liberalism, from leading left-liberal media and from the left-wing cultural environment. These attitudes poison society’s entire climate. She accused a major daily, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, of publishing caricatures in the style of the most extreme Nazi paper, Der Stürmer, and added that these would fit publications of the neo-Nazi NPD party.
Von Storch then attacked the SPD saying that while criticism of Islam is a reason for it to expel somebody from the party, antisemitism is not. She noted that the former SPD leader and foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, had defamed Israel as an apartheid state. Von Storch then attacked former SPD leader Martin Schulz who repeated before the Knesset the lie that Israel let the Palestinians die of thirst. She mentioned that German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) had congratulated Iran for [the anniversary] of its Islamic revolution. She added that Islamic revolution means: destruction of Israel.9
The AfD is boycotted by the other parties. This suggests that in their eyes the AfD is black and they are white. Yet one cannot repeat enough that all German parties represented in parliament should be considered different shades of grey. No German Jewish leader would have dared to state in public the combined accurate facts Von Storch mentioned in the Bundestag,, let alone any Israeli diplomat.
In the meantime, another scandal concerning the police has been discovered. A Syrian who climbed over the fence of a Berlin synagogue on October 4 has been released by the police. Nobody knows where he is. He threatened passers-by and the police with a knife and shouts of Allahu Akhbar.10
There are many more indications that the German state of law is partly dysfunctional. In October, the head of the BKA Holger Münch, gave a newspaper interview which backed this up. Die Welt summarized it as a worrying view of the weaknesses of the German security services. It added that parts of it read as a “bankruptcy declaration of a far too slow, far too fragmented, often also very naïve state of law.” Münch also disclosed that since 2016 seven Islamist terror attacks had been prevented. He called this a miracle.11
The national antisemitism commissioner, Felix Klein, criticized the German prosecution saying: “It is scandalous that the prosecutors abandon many actions concerning antisemitic crimes. Courts have to punish more about antisemitism.” Klein said this in reaction to a study by the World Jewish Congress which found that 27% of Germans have latent antisemitic attitudes.12 He added that before the study was published it was thought that 15 to 20% of Germans held such beliefs.
Klein also said that antisemitism against Israel is even higher at 40%. As an example, he mentioned that actions of the current Israeli government are considered equivalent with what the Nazis did to the Jews in Europe.13
Positive reactions after the Halle attack included a number of public gatherings of solidarity with the Jewish community in the country. German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) participated in a big one in Berlin.14
Security for Jewish institutions will be improved. That will not prevent the many attacks on recognizable Jews in the public domain by Germans and Arabs. Nor will it change the key elements of German anti-Israeli policies such as its friendly relations with Iran or its support for antisemitic votes against Israel in the United Nations.
The prevailing mood in the government seems to be that Germany is a “normal” state. What happened in the Holocaust belongs to history. A detailed study would probably reveal that the impacts of the Nazi period manifest themselves in far more ways in German society than is immediately recognizable.
7 www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article201774896/Attentat-in-Halle-AfD-Politiker-Brandner-loest-mit-Tweets-Empoerung-aus.html; https://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/nach-rechtsextremem-terror-in-halle-afd-politiker-nennt-angriff-auf-synagoge-sachbeschaedigung/25117664.html