German authorities do not always appear to take Islamist anti-Semitism seriously, even when it has obviously deadly potential. On October 4, a knife-wielding Syrian man tried to enter a Berlin synagogue (pictured) while shouting "Allahu Akbar." The police released him the next day. (Photo by John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images)
The German government recently announced that it would be cracking down on free speech, with Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht claiming that the German government "is confronting right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism by all means enabled by the rule of law." The government presented a package of measures, including some that will limit free speech. According to German news outlet Deutsche Welle:
"[O]nline service providers, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter will be obliged to report hate speech to German authorities, and also pass on the IP address of the conspicuous user. Until now, such social media giants have only been required to delete hate speech within a certain time period."
Germany's controversial censorship law, known as NetzDG, which came into effect on October 1, 2017, requires social media platforms to delete or block any online "criminal offenses" such as libel, slander, defamation or incitement, within 24 hours of receipt of a user complaint. Social media companies receive seven days for more complicated cases. If they fail to do so, the German government can fine them up to 50 million euros for failing to comply.
Lambrecht, in announcing the package, referred to the attack on the synagogue in Halle, in which a German man, Stefan Balliet, tried to enter the synagogue to kill Jews there, but failed. He subsequently murdered two people in other locations. Balliet admitted that anti-Semitic and right-wing extremist beliefs motivated him to commit the attack. He is believed to have sought inspiration for the attack on the internet. "What the disinhibition and unleashing of hatred in the net can lead to was shown again in the terrible attack on the Jewish community in Halle", Lambrecht said.
According to Die Welt, the new package will ensure that, "Existing and proven approaches to prevention against right-wing extremism are to be continued and developed. Specifically, programs to promote democracy and prevent extremism... as well as political education measures in general..." In addition, according to Die Welt, "The work of constitutional protection against right-wing extremism is to be intensified" and measures be taken so that "security authorities and the judiciary are adequately equipped to combat politically motivated crime from the right as necessary".
The new governmental initiative, however, appears to be directed only against anti-Semitism committed by right-wing extremists. It appears, for example, to ignore anti-Semitic acts committed by Islamist extremists -- a peculiar omission, considering the findings of the EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA): "Second survey on discrimination and hate crime against Jews in the EU, published in December 2018. According to the survey:
"With respect to the most serious incident of antisemitic harassment, on average, across the 12 Member States surveyed, the most frequently mentioned categories for perpetrators were: 'someone else I cannot describe' (31 %); 'someone with an extremist Muslim view' (30 %); 'someone with a left-wing political view' (21 %); 'work or school/college colleague' (16 %); 'teenager or group of teenagers' (15 %); 'an acquaintance or friend' (15 %); 'someone with a right-wing political view' (13 %)".
Germany was among the 12 member states surveyed.
Previously, in November 2018, the EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights published a report, "Antisemitism - Overview of data available in the European Union 2007–2017," which quoted the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) for stating that in 2017:
"The main perpetrators of antisemitic incidents are 'Islamists' and radicalised young Muslims, including schoolchildren, as well as neo-Nazis and sympathisers of extreme-right and, in some cases, extreme-left groups".
Perhaps most importantly, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) -- Germany's domestic intelligence service -- published a report in June 2019 on "Anti-Semitism in Islamism." The purpose of the report was "to raise public awareness of Islamist anti-Semitism". According to the report:
"In order to get an idea of the extent and manifestations of anti-Semitic propaganda and events in the Islamist milieu in Germany, since the end of 2015 the BfV has been recording... anti-Semitic events with a suspected Islamist background...
"The recording of these events proves that anti-Semitic events with an Islamist background are not uncommon in Germany. For the period from January to December 2017 alone, more than 100 incidents were recorded, ranging from anti-Zionist sermons to anti-Semitic graffiti to verbal and physical attacks against individuals. Probably this is just the proverbial 'tip of the iceberg'. [Emphasis added].
"Violent events have so far been recorded only to a limited extent. Even individual cases, however, make it clear that the ideological radicalization of people and the incitement to hatred and violence through anti-Semitic ideas provide the breeding ground for violent escalations.
"It is also noteworthy that numerous incidents have been caused by individuals, who have so far had no evidence of a link to organized Islamism. For example, in April 2016, a woman in Berlin was addressed by two Arab men because of her necklace pendant in the shape of the land of Israel. The two men then insulted her with the words 'You shit Jews! You are the scum of the world'. In December 2017, an Arab classmate attacked a Jewish high school student in Berlin with the words: 'You are child murderers; you should have your heads cut off!' Also in December 2017, two unknown persons attacked a synagogue in North Rhine-Westphalia and insulted the staff there with the words: 'Al-Quds belongs to us! Disappear from here, you sons of whores!'
"Such events suggest that the anti-Semitic ideas spread by Islamists are increasingly also found in Muslim social groups outside Islamist organizations. Whether this is a permanent phenomenon – perhaps even a sustained trend – remains to be seen.
"Irrespective of the perspective, however, it should be noted that the anti-Semitic ideas spread by Islamist groups and individuals already present a considerable challenge to peaceful and tolerant coexistence in Germany today".
The question, then, is why jihadi anti-Semitism does not appear to have been included in the German government's package of initiatives to combat anti-Semitism?
Especially as, in April 2018, according to Die Welt, Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted in an interview:
"We now also have new phenomena, whereby we have refugees or people of Arab origin who bring another form of anti-Semitism into the country."
Furthermore, German authorities do not always appear to take Islamist anti-Semitism seriously, even when it has obviously deadly potential. On October 4, a knife-wielding Syrian man tried to enter a Berlin synagogue while shouting "Allahu Akbar" and "Fuck Israel." According to the regional newspaper Neues Deutschland, police took the man into custody in a psychiatric hospital, because there was "no urgent suspicion of a crime, only the initial suspicion of trespassing". In addition, "there were no indications of the possible radicalization of the man". The police released him the next day, even though he had literally been "caught in the act" by the synagogue guards.
The foiled knife attack, however, did cause Berlin's interior administration to announce an increased police presence in front of Jewish institutions. What, however, is the point of an increased police presence, when potential perpetrators are immediately set free and only seen as causing a "suspicion of trespassing?"
The Central Council of Jews in Germany criticized the man's release. "The speedy release of the perpetrator is incomprehensible," said President Josef Schuster, adding that the prosecutor's office had "negligently handled an attempt to attack a synagogue".
German intelligence assessments, found in the 2018 Annual Report on the Protection of the Constitution, confirm the magnitude of the jihadi threat, not only against German Jews, but against all Germans:
"Considering nothing but the hard numbers, one can say that the Islamist extremist following increased slightly to a total of 26,560 individuals in 2018 (2017: 25,810). While no Islamist extremist attack was staged in Germany in 2018, the detection of a number of attack plans in various stages of preparation has shown that there is no reason to give the all-clear. The threat situation in Germany remains tense; it has stabilized on a high level...Germany continues to be a target of jihadist organizations such as ISIL or al-Qaeda. Consequently, Germany as well as German interests in various regions in the world are facing a constantly serious threat, which may any time manifest itself in terrorist attacks motivated by jihadism".
Given the official threat scenario, the German government owes all its citizens an explanation as to why it is so "selective" in its response to anti-Semitism.
Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.