In 2018 Germany appointed the diplomat Dr. Felix Klein to the newly created post of Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Antisemitism. Klein has expressed his determination to fight all forms of Jew-hatred, including the oft-ignored Islamic antisemitism that has been on the rise in Germany for two decades. Daniel Rickenbacher examines the challenges facing Klein, including the rising appeal of ‘Pop-Islam’ to second and third generation Muslims who have only have a rudimentary understanding of their faith. ‘This Islamist pop culture may be the most dangerous propagator of antisemitic ideas in Germany and Europe in general nowadays,’ argues Dr. Rickenbacher.
Facing up to the reality of Islamic antisemitism
Several incidents in 2018 have highlighted the problem of Islamic antisemitism in Germany. In April, a Syrian immigrant attacked a young Israeli wearing a kippa in Berlin. The attack was caught on video, causing a scandal. In the same month, two antisemitic rappers of Muslim background received the Echo music award, the German equivalent of the American Grammy. In one of their more innocuous songs they had sung: ‘My body is more defined than that of Auschwitz inmates.’ The ensuing controversy led to the abolition of the Echo awards. Many observers and politicians, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, expressed the view that Islamic antisemitism in Germany was a relatively recent phenomenon, starting in earnest with the arrival of more than a million immigrants of mostly Muslim background in 2015. This view, however, is quite wrong.
In fact, Islamic antisemitism has been a problem in Germany for at least two decades. In 2000, when a synagogue in the German city of Düsseldorf was firebombed, then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called for ‘an insurgency of decent people’ against German right-wing extremism. When the police discovered that the perpetrators were not German neo-Nazis but two young antisemites of Moroccan and Jordanian descent, this inconvenient fact was largely ignored by politicians and the media. Since then, there have been a legion of incidents where Jewish children were bullied, Jewish soccer players attacked on the field or groups of tourists harassed by Muslim antisemites – occasionally prompting headlines and condemnations by politicians. Stephan Kramer, the General Secretary of the Central Council of the Jews, the Jewish umbrella organisation in Germany, observed already in 2007 that the ‘the violence in the Muslim camp is comparable to that in the extreme right.’ Apparently, these words had little consequence.
German police and judiciary have generally been weak in responding to antisemitic acts of violence as well as to inflammatory rhetoric. During the Gaza war in summer 2014, mostly young Muslim and Arab anti-Israeli demonstrators in downtown Berlin were filmed shouting ‘Jew, Jew, coward pig, come out and fight alone! The police failed to intervene, claiming that these slogans did not represent incitement. During the same period, three Palestinians committed an arson attack against a synagogue in the city of Wuppertal. A German court later found the three perpetrators were not motivated by antisemitism, ruling that they only sought to raise awareness for Gaza. They received mild probation sentences. Despite the gravity of these incidents, experts have been warning that the reality could in fact be a lot worse. Only a small number of antisemitic incidents are actually reported to the police or to Jewish communities.
Are these manifestations of antisemitism only isolated incidents or do they reflect a wider problem of antisemitism among Muslims in Germany? Research has left little doubt as to the answer. Numerous studies consistently indicate that Muslims living in western-European countries, including Germany, are several-fold more antisemitic than Christians and people from non-religious backgrounds. The number of Muslims in Europe agreeing with antisemitic statements generally hovers around 40 per cent for the entire group and around 70 per cent for those of fundamentalist and Islamist persuasion. This has been known for some time. Already in 2007, a study ordered by Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Interior found that almost 40 per cent of German Muslims agreed with the statement that Jews were ‘arrogant and greedy’, while 16 per cent of the non-native population did so. Among Muslims with an affinity for Islamism, more than 70 per cent were also found to be also antisemitic. Antisemitism also seems to be more widespread among Muslims of Arab origin than with different ethnic backgrounds. In a 2010 study on antisemitism among German youth, 40 per cent of respondents with an Arab background agreed that Jews had too much influence in the world. The numbers among Muslim Kurdish and Turkish youth were slightly lower, hovering around 25 per cent. In contrast, only 3 per cent of those with German and 10 per cent of those with Polish background agreed with this blatantly antisemitic statement.
It should surprise no one that these attitudes have direct consequences for Europe’s Jews. Beyond the headline-grabbing terrorist attacks against Jewish targets in Europe, which have been committed exclusively by Islamists in the last twenty years, several studies have shown that most other acts of violence against Jews in Europe are nowadays also carried out by Muslim antisemites. A 2013 study by the European Union found that 47 per cent of victims of antisemitism in Germany described their perpetrator as somebody with a ‘Muslim extremist view.’ In a 2017 study, a staggering 81 per cent of Jewish victims of antisemitic violence described the attacker as being of Muslim background. Antisemitism is not only to much more prevalent European Muslims than among the Christians and non-Religious, it seems also to be much more violent.
Explaining the rise in Islamic antisemitism
How can the phenomenon of widespread Muslim antisemitism in Europe be explained? First of all, antisemitic attitudes among European Muslims are no outlier in the wider Islamic World. Rather, they echo the popular opinion of the countries most European Muslims or their ancestors immigrated from. Thus, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) surveys conducted in 2014 and 2015 found the Middle East and North Africa to be the most antisemitic region in the world. In 2015, Turks and Iranians placed lowest on the ranking with still staggering 71 per cent respectively 56 per cent antisemites among the adult population. Rates of antisemitism in Arab countries are even higher. Surprisingly, Saudi Arabia had the lowest number among Arab countries with 74 per cent, while Gaza topped the list with 93 per cent antisemites. In Tunisia, a country known for its comparatively liberal culture, the number was still an astounding 86 per cent. It is worth noting that the rate of antisemitism among European Muslims seems to be much lower than among their coreligionists in the Middle East and North Africa. Explanations, which focus on the failings of European societies to integrate Muslim immigrants are therefore wrongheaded. Rather, European societies might be credited with keeping the rate of Muslim antisemitism at lower levels compared to the Middle East and North Africa, despite the fact that it remains intolerably high.
Non-immigrant, native European Muslims on the other hand seem to have significantly lower levels of antisemitism. One survey found that the number of antisemites among Balkan Muslims was hovering between 18 per cent in Albania and 28 per cent in Bosnia. As we have seen, different levels of antisemitism in their home countries help explain the prevalence of antisemitism among Muslim immigrants in Europe. In France, where the majority of the Muslim population hails from North Africa, a higher level of antisemitism is therefore to be expected than in Austria or Switzerland, where Muslims tend to originate from the Balkans. In this regard, Germany, with its ethnically diverse Muslim population, occupies the middle ground, although it may move closer to the French example as the number of Muslims with an Arab background keeps rising.
In the first decade of the 21st century, the rise of Muslim antisemitism in Europe was often blamed on the influence of Arab TV stations, which were received via satellite in Europe. Their incitements against Israel and their broadcasts of the sermons of notoriously antisemitic preachers such as Sheikh al-Qaradawi, the erstwhile spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, certainly helped to stoke the flames. In the meantime, however, an Islamic pop culture has established itself in Europe, which is no longer dependent on the Middle East. This Pop-Islam, which especially appeals to second and third generation Muslims, who barely speak Arabic or Turkish and only have a rudimentary understanding of Islam, is close to Islamism and therefore also to antisemitism. It reduces Islam to a few simple credos. One of its most powerful messages is the belief that Muslims have been the perpetual victims of aggression by the West and the Jews. Among both first and second-generation Muslims in Europe, more than 50 per cent subscribe to a version of this conspiracy theory, believing that the West is out to destroy Islam. Pop-Islam is nowadays mostly spread via Social Media, where Islamist preachers can reach tens of thousands of impressionable young people. It has also become very influential in German youth culture. Thus, German rap music, which is often produced by Turkish and Arab immigrants, is heavily shaped by antisemitism and conspiracy theories, as shown by the Echo music award scandal. Via this vessel, Islamist ideas can also reach young non-Muslims, who otherwise would be far from their reach. This Islamist pop culture maybe the most dangerous propagator of antisemitic ideas in Germany and Europe in general nowadays.
The large-scale organised presence of Islamist and other far-right groups hailing from the Middle East in Germany is another factor which should not be discounted in explaining the continuance of high levels of antisemitism among Muslims. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have used Western Europe as a sanctuary when undergoing prosecution in the Middle East. European governments and civil societies have shown little interest in countering the workings of such groups and have solely focused on native far-right activism. In some cases, left-wing groups have even collaborated with them, for instance in anti-Racist activism. This freedom of operation has allowed these groups to spread their toxic ideology among immigrant communities in their midst. Unfortunately, they continue to enjoy unceasing popularity. This is for instance evidenced by the fact that, a high percentage of German Muslims, at least of those who are eligible to vote in foreign elections, have expressed support for far-right Islamist and nationalist parties. Thus, the Turkish far-Right parties AKP and MHP, both parties with a track record of antisemitism, enjoy more extensive support in Germany than in their home countries. During the 2018 election, more than 65 per cent of German Turks voted for Erdogan, compared to 52 per cent in Turkey. Other Turkish far-Right groups such as the Grey Wolves or the Milli Görüs, which preach an ideology marked by a conspiratorial antisemitic and anti-Western worldview, count tens of thousands of adherents in Germany according to reports by the German domestic intelligence service. In fact, these groups were among the largest far-right groups in Germany in 2017, dwarfing native German far-right groups such as the NPD with its 4000 members.
Germany is Moving Beyond Denial
In 2015, when Chancellor Merkel admitted large numbers of mostly Muslim immigrants, she was widely praised in media and politics. However, some worried that the move might lead to increases in antisemitism and violence against Jews. The president of the Central Council of the Jews Josef Schuster warned that many of those immigrants ‘come from cultures in which hatred of Jews and intolerance are an integral part.’ However, such warnings were unpopular at the time, and little was done to inoculate the immigrants against antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Three years later, the political climate in Germany is changed. A number of antisemitic incidents contributed to this. After the attack by a Syrian immigrant on a young Israeli in April this year, Merkel admitted that Germany was struggling with ‘new phenomenon’ of antisemitism, which originated with ‘refugees or people of Arabic background.’
There are those who continue to deny the reality of Islamic antisemitism in Germany motivated by a fear that public awareness of this phenomenon will spur the growth of the right-wing AFD-party (Engl. Alternative for Germany) that is opposed to immigration and critical of Islam. Moreover, German police statistics obfuscate rather than clarify the issue by categorising all antisemitic incidents, including graffiti, as far-right actions. Still, the denial of Muslim antisemitism has become a more marginal phenomenon in Germany than for instance in the United Kingdom or the USA, where it is still widespread. In these countries, far-right Islamists like Linda Sarsour, who denies that Jews can be victims of oppression – an absurd and antisemitic view reminiscent of Holocaust denial – have been embraced by sections of the political Left in the name of ‘intersectionality’. In early 2018 moreover, Germany created the position of commissioner against antisemitism, which was filled by the diplomat Felix Klein. In an interview, Klein attacked the problem head-on. He promised to fight Islamic antisemitism, as well as amend the faulty police statistics on hate-crimes. Klein has the support of all political parties, including the Green Party and the far-Left Die Linke (Engl. The Left), which has had its own problems with antisemitism in the past and might be seeking to improve its image, Klein’s staff was increased to 11 people in June this year. No country has yet seriously tried to tackle the problem of Islamic antisemitism. Whether Felix Klein will succeed remains to be seen. However, in publicly acknowledging the problem and taking steps to confront it, Germany is far ahead of other Western countries. Western governments and Jewish communities are advised to watch the experiment closely and learn from it.
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 Koopmans, ‘Religious Fundamentalism and Hostility against Out-Groups.’
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 Martin Niewendick, ‘Regierungsbeauftragter Klein: “Judenhass Hat Auch Ein Hässliches Islamistisches Gesicht”‘, DIE WELT, 19 April 2018, https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article175614862/Regierungsbeauftragter-Klein-Judenhass-hat-auch-ein-haessliches-islamistisches-Gesicht.html.
 Matthias Meisner, ‘Antisemitismus-Beauftragter Klein bekommt elf Mitarbeiter,’ Der Tagesspiegel Online, 25 June 2018, https://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/bundesregierung-lenkt-ein-antisemitismus-beauftragter-klein-bekommt-elf-mitarbeiter/22731834.html.