Charlotte Knobloch survived Nazi Germany’s genocide on Jews to rise to the head of the German Jewish Council. In a disturbing interview with Der Spiegel, Knobloch — whose personal history gives her the requisite perspective — states that anti-Semitic attitudes have hit levels not seen in years:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: When you took office you said one of the main focuses of your work would be the struggle against right-wing extremism. Has the conflict in the Middle East worsened anti-Semitic attitudes in Germany?
Knobloch: It has, unfortunately. I see an absolutely hostile attitude towards Jews and Israel. Signs that read “Israel — Child Murderers” are being carried through the streets at demonstrations here, for example. The police don’t confiscate these placards. Persons that deal with the issue only marginally, or not at all, are influenced negatively. That’s the basis of this hostile attitude. You can find it everywhere. We’re currently organizing a fundraising concert, for example, and even there we get negative, anti-Semitic mail. No distinctions are made. We’re sucked into the current Middle East conflict one hundred percent, as Jewish citizens in Germany. And those politicians who latch onto this hostile mood with carefully prepared statements are of course doing better than ever.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Who do you mean?
Knobloch: Oskar Lafontaine, the leader of the Left Party, for example. Left Party parliamentarians aren’t particularly objective in their evaluation of the catastrophe in the Middle East. I’m also thinking of Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the Minister of Economic Aid and Development and member of the Social Democrat Party (SPD). These people encourage the hostile mood against Jews. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this. It’s on a new level. This hostile mood is now more noticeable in the German public than it used to be. It’s infiltrated every group and every level of society. I hope this development can be reversed by a joint effort on the part of all democratic forces. Otherwise all the positive images I have about Germany would be put into question. I unpacked my suitcase in this country. And I don’t want to have to repack it.
Knobloch’s observations underscore one of the truths of the last century or more: the Jews are the canary in the coal mine. Europeans dealing with burgeoning Muslim populations find themselves stuck between the Jews and those who hate them — and Knobloch sees the Jews losing that battle. The Israeli-Hezbollah conflict provides a sort of cover for anti-Semites to express their hatred to the Jews even though Hezbollah started the conflict. Logic has never entered into the calculations of anti-Semitism, of course, but in this case it at least seems calculated. Europeans see Muslims as an existential threat, and therefore have attempted to appease it by unleashing bigotry against the Jews.
Not all Germans indulge this, of course, and Angela Merkel surprised Knobloch by agreeing to a deployment of German troops to protect the Israelis from Hezbollah by joining UNIFIL. She notes that the agreement represents a watershed for Germans and Jews, a new way of thinking about the relationship between the two after six decades of the legacy of the Holocaust. Only six years ago, Knesset members walked out on a speech by Germany’s then-president Johannes Rau when he visited the assembly.Now fully armed German soldiers will be at Israel’s borders, but to protect them from Hezbollah nihilists.
Knobloch also warns Der Spiegel readers about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his rhetoric about Jews and Israel. She understands better than most how appeasement policies backfire, and she warns against dismissing his fiery calls for the destruction of Israel and the Jews. History, she says, repeats itself over and over, and people still do not learn. The rising levels of anti-Semitism demonstrates that Germans and perhaps Europeans in general still have not learned that it always starts with the Jews, but it never ends with the Jews. The last time this lesson got taught, six million Jews died among over 50 million worldwide over a six-year period. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, that total could be achieved in weeks instead of years.