Germany’s anti-antisemitism has failed to achieve its purported aim. Instead it has given license to proxy Israeli nationalism, fueled a rise in xenophobia, and compounded the challenge of addressing genuine antisemitism.

Germans rally during a demonstration titled “Together against left-wing, right-wing and Islamist anti-Semitism — solidarity with Israel,” in Berlin, March 10. (Christoph Soeder/ Picture Alliance via Getty Images)

Germany has, in the name of fighting antisemitism, embraced a strange philosemitism and proxy Israeli nationalism, which involves demonizing and suppressing expressions of Palestinian identity and anti-Zionism in the guise of Holocaust remembrance. Consequently, leftist Jews often find themselves being lectured to about antisemitism by the descendants of people who murdered Jews.

Meanwhile, far-right politics are ascendant, with the Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, making terrifying gains in the polls fueled by an anti-migrant politics that’s increasingly echoed across the political spectrum. Indeed, even as most antisemitic incidents are committed by members of the far right, the German political establishment has joined it in scapegoating Arab and Muslim migrants for antisemitism.

In an interview for Jacobin Radio’s the Dig podcast, Daniel Denvir talked with Emily Dische-Becker about the complex issues surrounding Germany’s approach to combating antisemitism. The wide-ranging discussion explores the implications of these efforts for Palestinian identity and anti-Zionism as well as the rise of far-right politics and its impact on antisemitic sentiments and migrant scapegoating in the German political landscape.

Repression of Palestinian Solidarity

Daniel Denvir

Just how bad in recent months has the suppression of pro-Palestine speech in the name of fighting antisemitism gotten in Germany?

Emily Dische-Becker

Repression of Palestinian solidarity, both in terms of speech and freedom of assembly, has been going on for the last two years. The ban on demonstrations effectively started in 2022, and there was little uproar about that. Since October 7, in the initial period for a couple weeks, all demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine were effectively not permitted to take place in Berlin and a couple of other cities.

It’s not an actual law or rule — the police decide based on the threat of antisemitic statements being made. That’s usually the justification and that was what happened a lot throughout October. Since the end of October, demonstrations have been allowed to take place. But that hasn’t stopped the press from basically announcing in advance that there would be antisemitic demonstrations before they’ve even happened — in reference to any Palestinian solidarity — and saying that the people who are about to demonstrate are haters of Israel.

The police, particularly in Berlin in the neighborhood of Neukölln, which has a significant Palestinian and Arab population, were very brutal and preemptively stopped anything that could look like a gathering of a few people. They were stopping people wearing kaffiyeh, they were stomping on candles for candlelight vigils that were taking place, and they were tear-gassing people, including children.

The Berlin Senate advised schools not to allow any public display of Palestinian identity at all for schoolchildren. A teacher socked a young boy, a teenager, in the face, on the playground during recess, who had pulled out a Palestinian flag. The people who lived in the neighborhood, including Jews, felt that it was like an occupation dynamic, where there were even checkpoints and preemptive scanning of people who had any display of Palestinian identity or solidarity with Palestinians.

Daniel Denvir

Last November, Der Spiegel published this truly hysterical, rather lengthy story on Greta Thunberg titled “An Idol Loses Her Way.” The piece, which had an astonishing six writers sharing the byline, asked whether Thunberg has betrayed the climate movement, raised allegations of antisemitism, and speculated on whether or not she’s naive. The core of this unusually lengthy critique was essentially to label Thunberg an antisemite for supporting Palestinian liberation. What’s the deal with the German media?

Emily Dische-Becker

There have been many declarations that Greta has lost all relevance and that she’s completely discredited herself. This criticism prompts the question of whose opinion is being considered. It reflects a German megalomania — the idea that German media disapproval would have ramifications for someone who has an international profile and is trying to fight climate change not just in Germany but globally.

The German media’s uncritical adoption of this notion reflects broader issues with its coverage. I think the Greta Thunberg obsession has various elements to it that are all, in my opinion, kind of embarrassing and unpleasant — especially the misogynistic undertone that dismisses her as foolish. It reflects a complete failure to understand why someone in Greta’s position might have the politics that she has.

The idea that antisemitism explains global dynamics, reflecting the antisemitic trope of Jewish control of world events, has reached an extreme. Greta Thunberg is no longer legible other than as either an antisemite or unknowingly supporting antisemitism by showing solidarity with Palestinians, despite this stance aligning the rest of her politics with her movement’s principles. Thunberg and others in the movement advocate for solidarity with the oppressed, including addressing the plight of Palestinians in the context of global climate change and colonization.

Palestinians don’t fit into the picture of redemption that Israel embodies for the narrative of Jews rising from the ashes in the wake of the German-led genocide against them.

The German media’s coverage of Israel and Palestine is one-sided — probably a bit like US media coverage was twenty years ago. From what I’ve observed, the US media has changed over the last two decades, now increasingly featuring Palestinian perspectives and voices.

Germany has been delayed on the diversity front, has started to understand that you can’t have all-white panels — although those still happen all the time on talk shows — and that you need to have some approximation of a gender balance. But that hasn’t applied to Palestinians.

Palestinians are exceptionalized in German discourse. They have a particular role in the German public sphere — their very existence poses a problem for Germany’s idea about Israel. Palestinians don’t fit into the picture of redemption that Israel embodies for the narrative of Jews rising from the ashes in the wake of the German-led genocide against them. They don’t fit into that narrative, therefore there’s no space for them.

German Memory Culture

Daniel Denvir

How were the Nazi regime and Holocaust remembered, or not remembered, in the West German Federal Republic and in the East German GDR? What was similar and different, and what changed?

Emily Dische-Becker

To understand these shifts, it’s necessary to look back to 1945 and consider the demographic changes of Jewish life in Germany after the Holocaust. In the immediate postwar years, Germany saw a temporary increase in Jewish presence, with up to two hundred thousand displaced Jews living within its borders.

They were displaced from the camps, having survived death marches or fled from the East. In these brief years, there was a much bigger Jewish presence. For most of the postwar era, there was a tiny Jewish presence in Germany, and the precarity of Jewish life was palpable.

There was also no real discussion or acknowledgement of the extent of the Holocaust, certainly not in public discourse. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the formation of a memory culture began to take shape, notably with the broadcast of the Holocaust miniseries in West Germany.

Of course, there was the Eichmann trial and the Auschwitz trials in the 1960s, but they didn’t foster a widespread memory culture around the Holocaust. That started to change at the very tail end of the 1970s and into the early ’80s, particularly in the last decade before Germany reunified. A pivotal moment came when President Richard von Weizsäcker made a speech in 1985 that paved the way for acknowledging German responsibility for the Holocaust and making that a part of the state’s identity.

The period from the mid-1980s till the early ’90s — when the Soviet Union collapsed, and East Germany ceased to be a separate state — marks the emergence of memory culture as a significant aspect of German society. During this time, efforts by civil society, progressives, and Jewish communities were pivotal in creating and sustaining the Holocaust’s memory and integrating it into public discussion.

During Germany’s reunification, the state took on a role in cultivating a memory culture, embedding it into the fabric of German identity. This transformation was not just internal; it played an important role for German statecraft that was especially important in the context of “Greater Germany’s” return. Given the apprehension of the former allies, notably the UK, who had fought Germany in World War II, the memory culture served to reassure the rest of the world that Greater Germany was not a threat — in terms of both its ambitions on the world stage and to its Jewish population. Memory culture became an important part of German soft power and Germany’s image.

East Germany’s approach to memory culture was much more about anti-fascism, often framing West Germany in negative terms in relation to fascism and the Nazism, with less emphasis on the specific Jewish experience under National Socialism.

In the ’90s, after reunification, Germany basically invited Jews from the collapsed Soviet Union to come to Germany and stay here and become citizens. So there was a large influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union to Germany, which expanded Jewish communities in various places, places where there had been no Jewish community at all. The Jewish population in Germany grew from 30,000 to an estimated 200,000, of which there are about 100,000 or 120,000 who are official members of Jewish communities and were therefore represented in some way.

Germany also formalized its relationship with the Zentralrat, the central committee for Jews in Germany, in 2003. The Zentralrat is now the body representing all of Germany’s Jewish communities vis-à-vis the German state. It was funded by the German Ministry of Interior — meaning that the German state basically funds its Jewish representatives. And memory culture is a significant part of that relationship. The treaty that was signed in 2003 basically obliges Germany — or Germany obliges itself — to maintain the memory of the Holocaust.

The relationship between the Federal Republic and Israel goes all the way back to the 1950s, well before German culture had any sort of real place to think about the Holocaust. This was soon after Israel and the Federal Republic had both been founded, when West Germany began paying reparations to Israel and later became a major supplier of military hardware as well.

In 1960, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer told David Ben-Gurion that Israel was “a fortress of the West,” and “I can already now tell you that we will help you. We will not leave you alone.” Interestingly, though, at that time, Adenauer was very busy in Germany rehabilitating former Nazis, including his chief of staff, Hans Glöbke, and describing German people as not so much the perpetrators that they would be identified as later on but really as fellow victims of Adolf Hitler, who did the best they could to save Jews when they could.

Daniel Denvir

Did this earlier period of German-Israeli state cooperation, decades before the advent of contemporary German memory culture, lay the groundwork or anticipate this hyper-Zionist memory culture driven by anti-antisemitism that we see today? Unlike today’s openly public memory culture, this Cold War security cooperation was initially shrouded in secrecy.

Emily Dische-Becker

The Cold War is a crucial context, especially in light of Germany’s swift rehabilitation in the international community after World War II — largely due to its role as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and Stalinism. Obviously, Adenauer was also a staunch anti-communist, as was Glöbke, his chief of staff, who had played a role in the Nuremberg race laws, the dispossession of Jews, and the forced renaming of Jews to have Jewish middle names under Hitler’s rule.

Daniel Denvir

I just want to emphasize that that’s no small complicity. That’s real-deal, high-level Nazi stuff.

Emily Dische-Becker

There were a lot of very high-level Nazis in the early Federal Republic under Adenauer, who had not himself been a Nazi but certainly felt that he had to contain the people in Germany who had been Nazis by integrating them into his government. That would be the charitable interpretation. Obviously there were elements of that in US policy too, vis-à-vis Nazi scientists and the efforts made to prevent ex-Nazis going over to the other side in the Cold War. But in hindsight, Adenauer’s efforts to establish strong ties with Israel are interesting, especially considering that Germany’s relationship with Israel is often framed in terms of a moral response to the Holocaust — it was an obligation and a duty because of Germany’s crimes. But that wasn’t how Adenauer viewed his attempt to build strong ties with Israel very soon after the Holocaust.

There’s a recent book that was written by Daniel Marwecki, called Germany and Israel: Whitewashing and Statebuilding, that’s about the German-Israeli relationship in the early ’50s and which references a famous interview that Adenauer gave on TV in the ’60s, after he was already retired, where he explained that he knew that he had to make peace with Israel because world Jewry was “very, very powerful” and could otherwise punish Germany.

What Marwecki’s book also shows is that the reparations were very important for Israel financially and far less significant for Germany in terms of its economy. It was a small sacrifice for Germany to find its way back into the community of nations, which it did through various things. Funding the arts, funding culture, public international culture.

The relationship with Israel in the early period was a combination of both “We are the West, and we are in the Cold War on one side together” and an attempt at rehabilitating Germany by atoning for its crimes. But this did not involve meaningful financial reparations — as we know from the many people who were not compensated for crimes committed against them.

Anti-Nationalist Nationalism

Daniel Denvir

An important, truly bizarre, and very German piece of this story is an extremely theoretically abstruse political current known as the “anti-Deutsche” or “anti-Germans.” Unlike anything we would see in an anti-fascist radical left anywhere on earth, this group takes a staunchly pro-Israel, pro-American, anti-Muslim, and explicitly anti-Palestinian stance, all in the name of fighting antisemitism and the specter of a revivified German nationalism.

How did such a strange political force — again, unthinkable on the radical left anywhere else on earth — come into being roughly three decades ago, around the time of the rise of memory culture and the reunification of East and West Germany?

Emily Dische-Becker

The anti-Deutsche are a phenomenon that started in the early ’90s in response to reunification. It was explicitly anti-nationalist, anti-German nationalism. And it was pro-Israel and also pro-American as a response to the anti-imperialist German left of the ’70s — which had been quite explicitly and actively involved with the Palestinian militant movements. You had various West German militant movements, including Baader-Meinhof and others who trained with the PLO or were involved in plane hijackings. The sense that there was antisemitism among those West German leftists who were part of the Palestinian struggle or identified with it certainly isn’t pulled out of nowhere.

Daniel Denvir

In 1976, far-left German militants helped hijack a passenger plane, and Jewish passengers were held hostage while non-Jewish passengers were released.

Emily Dische-Becker

There were also attacks on a Jewish nursing home and various attacks in solidarity with the Palestinian cause that targeted Jews. In response to the perceived antisemitism of part of the German left that was very openly pro-Palestinian and had a strange relationship to Jews, in response to reunification and the resulting threat of nationalism, the first slogan that emerged in demonstrations after reunification, from which the anti-Deutsche then emerged, was “Never again Germany.” The original ethos — an opposition to German nationalism — is something that I would share.

The relationship with Israel was a response to solidarity with the Palestinians. And the fact that Israel was seen as the state of Shoah survivors and the personification of the Jews. And any opposition to the state is basically one that is based on objecting to the Jews having a state, a strong state, one that can defend itself. Now what becomes very peculiar about this is the obvious proxy nationalism that anti-Deutsche display when it comes to Israel. Because if you’re an anti-national movement, then the idea that there’s an exceptionalism in which nationalism and ethnonationalism is good is quite bizarre. Exceptionalizing Jews is also probably not a sign of having a normal or healthy relationship to Jews in general.

The anti-Deutsche were initially a fringe group, but the group experienced various splits. After 9/11, the anti-Deutsche became very anti-Muslim, Islamophobic, and openly racist. And that has been the determining factor in what their role is in our politics.

It’s had a serious debilitating effect on the Left, because they’re just a fringe movement — a lot of the people who were anti-Deutsch in the 1990s may have been part of antifa groups. This was largely within a predominantly white German left culture, with minimum representation of people of color and women among the anti-Deutsche ranks. It resembles more of a white German male geek club, characterized by people fighting about value theory Marxism and an obsessive penchant for identifying weird, pseudo-expert knowledge. Those who subscribe to the anti-Deutsche ideology often display a deep familiarity with certain seminal texts, with Theodor Adorno being a prominent figure among them. His work on National Socialism and antisemitism serves as a cornerstone for their ideology — a flattened reading of that work is basically the manifesto of the anti-Deutsche.

After 9/11, the anti-Deutsche became very anti-Muslim, Islamophobic, and openly racist.

But they have quite a few people in positions in the media and in culture who have power, and in their overidentification with Jews, particularly in recent years, you have a phenomenon where if you criticize anti-antisemitism, that’s effectively antisemitic. Or if you criticize an anti-German who’s waving an Israeli flag, that’s antisemitism. The idea that antisemitism doesn’t just affect Jews but anybody perceived as Jewish has kind of blurred the lines here.

The proxy nationalism and the pro-IDF proxy militarization that you see among anti-Deutsche plays a significant role in our political culture. There are quite a few anti-Deutsche among antisemitism commissioners and experts on antisemitism. They’re very well represented in the fields of Jewish studies. I know this from Jews who work in Jewish studies.

The anti-Deutsche basically have taken over the field in many universities. And Jews are treated as if they don’t really understand the threat posed by left-wing antisemitism, which is one of the things that the anti-Deutsche are obsessed with. It’s always through the lens of critiquing the Left from a left position, but in fact it no longer has any elements of any kind of left-wing movement.

There’s a direct line from anti-Deutsche publications to right-wing and center-right outlets, particularly those that are owned by the Axel Springer company, which also owns Politico in the United States. It’s noteworthy that all employees at these outlets are required to embrace Israel’s right to exist in their contracts.

This phenomenon represents what we call in German a Querfront, meaning a cross-front between the formerly radical left and the right-wing, particularly concerning anti-antisemitism focused on Palestinian solidarity. There’s a trend of equating Palestinians or any anti-Zionists or non-Zionists with Nazis, which has become quite widespread and acceptable, even though it clearly relativizes German crimes against Jews to make that equation. But that is the radicalization within the anti-Deutsche as they’ve gone mainstream.

Germany’s Far Right

Daniel Denvir

Where does this leave the German radical left as a whole? Is there space for an anti-imperialism as we’d understand it on the American or other lefts?

Emily Dische-Becker

The anti-Deutsche’s role and effect has been an increase in far-right politics and the rise of exclusionary nationalism and right-wing terror networks that have expanded into the police and intelligence services and, in the last two decades, have led to violent crimes against people of color and migrants. What we haven’t seen is a concurrent rise in antifa or anti-fascist activity, precisely because the anti-Deutsche were such a big part of the antifa. If you’re going to be basically racist against Arabs or migrants of a Muslim background or Palestinians, that is going to undermine how effective an antifa movement can be.

There is a German anti-imperialist left that is fairly marginal. There are no people in positions of power. The left party has been in significant decline in the last few years and is barely going to make the 5 percent threshold to get into parliament once we have federal elections. But there is an anti-imperialist block there who is pro-Russia, or rather apologists for Putin, as people would commonly say. So it’s a little bit of a tankie anti-imperialist left.

Daniel Denvir

But they’re anti-migrant too. The Sahra Wagenknecht group.

Emily Dische-Becker

Yes, the Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht, named after the former left party chief. She is anti-immigrant, and that is part of the problem with her politics. The binary rift between anti-imperialist and anti-Deutsche has been very detrimental to the Left in Germany. We have a parliamentary party that is far right, neofascist — the Alternative für Deutschland, the AfD — which is polling first in three state elections that are happening this year. And we don’t have any kind of significant left. In fact, the votes from the Left have gone to the AfD in many of the former East German states, where some of these elections are taking place now. That’s a real problem.

We have a parliamentary party that is far right, neofascist — the Alternative für Deutschland — which is polling first in three state elections that are happening this year.

Also, given the economic situation that we have (we’re now in a recession, there’s inflation, we have rising unemployment — all these elements and no functional or strong left) and the anti-Deutsche, whose main project is rooting out migrant antisemitism and combating left-wing antisemitism, working in collusion with the Right, the prospects are grim indeed.

Daniel Denvir

To what degree is the anti-Deutsche a problem unique to the German left and to what extent do they reflect problems that the Left elsewhere should be paying attention to?

Emily Dische-Becker

I think a Left that is obsessed with purist politics and striving to outdo others in radicalism is a phenomenon that can happen anywhere and obviously does happen in other places. The obsession with symbolic politics, evident in both memory culture and the anti-Deutsche’s exhaustive textual analysis of antisemitic tropes and perceived meta-antisemitism, serves to splinter the Left.

One of the main issues, perhaps, is that you can proclaim your position on something and that that would be enough. I take issue with this one. The head of Zentralrat says that statements — or what we call in German Bekenntnisse (proclamations) — work to a certain extent, and that’s what’s expected. Consequently, we have developed a kind of political culture centered around taking positions and making proclamations. For instance, affirming Israel’s right to exist or denouncing and questioning of it has become routine, yet these declarations often lack genuine meaning. The limitations of this approach are one of those things that can happen to any left and indeed does.

Also, the politics of guilt don’t ensure good or progressive politics; this is another lesson. Politics of guilt essentially create a blame economy that enables grifters and empowers people to basically take a position of claiming guilt for something and not really structurally changing much else. Merely stating the right thing or striving to be the best at doing so does little to enact meaningful structural change. What makes it worse is that criticisms of this approach are often dismissed as being opposed to the entire project.

Broadly, what we are actually asking for in a post-perpetrator society is where the German question offers lessons to other places. Because it’s clear that Germans get to decide what the lessons are and Germans get to handpick which Jews they would like to listen to, and in the German context, the official Jewish community is very conservative politically. The absence of a vibrant Jewish political life in Germany means that that people don’t actually distinguish between the Right and the Left among Jews. Jews are just a monolith, they are victims — former victims. This sort of perception is one of the things that one can also find in other places.

The relationship between Jews and Germans post-genocide is one that is instructive for many different places that are grappling with reparations, structural changes, and the question of who gets to speak on behalf of either group. Germany’s unique response to its wartime atrocities, marked by pervasive acknowledgment and emphasis on national guilt, stands out in a world where most states either deny or downplay their historical crimes. However, this exceptionalism can breed a form of neo-supremacy. As movements push for official recognition of past wrongs, the significance of state acknowledgement changes. It can transform from a demand for acknowledgement or justice into a cornerstone of state power and identity.

Criminalizing BDS

Daniel Denvir

A major turning point in the acceleration of Germany’s increasingly wild anti-antisemitism politics came in 2019, when the Bundestag passed a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) as a form of antisemitism. How did that resolution come about in the first place? And why did it ultimately pass? And if the resolution was merely a resolution — merely symbolic — why has it proven to be so consequential?

Emily Dische-Becker

In 2019, all centrist parties got together to pass a resolution that declared the methods and the argumentative structure of the BDS movement to be antisemitic — that boycotting Israeli products unequivocally reminds us of the darkest chapter of German history. It also bases the understanding of antisemitism on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

How it happened is interesting. Basically the AfD introduced a bill attempting to criminalize BDS, and then the other parties scrambled to come up with something — because they can’t be seen as being outdone when it comes to fighting antisemitism by the neofascists. And this was the result. That’s indicative of how German politics for the last few years has been shaped, which is that the agenda has been set by the Right, and the central parties are constantly scrambling to take on the talking points set by the Right, especially around migration and antisemitism. Those two things also overlap in our politics: anti-antisemitism and anti-immigrant sentiments.

In 2019, all centrist parties got together to pass a resolution that declared the methods and the argumentative structure of the BDS movement to be antisemitic.

If you introduce a bill fighting antisemitism, it’s very hard to oppose it, obviously, particularly in Germany. There were lots of speeches by MPs who opposed the BDS resolution, but they ended up voting for it. So an accidental response to the AfD has in fact triggered something greater, because the BDS resolution, while not legally binding, has been over-enforced by the heads of institutions, particularly cultural institutions, who are unsure of what is now antisemitic and what isn’t, and how you actually check if somebody supports BDS. In practice, this leads to scanning social media profiles as far back as ten years, and this can become a bottomless pursuit. All of this was probably not the intention of the people who passed the BDS resolution.

Those defending the bill, including the antisemitism commissioner of Germany, Felix Klein, argue that it’s just an opinion, it’s not legally binding, what are people complaining about? But it has had a huge impact on how anti-antisemitism is fought and on our political landscape precisely because it doesn’t establish hard laws but rather lays down guidelines for how to do things through administrative procedures.

Various courts, including Germany’s highest administrative court, have found that the various BDS resolution versions that have been introduced on the municipal level are unconstitutional in practice because they violate freedom of expression or freedom of opinion. But that hasn’t changed anything about this resolution or how it’s enforced. The result of all this is a playbook affecting policy without hard laws. Because if the BDS resolution was a hard law, it would be unconstitutional, according to the scientific advisory committee of Germany’s parliament, who wrote a paper on this in 2020. It’s not a law and yet it’s still implemented.

This has weakened our democratic institutions. As with the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, which is supposed to be an advisory guideline for how to identify antisemitism, it’s increasingly treated as something that becomes de facto hard law through enforcement or through inclusion legislation across various contexts. Universities, for example, are required to declare their adherence to it.

There was an attempt to pass a clause that would make all funding for culture in Berlin dependent on people pledging allegiance to the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

There was an attempt to pass a clause that would make all funding for culture in Berlin dependent on people pledging allegiance to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. There was a huge backlash against this, including from lawyers and legal scholars, as the far right gains traction and the possibility of their ascension to power becomes real. The taboo against forming coalitions with them is gradually eroding, raising concerns about erosion of the rule of law. While combating that antisemitism is crucial, many are alarmed about proposals to alter constitutional rights under the guise of addressing this threat, fearing it could undermine our democratic foundations.

Antisemitism Commissioners

Daniel Denvir

A big, very bizarre piece of this anti-antisemitism apparatus that you just briefly referenced is these federal and state antisemitism commissioners. All sorts of institutions have their own antisemitism commissioners now, and although none of these commissioners are Jewish, their job is basically to declare what is and what is not antisemitic. Who are they? What power do they hold and how do they exercise that power?

Emily Dische-Becker

It’s important to note that they’re called “Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Antisemitism,” because it embodies the fact that these things are basically equated. Jewish life is about fighting antisemitism and is reduced to that. The first antisemitism commissioner, Felix Klein, was appointed in 2018, following demonstrations that took place in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate in response to Donald Trump moving the US embassy to Jerusalem in December 2017. The protests, during which Israeli flags were burned, were inaccurately reported in the German media as burning the Star of David. In a sense it’s true, because it is on the flag — but they were burning the flag. Those demonstrations became a major scandal, in part due to this false reporting.

In 2017, during these demonstrations, it was reported in every big newspaper that the demonstrators were chanting “Death to the Jews” in front of the police. Thousands of people were said to be chanting this. Germany’s minister of justice wrote a guest op-ed in Der Spiegel, Germany’s major news magazine, saying that people who chant “Death to the Jews” should be put in court or deported. But it turned out that this didn’t actually happen. There weren’t thousands of people chanting “Death to the Jews.”

I ended up investigating this story. I started to look at the videos. There were videos by reporters that had eight hundred thousand, even a million, views on Facebook. I watched two boring hours of a demonstration, but I couldn’t hear “Death to the Jews” — not in German, not in Arabic. So I called the reporter and asked him about it and he was like, “No, I didn’t report that. That must’ve been a mistake, that didn’t happen. My editor must have misunderstood.” I explained to him that people were alarmed by this — Jews were alarmed by this. The media was interviewing Jews and saying, how do you feel about them yelling “Death to the Jews”? Do you feel unsafe? And, of course, people felt unsafe and said so.

I chose not to disclose the reporter’s name. I just wrote an analysis of how the story was spread and how it wasn’t true. There was a correction in the newspaper, but the reporter wrote in the comments underneath my article that — obviously — I was interested in relativizing antisemitism; he basically accused me of antisemitism.

The demonstrations led to the appointment of Germany’s first federal commissioner. And since then, there has been a proliferation of antisemitism commissioners. We have state level antisemitism commissioners for fifteen of the sixteen states that make up the Federal Republic. We also have antisemitism commissioners for the judiciary, for the police, for the prosecutor’s office. In Berlin we currently have five antisemitism commissioners. We have the Berlin commissioner for antisemitism, the judiciary has one, I think the police have one, and so does a random borough of Berlin, Lichtenberg. The Jewish community for Berlin also has an antisemitism commissioner who’s not a state official. It’s increasingly expected that cultural institutions need to appoint somebody to deal specifically with cases of antisemitism.

We have a lot of people working on antisemitism prevention too. There are a lot of projects. A recent statistic buried in some reports by the Ministry of Interior noted that there were 750 projects to fight antisemitism in Germany on the federal level. In I think it was 2021, there were maybe seventy cases of antisemitic violence in Germany. Not to say that that’s a small number, but it amounts to about ten projects per case. It raises the question of the effectiveness of these efforts.

The antisemitism commissioner for Hamburg is known to be a Jewish convert because he has attacked Jews that he doesn’t agree with, dismissing them as not being representative of Jewish opinion. And these people are fairly mainstream Jews that he’s been attacking. In response, one of them pointed out that the commissioner himself recently converted to Judaism. Of course, people convert to Judaism for many reasons. But in the German context, people also convert to Judaism and into Jewish trauma. The antisemitism commissioner of Hamburg has repeatedly said, “We will never be called pigs again,” referencing Nazi stereotypes about Jewish physiognomy. My response is to say, you don’t convert into that. That’s not your history.

The Jewish community supports the idea of antisemitism commissioners not necessarily being Jewish, because they say — and I think rightfully so — that antisemitism isn’t something that only Jews should have to deal with. It is something that the rest of society should also feel responsible for. I’m not convinced that the role of antisemitism commissioners is an effective way of combating antisemitism. And some of them are a little unhinged. The antisemitism commissioner for Hessen, Uwe Becker, wore an IDF uniform to carnival.

There is often a lack of distinction made between Israel and Jews. That is obviously part of the issue. None of the antisemitism commissioners have any actual expertise on antisemitism. The Berlin antisemitism commissioner, Samuel Salzborn, is anti-Deutsch and has written numerous books on antisemitism. But as a scholar, he’s not taken seriously — he’s not peer reviewed, and he’s also rabidly anti-Palestinian. These are the people who are tasked with fighting antisemitism.

In the case of the Berlin antisemitism commissioner, he is very into repression as a means of fighting antisemitism. They’re appointed officials, but who they report to isn’t entirely clear. At least Federal Commissioner Felix Klein is part of the Ministry of Interior.

The proliferation of commissioners on antisemitism and fighting antisemitism coincided with the separate treatment of antisemitism from racism and other forms of bigotry. Antisemitism has to be treated separately, has to be fought separately, because it’s entirely distinct from racism in the German context. And if you disagree with that, then you’re basically belittling antisemitism.

Felix Klein, when explaining why antisemitism and racism are so distinct, said that antisemitism is not a normal form of discrimination. The hierarchization of suffering and of the level of threat is promulgated by the German state while the right is ascendant and while racism is very deadly. Statistically, there is a lot of racist violence and obviously antisemitic violence. An antisemitic terror has been emanating from the Right. If you look at the statistics, most antisemitic crimes are committed by the Right, the vast majority — 85 percent.

Philosemitism

Daniel Denvir

One story that particularly stuck out was about Michael Blume, the Baden-Württemberg antisemitism commissioner, who again is not Jewish. I’m reading here from a story by Peter Kuras in Jewish Currents that recounts an episode from March 2022. Kuras reports:

With a miniature Torah in hand, he introduced a theory about the origins of antisemitism. He told the assembled audience that Jews are not a race, but rather part of an ancient school that brought literacy to the world — one whose legacy was passed down to Baden-Württemberg’s own public schools. It was this “Jewish” gift of literacy, he claimed, that seeded resentment, which grew into the hatred that would follow.

That Blume’s audience was willing to accept this theory is unsurprising in the context of German philosemitism, a powerful current that unites otherwise disparate parts of Germany’s political scene in a fierce loyalty to Israel and an affirmation of symbols of Judaism. I’m familiar with regular American stereotypes that Jews are good at school or often become doctors or lawyers, but this is really something else.

Emily Dische-Becker

Philo-Semitism is a form of dehumanizing Jews by exceptionalizing them. That just shows the complete lack of accountability for Germany’s antisemitism commissioners, including Michael Blume. He gets away with things that he shouldn’t, in my opinion, get away with. He referred to Germany’s version of Jewish Voice for Peace as “allegedly Jewish.” He gets away with deciding who is Jewish and who isn’t, apparently. That is part of the problem — the commissioners are beyond reproach.

Philosemitism is a form of dehumanizing Jews by exceptionalizing them.

The antisemitism commissioners, including Michael Blume, have projects that have very little bearing on what makes sense for Jewish life. Michael Blume has a project of police rabbis that he’s trained and celebrates. These rabbis are supposed to teach the police about antisemitism, which isn’t usually something a rabbi does.

There’s also a military rabbi program that has been heralded as a very important contribution to normalizing the Jewish relationship to Germany’s army. There was a report in Die Taz newspaper a couple of years ago that tried to find out how many Jewish soldiers there actually are for these fifty rabbis. The army couldn’t provide an exact figure, but it was certainly less than ten at that point. The Jewish Zentralrat newspaper, Jüdische Allgemeine, interviewed a Jewish soldier a couple months later. This person was also a convert to Judaism. A solider who’s converted to Judaism in the German army doesn’t really do much to affect the relationship that Jews historically have with German militarism. These projects sometimes feel like they’re for imaginary Jews.

For actual Jews, whose opinions might not fit — who might not actually be entirely grateful for philosemitism or enthusiasm for Israel — antisemitism commissioners have tried to censor or stop them from speaking at public events if they are not sufficiently Zionist. At one point, Felix Klein said that he wishes to ask Israeli leftists to be slightly more sensitive to Germany’s sense of historical responsibility.

Daniel Denvir

Why is the German political establishment scapegoating migrants for an antisemitism problem that mostly comes from the German right? And in doing so, they legitimate and further mainstream the far right’s anti-immigrant politics. What does this all reveal about how the German political establishment is relating to the ascendance of a powerful far-right domestic political force that in many ways draws upon the country’s Nazi legacy and is ostensibly something that the German political establishment opposes?

Emily Dische-Becker

There is a very strong element of projecting blame onto other people for antisemitism, which has an alleviating function in terms of the guilt for antisemitism or responsibility for it. While German guilt is often cited as a driving force behind the seriousness with which antisemitism is addressed, its actual impact is often overstated. Instead, blame toward Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims has become a prominent element in shaping perceptions of antisemitism.

The imported antisemitism discourse has become very mainstream and normalized, in part because the official Jewish response has been to strengthen that discourse and lend its moral authority to that framing. On the anniversary of Kristallnacht, numerous Jewish officials from the Jewish community here said, “We’re not worried about the right wing; we’re worried about the immigrants.” That has been a significant change from previous Jewish community leaders who would never have spoken like that about other immigrants or other minorities in this country.

The centrist parties, including our governing coalition, which is made up of Social Democrats, the Green Party and neoliberals, have all been calling for deportations or kicking people out — expulsion of all antisemites. The question of how antisemitic is defined is obviously very relevant here, given the various laws and bills aimed at criminalizing or altering legislation regarding antisemitism. For example, one could be stripped of citizenship for antisemitic crimes, but then what is an antisemitic crime? Could participating in a pro-Palestine demonstration be used against you? This attempt to legislate is becoming increasingly common, with new bills emerging every few days or weeks. Recently, the Christian Democrats made a bid to amend the criminal code with such a bill.

There are various things that are now classified as antisemitic that weren’t before, including the slogan “From the river to the sea” and the term “genocide.” The police have threatened to stop demonstrations for the use of the term “genocide,” which is considered incitement against Jews. Even calls for cease-fire have been challenged, with police stating that you’re not allowed to say “Stop the war.”

In the years before reunification, and even in the early years after, there was a spate of horrific crimes against migrants — racist murders and arson attacks on refugee homes. In Rostock-Lichtenhagen in East Germany in the early ’90s, the first person to show up at the scene of this arson attack on a Turkish family was the head of the Jewish community. When I was a kid, it was very much understood that any xenophobic or racist incitement was also directed against Jews. However, the narrative has shifted to emphasize a Judeo-Christian civilization, offering inclusion within that framework. At the same time, the right wing has transitioned from being openly antisemitic to adopting a pro-Israel stance while maintaining antisemitic sentiments. This evolution in the understanding of antisemitism and the separation of racism and antisemitism has eroded solidarity among minorities in Germany and beyond.

It’s important to note that German demographics have changed considerably over the last few generations. The demand for representation and acknowledgement of German minorities has obviously shifted, as those communities from Turkey and the Arab world and beyond have moved to Germany and become part of the social fabric. That demographic shift has also informed what is also, unfortunately, a competition for resources between Jews and other minorities from the German state, because everything is essentially a question of state funding. Something like 40 percent of children under the age of five have a migration background, as we say in Germany. That statistic is part of the great replacement anxiety that the far right has been peddling quite successfully, together with its effort to shift the focus of antisemitism from itself to immigrants.

In the wake of October 7, a lot of Jews are very afraid of antisemitic attacks. There was a Molotov cocktail on a synagogue in Berlin on October 18 and various incidents of Stars of David being painted on buildings where Jews live as well as instances of Israelis being spat on or attacked in parts of Berlin. The precarity of Jewish life in Germany is very different from Jewish life in the bicoastal places in the United States, where there are significant Jewish populations. Consequently, the relationship of the Jewish community in Germany with Israel is also distinct, as the notion of having an alternative refuge holds great significance in the perception of safety.

Throughout the postwar decades, many individuals have pursued a pattern of moving between Germany and Israel, often holding dual citizenship. The community here overwhelmingly feels a close attachment to Israel, because Jewish life in Germany is so limiting if you are a practicing Jew. There are not many kosher restaurants. You cannot have a Jewish life in the way that you would in New York. That doesn’t exist in the German context. So, people who are observant go to Israel to lead a normal life where you can have kosher restaurants and your Jewish holidays are observed. If that wasn’t happening at the expense of other minorities and stripping them of essential rights in the name of the safety of Jews, then this would be a different conversation. But that is, in fact, the reality now.

“Jews but Normal”

Daniel Denvir

To underline the issue here, it’s not that Germany shouldn’t be paying special attention to antisemitism or to the place of Jews in Germany. Germany certainly should be. But not in this twisted way.

Emily Dische-Becker

I don’t think that non-Jewish Germans should dictate how Jews should feel about Israel. And I don’t think that amplifying enmity between Arabs and Jews within Germany is something that’s being done for the Jews or for German society or democracy. The reduction of the lessons from National Socialism to things like the slogan “Never again Auschwitz” reflects a rampant exceptionalism. Instead, we should prioritize preserving legacies such as freedom of expression, which are fundamental responses to National Socialism and fascism. These are important legacies of anti-fascism, or ought to be, and are now being chipped away at in the name of protecting Jews.

One can anticipate a coming backlash resulting from the current strategy. The idea that Jewish fear is being used as a lubricant for German racism or autocratic, antidemocratic tendencies, and that Jews will be blamed for it, is something that worries me a great deal. The shortsightedness of politicians — who may not realize that that’s what’s happening — is astonishing, because the far right is just sitting on its hands waiting to go to the polls. Publicly, political conversations are dominated by an anti-migrant agenda pursued by the center-left and center-right parties.

The investigative news platform Correctiv reported on a secret conference in Potsdam organized by the far right, which included politicians from the Christian Democrats and some of their donors. During the conference, they discussed plans to basically expel a million people of foreign origin using the euphemism “remigration.” This revelation prompted significant public response, including large demonstrations against the AfD and discussions about potentially banning the party. Germany’s constitution states that parties that are antidemocratic or a threat to the constitution can be banned.

However, these demonstrations are largely attended by white bourgeois Germans and not by the people who are actually affected by plans to expel them. This discrepancy is notable because the centrist parties have been basically saying the same thing. The head of the Social Democrats, Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, was on the cover of Der Spiegel in October, and the headline in German was “We must begin to deport in grand style” — it all reflects a broader discourse focused on deportations and expulsions.

Daniel Denvir

To what extent is the AfD explicitly or implicitly antisemitic, and to what degree has the party, along with broader German society, substituted Muslims for Jews as the targeted minority? Additionally, how do these dynamics interplay and coexist within the AfD’s agenda, which essentially seeks to modernize German fascism for the twenty-first century?

Emily Dische-Becker

I think that the AfD is very, very skilled at political communication, and that the elements within that party that were more openly antisemitic have adapted their rhetoric — as have many far-right movements in Europe. You can be antisemitic, but you have to be pro-Israel.

But there are elements of the AfD that are outrageously revisionist when it comes to the Holocaust, claiming that there is a cult of guilt that is oppressing Germans. This stance aligns with the far-right and revisionist elements that emerged in the historians’ debate of the 1980s. It’s important that they play to that base too. But overwhelmingly, the AfD makes a show of caring about Jewish life by constantly going against BDS, postcolonial antisemitism, and the like.

The AfD actually ran a Jewish convert in Neukölln as a candidate, and he ran under the slogan “Juden aber normal” which translates to “Jews but normal.” It was a campaign against the cultural elite and leftist Jews. The AfD’s rise to power over the last five to six years has been one of intentionally creating outrage and riding waves of attention. It leaves the center left forever howling about hypocrisy and how outraged they are, and that’s exactly what the AfD wants. That’s how they signal to their base. But they play that game very wisely, by fighting antisemitism. Of course, that fight is only the part that relates to Israel-related antisemitism.

There are elements of continuity in the resentment that existed against Jews and that exists against minorities. Obviously they aren’t entirely the same thing, because antisemitism has specific elements that don’t exist in other forms of chauvinism, but the structure of resentment is similar. It includes the idea that there are fifth columnists who maintain their own way of life, who are parasites on the German state, benefiting from social welfare — it’s the idea of a parallel society and, indeed, that’s a term that’s used frequently. There is also the idea of guilt by association. We have this whole debate around clan criminality in Germany — Arab families, organized crime by big families.

Nobody’s lost a job for being racist against Palestinians in Germany or suffered any career repercussions at all. In fact, you can say pretty much anything and get away with it all the time, including saying things like “Gaza needs to be dried out” and “There are no innocents in Gaza.” These are headlines that are in the German newspaper. In fact, “There are no innocents in Gaza” was run in the Jüdische Allgemeine, the newspaper of the Central Council of the Jews. It was authored by a non-Jew, Tobias Huch. This raises questions about why such content is published in the official newspaper of the Central Council of the Jews. Such statements could potentially violate German laws against incitement and dehumanization, which have stricter limitations compared to free speech laws in the United States.

The Politics of Guilt

Daniel Denvir

Not only does Germany have a large Arab and Muslim population; Berlin has the largest Palestinian community in all of Europe. However, German Palestinians are often confronted with the prohibition of their national identity by the government and educational institutions. Esra Özyürek’s work, particularly her book Subcontractors of Guilt: Holocaust Memory and Muslim Belonging in Postwar Germany, sheds light on how Muslims engage with German acculturation programs, including visits to death camp sites.

During these visits, these migrants are absolutely horrified and sickened by the horrors that they learn about. But when they identify with the victims of the Holocaust, either because they relate it to their own experience under repressive regimes in Syria or wherever — or wonder whether Germans would try to exterminate them too one day — the program leaders absolutely freak out. The Arab migrants are supposed to identify not as potential victims but as potential perpetrators. What’s revealed by what’s going on here when migrants are declared, in Özürek’s words, as having the wrong emotions?

Emily Dische-Becker

Ezra Özürek’s work is vital in understanding the expectations placed on migrants regarding the lessons of German history. One can become German in terms of inheriting the burden of the past but never the privilege of belonging — a reality that has become more explicit in recent months.

Arabs are a particularly maligned minority in the German context, with German politicians, including Germany’s president, saying that people with Arab roots need to distance themselves from Hamas. This projection of collective guilt onto Germans now extends to Arabs. However, the memory complex complicates this further. Not only must migrants identify with the perpetrators of past atrocities but they are also expected to see themselves as potential perpetrators.

This dynamic creates a perverse situation in which Germans have this sort of moral superiority by virtue of having already committed genocide against Jews, whereas everybody else is potentially or imminently going to be genocidal against Jews. That is how Palestinians are understood to be motivated — they are often portrayed as motivated by antisemitism in their resistance to occupation. While Palestinians assert that their resistance is against any occupying force, it is commonly accepted that antisemitism drives their opposition to Jewish occupation.

Daniel Denvir

Anti-antisemitism politics is also about rejecting any connection between colonialism and the Holocaust. We were reminded of this when Namibia perfectly and eloquently attacked Germany for supporting Israel against South Africa’s genocide application before the International Court of Justice.

How has the German political establishment responded to demands that it memorialize and make reparations for its African genocide? And why is it so important for the German political establishment to remove Nazism and the Holocaust from obvious historical contexts of interimperial and colonial conflict and, more generally, from the modern capitalist-imperialist West?

Emily Dische-Becker

There’s been a very heated debate in the German media for the last few years around comparisons between colonial crimes and the Holocaust. This has been the subject of scholarly debate for at least two decades among scholars of genocide and scholars of the Holocaust. But it is the flattened version that appears in the German newspaper debates — it is reduced to a binary question. The distinction between comparison and equation is collapsed. Any comparison becomes a relativization of the Holocaust because the Holocaust is singular, and nothing can be compared to it. Even when comparing specific elements of these crimes, such as the common perpetrator in the genocides of the Herero and Nama people and the Holocaust, it is often met with controversy and resistance.

It’s interesting because the people who are demanding acknowledgement and reparations for German colonial crimes are obviously asking for Germany to do more historical reflection. But such demands are always warded off as attempts to detract from German crimes of the Holocaust, which carries the risk of diminishing its significance and fostering forgetfulness. This dismissive response has been prevalent in these conversations for two decades.

There’s been a very heated debate in the German media for the last few years around comparisons between colonial crimes and the Holocaust.

There’s an interesting anecdote that I read about the German envoy to Namibia, meeting with the descendants of the Nama tribes — the Namibian Nama Genocide Technical Committee — seven years ago. The meeting occurred during discussions about reparations between the Namibian and the German government. The survivors’ families committee expressed frustration to the envoy, noting that the German government was only negotiating directly with the Namibian government and not engaging with them.

The envoy said, “We only negotiate between states,” and the committee for the Nama responded, “No, you did directly negotiate with the Jewish claims committee.” And the German envoy apparently started screaming at them and said, “You may not compare the Holocaust to these crimes.” This incident epitomizes the German response — a particular disinterest and contempt toward those seeking accountability and reparations for the first genocide of the twentieth-century committed by Germans.

The German state’s stance is that it has already shouldered so much guilt and can’t possibly take on any more. This position is justified in the name of maintaining the singularity of the Holocaust, ostensibly for the benefit of the victims. However, it’s increasingly clear — particularly to people in parts of the world often referred to as the Global South — that Germany’s approach reeks of hypocrisy, particularly concerning colonial crimes and its reluctance to hold Israel accountable for its actions in Gaza today.

Never Again

Daniel Denvir

What does “Never again” mean if nothing can be compared to the Shoah. What, alternatively, might — or perhaps should — “Never again” mean?

Emily Dische-Becker

The idea that the perpetrators get to decide what the lessons of the crime are should at least be controversial, but it isn’t in this context. Reducing the exceptionalism of the Holocaust to the industrial killing, and Auschwitz as a symbol of that, has obscured what lessons we might learn from other elements of National Socialist rule, including the rise of fascism, how a democratic system can be co-opted, and how it can be turned into a dictatorship. What are the first signs of scapegoating minorities? These are things that seem particularly relevant today.

We talked about what is counted as antisemitic. An interesting detail emerged from a research report on the main antisemitism-monitoring organization in Germany, called RIAS, which is analogous to the ADL but focuses specifically on antisemitism. The statistics are quite vague in their chronology of antisemitic cases. But one noteworthy case in their chronology of antisemitism involved a speaker who spoke in front of the parliament of Thuringia, one of the East German states, on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The speaker discussed the lessons of Auschwitz and the Holocaust and what “Never again” means. And he said that you cannot reduce the lessons of “Never again” to Auschwitz. Rather, he argued that the path to Auschwitz begins much earlier, with fascism and exclusionary nationalism leading to something as exceptionally and cataclysmically violent and destructive as Auschwitz and industrial murder. He also said that not even Israel is immune to these lessons.

Now the statistics by our antisemitism watchdog group simply said, “A speaker in the parliament in Thüringen compared Israel to the Nazis. Antisemitic, according to the IHRA.” But the man who made these statement was, in fact, Israel’s most well-known historian of German Jewish history, Moshe Zimmermann. It’s interesting that a German Jew would offer insights into the lessons of Auschwitz, only to have his remarks obscured and classified as antisemitic by a German watchdog group.

It’s interesting that a German Jew would offer insights into the lessons of Auschwitz, only to have his remarks obscured and classified as antisemitic by a German watchdog group.

Daniel Denvir

Over the past decade or so, Germany played the lead role in crushing Syriza in Greece and the Left across much of Southern Europe. It was that crushing of a left-wing alternative to austerity in Europe that was the key event that precipitated the rise of the far right and fascism across the continent.

Germany, of course, has long since imposed austerity on its own working class in the name of protecting German competitiveness. So in some fundamental, functional way, the German political establishment cannot recognize the relationship between neoliberalism and the growth of the far right that it claims to abhor. Meanwhile, as we touched on at the top of the interview, the German left is in a state of disarray, collapse, division.

Where do you think things are headed? Is a future AfD government inevitable, or is there some less dystopian exit from all of these extremely depressing contradictions in German politics?

Emily Dische-Becker

Unfortunately, German politics don’t exist in a vacuum. The developments beyond Germany’s borders in terms of the electoral success of far-right parties will have a bearing on what happens in Germany. We have European Parliament elections this year. The fate of what happens in France and in various other places will play a role here.

I don’t think that Germany will be immune to the trend of illiberal democracy if that’s where everywhere else is going. And I do think that Germany becoming a place like Hungary, or Poland under the Law and Justice party, would have ramifications far beyond German politics. As the largest economy in Europe, Germany wields significant influence, particularly in EU migration policy. Moreover, Germany is often regarded as a moral authority within the EU. If Germany says it’s okay to drown migrants, then it’s okay to drown migrants, effectively. If Germany were to adopt policies akin to those of Hungary or Poland, it could set a precedent with far-reaching consequences.

I have a hard time worrying only about the AfD’s rise, because the Christian Democrats under the current leadership of Friedrich Merz, who took over after Angela Merkel, has adopted similar tactics of demagoguery, populism, and exploiting racial and xenophobic sentiments rooted in austerity politics. I’m very worried about where this is all headed, and I’m also worried how much of this is going to be blamed on Jews. The fact is that antisemitism is playing such a central role in the anti-migration discourse and that Jewish fear is being used as an excuse for undermining constitutional rights. The right to assembly, freedom of speech is under threat. All these things are now being discussed in a way which reminds me of the United States post-9/11 — let’s discuss if torture actually works or not and do we really need these rules? No, I think we should maybe stick with what we’ve got.

It’s interesting that being on the Left, being in the position of trying to explain to liberals how liberal democracy works, what is required to defend it — it’s an odd position to be in. We’re harping on the rule of law, adherence to international norms, and other foundational principles that are currently under assault from centrist parties that have shifted toward the right. And I think that presents a major danger. The lack of alternatives — the feeling of no political horizon in general — is very characteristic of the times that we’re living in right now. When I consider what would happen if Germany becomes a rogue state again, it’s deeply concerning that there isn’t a counterbalance to authoritarianism and the rise of illiberal democracy.

I think we can’t be doing worse than we’re doing, frankly, here in the German context. Austerity measures and reliance on state funding for civil society and cultural initiatives seem to pave the way for neoliberal politics, where responsibility is outsourced to mutual aid and self-organized efforts. In the face of authoritarianism, that is the only option we have.

There is a great yearning and appetite for a more serious left in the sense of not just wanting to be right but also wanting to win. Starting with distinguishing between disagreement and harm, fostering a better culture of learning from mistakes, and presenting the Left as a viable alternative — all these things are being discussed, and there’s more political activity than there has been in a long time, more political movement and also more political pushback and organizing. And that’s always exciting. However, I am cautious about the threat of winning a battle and losing the war, especially considering possibilities like Trump wining in the United States and things going sour in all these European states.

We’re sort of accelerating to a place where we’ll have to make some tough decisions and get very serious about organizing and self-organizing. I think that the potential for Jewish migrant solidarity is obviously here and, I would hope, very important for Jews of all political persuasions. I hope we can grow our base beyond the divisions that exist to fight that battle.

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