Bavarian anti-Semitism rears its ugly head

Bavaria is where Nazism began, making the rise of anti-Semitism there once again especially significant.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld , | updated: 06:46

Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

A member of a Jewish community in Bavaria was told by his Muslim neighbor that he had taken his children out of a Koran school because it called for killing Jews.

A Jewish parent in the same German federal state was invited by the director of a school who told her not to let her son go to the toilet alone, this because there was a child in the school who was a neo-Nazi.

One Jewish person mentioned that a pharmacist had asked his father why he needed a tax advisor as "Jews do not pay tax."

These are three examples from a recent study titled "Description of a Problem: anti-Semitism and Bavaria" published by the Research and Information Center Berlin (RIAS). Bavaria has 12.9 million inhabitants. As it is a federal state and not an independent nation, one hears internationally much less about what happens there than about a variety of European countries with substantially smaller populations including Austria, Belgium, Sweden, and Switzerland.

About 17,500 Jews are members of the 13 existing Jewish communities. Approximately half of live in or around Bavaria's capital, Munich.  

This study can be considered a model for similar analysis to be undertaken elsewhere in Germany and other European countries. It is based on interviews with experts.

The incidents at demonstrations during the 2014 Israeli campaign Protective Edge against Hamas are mentioned as key events in the development of anti-Semitism. The reactions of mainstream society at the time were also worrying.

Other negative key developments mentioned included the debate on prohibiting circumcision in 2012 and the influx of refugees into Germany in 2015.

The study defines perpetrators of anti-Semitism as of two kinds:

1. The extreme right and

2. Groups which justify anti-Semitism on the basis of Islam.

In smaller towns and rural areas right wing extremism is dominant. Israel-related anti-Semitism was also specifically mentioned as an important phenomenon next to classic anti-Semitism.  

An important finding of the study is that relations between the Jewish communities and politicians as well as the police are good. Yet the dominant opinion is that complaints about anti-Semitic incidents will hardly result in successful follow up from the authorities. Interviewees mentioned that in some cases the police advised the Jewish communities not to complain because the perpetrators would not be caught.

Between 2014 and 2016, the police registered 482 criminal anti-Semitic acts. 300 of these took place in small towns and rural areas. Yet the incidents which involved violence or verbal and written targeting of individual Jews mainly occurred in the metropolitan areas of Munich and Nûremberg/Erlangen/Fürth.

A 2016 study by Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians University which focused on racism found that eighteen percent of the interviewees in Munich had significant or strong anti-Semitic attitudes. In the remainder of Bavaria it was twenty four percent. That study dealt exclusively with religious and ethnic anti-Semitism and not with anti-Israelism.  

In 2017, the Technical University of Regensburg investigated attitudes of asylum seekers from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq who had arrived to Bavaria in 2015 and 2016. More than half of those from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – which are predominantly Muslims -- agreed with the statement that "Jews have too much influence in the world." Among the Eritreans, the percentage was low.

Many other interesting observations can be found in the RIAS study. Only a few can be mentioned here. Jews perceive actual anti-Semitism very differently from the non-Jewish majority which is unfamiliar with many of the hatred’s aspects.

The interviewees were asked where they encounter anti-Semitism. From the answers one can conclude that such reactions can occur anywhere, be it sport, contacts with the authorities, in conversations with acquaintances, listening in on conversations at the next table, in the public domain, at the work place, when shopping, etc. anti-Semitic experiences in schools were mentioned numerous times.

Earlier this year Bavaria appointed an anti-Semitism commissioner, Ludwig Spaenle, the former Minister of Education. He reacted to the RIAS study by saying that it proved that state and civil society have to give clear signs. A culture of close watching of anti-Semitism is needed.  

In August 2018, when Spaenle was in office one hundred days, he gave an interview about his preliminary conclusions. He said that hatred of Jews was increasing. He remarked that perpetrators came not only from the right. Those from the left and Muslims often focus on Israel. Spaenle considered it urgent to establish a hot line in Bavaria where complaints about anti-Semitism can be reported.

Spaenle specifically mentioned anti-Semitism at schools as a problem. He wants to offer teachers courses on how to deal with anti-Semitic stereotypes, in particular among Muslims. He said that since 2015, many young refugees have entered Germany who grew up with prejudices towards Jews. In view of this Spaenle also wants to include techniques on combating anti-Semitism in integration courses. He remarked that when he accepted the anti-Semitism commissioner’s position he was not aware of the multitude of tasks facing him.




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