The Israeli ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, has reacted with horror to the demonstrations last weekend protesting his country’s actions in the Gaza Strip, saying “Jews are being persecuted on Berlin streets as if we were in the year 1938.”
His words are shocking and especially painful for us Germans. Are they justified?
There is no sense of a rising spirit of pogrom in Germany against our Jewish fellow citizens. Yet almost 75 years after the outbreak of the Second World War, there are examples of anti-Semitism under the guise of political protest that should not be tolerated by either the state or its citizens. This calls as much for the civil courage of each individual as it does for any police action.
Those who vent their anger over the harsh action of the Israeli army in Gaza with anti-Semitic slogans cannot invoke the legitimate freedom of opinion or dissent. This freedom can only exist when it is not misused to incite the masses or to call for violence. Even freedom has its limits, without which it dies.
The right of protest and free speech cannot be an excuse, let alone a license or carte blanche, for the kind of pernicious anti-Semitism we have experienced these past few days in Berlin.
Everyone has the right to criticize Israel’s policies, even with harsh words and strong terms. Many are doing just that these days, including German Jews such as Rolf Verleger, a former member of the directorate of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Mr. Verleger participated in a demonstration and described the military action as “Israel’s massacre in Gaza.”
The right of protest and free speech cannot be an excuse, let alone a license or carte blanche, for the kind of pernicious anti-Semitism we have experienced these past few days in Berlin. Nor should we ignore the situation in France, where anti-Semitism mixes with the despair of Arab youths over dismal living conditions in French cities. As we know from German history, this is an explosive mixture.
Mr. Hadas-Handelsman ended his guest commentary in the Berliner Zeitung newspaper with the phrase, “Now is the time to act.” It surely was not a matter of chance that he chose a local newspaper for his commentary. The German capital has a special responsibility – and not just for historical reasons – to put an early stop to anti-Semitism.
Berlin has become a magnet for young Israelis in recent years. Like so many others of their age group, they want to enjoy life in a great urban center. The German capital, with a history that is equally majestic and horrific, has become their new home, even if their parents cannot understand why.
They have a right to our protection, our sympathy and our concern, not because they are Jews, but because they are neighbors, fellow citizens and fellow human beings.
The author is an international correspondent. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org