Central Council President on anti-Semitism: “I don’t recognize this country”

Central Council President on anti-Semitism: “I don’t recognize this country”


How can Jews be better protected in Germany after October 7th? A conversation with Josef Schuster before the Interior Ministers’ Conference.

Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Photo: Emmanuele Contini/imago

taz: Mr. Schuster, since the Hamas massacre in Israel on October 7th, anti-Semitic incidents and anti-Israel demonstrations have not stopped in this country. Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution Thomas Haldenwang warns of attacks. You are a guest at the interior ministers’ conference that is now beginning, which will deal with this. What message do you bring with you?

Joseph Schuster: That the Jewish communities continue to find themselves in a very tense situation since October 7th, in an exceptional situation. I said last and this still applies: I sometimes don’t recognize this country. I couldn’t have imagined what we’ve been experiencing on German roads since October 7th. There has not yet been an adequate response to this and further measures must follow.

The German doctor has been President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany since 2014. He is also Vice President of the World Jewish Congress and the EuropeanJewish Congress.

You have just been in Israel and visited Kibbutz Be’eri with Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Now the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is over, the military operation in Gaza continues, rockets are flying towards Israel. How hopeless is the situation?

It was horrifying for me at first to see the truly inhumane cruelty that was being carried out in this kibbutz. The terrorists had set fires there, and the people in the shelters had only two options: either suffocate in the smoke or escape and be shot. Inconceivably. I completely understand when Israel says that Hamas must be destroyed. Such an act of terrorism against Israel, with 1,200 deaths, must never happen again.

Is Netanyahu’s stated goal of destroying Hamas and rescuing all the hostages actually possible?

I’m not a military strategist and don’t have the knowledge of the Israeli government, but I can only fervently hope so.

At what cost can Hamas succeed in destroying the civilian population in Gaza?

I feel sorry for every civilian in Gaza. But I also have to say that Hamas obviously had quite a few supporters there. And that the terrorists are taking the civilian population hostage as a protective shield. I understand that Israel really has to do everything it can to protect its own people.

And what would happen if Hamas were truly defeated?

At the moment, all utopias of a peaceful solution have been destroyed by Hamas. There was trust in parts of the Israeli population, but that is now gone. There cannot be a new beginning with Hamas or any other terrorist organization. There needs to be a complete cut, including personnel. But what gives me hope is that the people of Be’eri who were able to escape this hell expressed the express desire to move back there and rebuild their kibbutz. A peaceful future can arise from this, and one could have imagined it completely differently.

The war also spread to Germany. Hanukkah begins on Thursday. Given this, is it even possible to celebrate?

There will be a subdued mood this year. We will light our candles, also publicly like at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Of course, we Jews also have a need for contemplation at the end of the year of the Gregorian calendar and want to reflect on the year. We will not let terror dictate our lives.

Your Central Council has just initiated a survey in the communities about the consequences of October 7th. 68 percent of the managers surveyed said that there was a fear of attacks or fewer visitors in the communities. 43 percent canceled events, 35 percent reported anti-Semitic incidents.

These are dramatic findings. The communities receive anti-Semitic letters, emails or calls, and there are physical attacks on the streets against people who were identified as Jews. This is a new quality in this intensity. My feeling is that there are not necessarily more people who carry anti-Semitic ideas with them, but that these people have become louder and dare to do and say things again that they haven’t dared to do for a long time.

Israel is now calling for caution when traveling to Germany. Rightly so?

Israel has also done the same for Great Britain and France, apparently with abstract references to terrorist attacks. This won’t just happen out of thin air, and the Federal Minister of the Interior and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution have also warned of this danger. I trust our security authorities to succeed in preventing these dangers.

Do you and the community feel sufficiently protected?

Personally, I am in a privileged situation: the President of the Central Council of Jews has been receiving personal protection for decades. After the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, protection in Jewish institutions, communities, schools and kindergartens was strengthened both technically and in terms of personnel. This has now been adjusted again. It’s about bulletproof doors and windows, video surveillance or uniformed patrols in front of the door at events. A positive finding from our community surveys was that 96 percent were satisfied with the cooperation with the security authorities. At the same time, there is great uncertainty about publicly identifying oneself as a Jew. This is an ambivalence that we cannot just acknowledge.

Where do you currently see the greatest danger?

The anti-Semitism that we are currently experiencing is strongly influenced by the actions of people of Arab or Turkish origin in connection with the left-wing scene. You suddenly notice that the politically far left and the politically right are not that far apart when it comes to this issue. But the thesis of imported anti-Semitism still falls short: We also have a large proportion of anti-Semitic crimes from the politically right-wing extremist camp.

How do you view universities or cultural institutions where anti-Israel slogans have recently been raised?

This worries me very much. After October 7th, I initially noticed a resounding silence there, but now we are experiencing open anti-Semitism – not everywhere, but too much. When a Jewish student tells me that she no longer dares to go to the toilet alone in a Berlin university, it is incomprehensible. That shouldn’t happen.

Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser recently banned the activities of Hamas and the Samidoun supporters’ association and had the Islamic Center in Hamburg, which is considered an extension of Iran, searched. Is that enough?

These were necessary steps. And at the IZH in Hamburg, not only searches are needed, but also a ban. It seems to me that Iran is doing its part to increase this danger and control things – not for the first time. And I believe there will also be further bans against organizations that incite hatred against Israel. The Federal Ministry of the Interior should quickly draw conclusions here. In addition: The abolished expert group on political Islamism in the Federal Ministry of the Interior must be revived, but in a constellation that really addresses social problems in a solution-oriented manner and does not just discuss terminology.

Berlin and Bavaria also recently banned the slogan “From the River to the Sea,” which would mean Israel disappearing from the map. Was that a right step?

Absolutely. And this ban must also be implemented nationwide. If Israel is denied the right to exist, as this slogan does, it must be punished. Legal tightening is needed here. I was disappointed that the Conference of Justice Ministers could not bring themselves to do this recently. Hopefully the Interior Ministers’ Conference will send a different signal here. Never again is now and not at some point, and that must also have consequences.

They are calling for the right to assembly to be tightened. What could that look like?

I have every sympathy for people who are taking to the streets right now and are worried about the Palestinian civilian population. This is covered by the right to demonstrate and should remain so. But where there are well-founded concerns about anti-Semitic acts, it must be possible to ban these elevators. In my opinion, the right to demonstrate has been forfeited. We can’t just wait until things escalate, we have to stop it in advance.

Would you like to see more solidarity with the Israeli and Jewish community?

Definitely. It exists in parts, even in an intensity that we have never experienced before. And I am happy about events like the one planned on Sunday in front of the Brandenburg Gate, where the impetus came not from an organization but from the population. But in general, I would have liked more public solidarity in view of the bloodiest day against Jews since the Shoah.

Also from the Muslim community?

Also from there. There are many peace-loving Muslims who want nothing to do with terrorism. And I also object to placing all Muslims under general suspicion now. But I expected more from Muslim institutions. After October 7th, there was almost nothing heard or something half-hearted. My impression was also that the statements were not necessarily distributed in the Friday sermons, where they primarily belong. And we should also take a closer look at Ditib here. The association is under state supervision in Turkey, whose president calls Israel a terrorist state. I have no understanding of that at all. And that would also be a task for the Federal Ministry of the Interior to examine and reorganize how Ditib is handled from the ground up.

Do you think October 7th will also be a turning point in Germany?

Of course I hope that we can return to normality. Although I have to say that anti-Semitism had been increasing in this country for years even before October 7th, regardless of where it came from. But of course we as Jews wish we could live here in peace like everyone else.

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This news article has been translated from the original language to English by WorldsNewsNow.com.

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