Halle: Failed mass murder in Germany's dysfunctional liberal democracy

Why do all synagogues in France, Belgium and the Netherlands have police or military protection - while in Germany apparently only some, mainly in big cities do?

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

OpEds Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

The Jewish community’s security measures on Yom Kippur resulted in a failed mass murder attempt in the synagogue of Halle, the major town in the German federal state of Saxony Anhalt. The synagogue’s steel doors had not been paid for by the local authorities but by the Jewish Agency.


The police played no role in thwarting the attack.
The police played no role in thwarting the attack.

This absence is an indicator of the state of law of Germany’s unsettled liberal democracy. That sums up the wider meaning of the horrible incident. In it an extreme right wing shooter killed at random two people nearby and wounded two others.

It is too early for a full-fledged analysis of the main aspects of this event and the reactions to it. Yet already the various facets of the issues at stake should be listed so that they can be followed in the coming weeks. That will allow a more in depth assessment of the tragedy which could have been much bigger. 

One major question is why all synagogues in France, Belgium and the Netherlands have police or military protection - while in Germany apparently only some, mainly in big cities do?

After activating the emergency alarm it took the police more than ten minutes to arrive. According to the community’s chairman Max Privorotsky the police have repeatedly played down the community’s security concerns. Joseph Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews the umbrella organization of German Jewry, attacked the police saying “that the synagogue of Halle was not guarded by the police on a holiday such as Yom Kippur was scandalous.” 

Assigning all the blame on the police is most convenient for the German political system. Yet if one digs a bit deeper one discovers that the police is greatly understaffed. This opens a hornet nest for politicians. It is their responsibility to make sure that the police receive the necessary funding to execute its tasks reasonably and protect threatened citizens.

Pushing it a bit further leads to the stirring up of a second hornet nest of intrusive questions about the uneasy state of law in German democracy in a variety of areas.  

These remarks are justified but unwelcome for those in power. Therefore a scapegoat for the incident has to be found. The perfect alibi for politicians in denial of Germany’s structural problems is placing the blame of the attack by the extreme right winger on the populist AfD party's shoulders. One of those who did so was Michael Roth, a prime candidate for one of the two chairperson positions in the socialist party (SPD). He said: “in the German parliament and in the federal state parliaments sits the political arm of rightwing terrorism.” 

Matters are not so simple. Among the AfD elected representatives are quite a few highly problematic extremist persons. The other parties in the parliament have created a cordon sanitaire round the AfD. In popular terms that means: the AfD is black, thus we are white. Yet this outsider, watching German society, concludes that with respect to German political parties -- including the AfD – one is dealing with different shades of grey.

However reprehensible a number of AfD representatives are, the party has two valid points. As it is not in power it cannot be held responsible for the decline of Germany’s State of Law. The government consists of Christian Democrats (CDU) and the SPD. It has welcomed into the country since 2015, without a serious vetting process, more than a million immigrants, mainly Muslims of which hundreds of thousands have antisemitic views.

 

One only has to mention some recent antisemitic attacks by Muslims. A Syrian with a knife was arrested in front of a Berlin synagogue, there were two attacks on Berlin rabbis by Arab speakers. In Bavaria an Israeli woman was injured by an Arab who threw a rock at her.

After the Halle murders, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) promised Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a telephone conversation greater security for the Jewish community. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, of the Christian Social Union (CSU) promised full police protection for synagogues and said the German government was also examining how to better combat hate speech online.   

Yet the previous head of domestic security Hans-Georg Maassen (CDU) – who was also partly blamed for the incident -- said that there are a number of extreme right wing radicals who communicate in closed groups on the internet whom the security services cannot identify. These extremists do not participate in demonstrations and -- as in the case of Halle -- act without partners to their crimes.  

Top German politicians are experienced in their reactions to a major antisemitic incident. That showed also in this case -- where two non-Jews were killed. Merkel attended an evening vigil at the New Synagogue in central Berlin. It was called in solidarity with the Jewish community. German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) visited the Halle synagogue the day after Yom Kippur. He laid flowers outside before meeting Jewish community representatives inside. “Today is a day of shame and disgrace” he said.

One less experienced politician fell short in her reaction to the tragedy. Annegret Kramp Karrebauer -- commonly called AKK -- is the current chairperson of the CDU and Minister of Defense. She called the Halle attack a “signal of alarm.” Marina Weisband, a young Jewish politician (Green party) said in a television debate: “When an attack on a synagogue is a signal of alarm, what is then a serious issue?” She reproached AKK for not having heard many earlier alarm signals.

The Halle attack has again raised the issue of the future of Jews in Germany. It has also exposed anew the problematic State of Law in the country. The duplicity of the German government toward Israel has again  come up again in the media. Yet these issues may soon be overshadowed and pushed aside by other important developments in the country.



 




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