Germany will do all it can to fight anti-Semitism, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech yesterday, following a surge of abuse against Jews and anti-Israeli sentiment aroused by the Gaza conflict.
Ms Merkel made her pledge to thousands at a rally protesting a rise in anti-Semitism, saying anyone who attacks Jews is attacking all of Germany.
“That people in Germany are threatened and abused because of their appearance or their support for Israel is an outrageous scandal that we won’t accept,” Ms Merkel said. “It’s our national and civic duty to fight anti-Semitism.”
Ms Merkel only rarely attends demonstrations, but she joined German President Joachim Gauck and Jewish community leaders for the rally at the Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin.
She said: “Anyone who hits someone wearing a skullcap is hitting us all. Anyone who damages a Jewish gravestone is disgracing our culture. Anyone who attacks a synagogue is attacking the foundations of our free society.”
Video: Angela Merkel vows to fight anti-Semitism
The rally, organised by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, comes after community leaders said Jews were feeling threatened by anti-Semitism after the Gaza conflict.
More than half-a-million Jews lived in Germany when the Nazis took power in 1933. That number was reduced to about 30,000 by the Holocaust. The population has since grown to about 200,000 – a source of pride for Ms Merkel and many Germans.
The German government said 131 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in July and 53 in June. In July, petrol bombs were thrown at a synagogue in the western town of Wuppertal. Jewish leader Dieter Graumann said the summer saw “the worst anti-Semitic slogans on German streets for many, many decades”.
Ms Merkel said authorities would use all means to fight anti-Semitism. “That far more than 100,000 Jews are now living in Germany is something of a miracle,” she said. “It’s a gift and it fills me with a deepest gratitude. Jewish life is part of our identity and culture. It hurts me when I hear that young Jewish parents are asking if it’s safe to raise their children here or elderly ask if it was right to stay here.”
The Gaza conflict between Palestinian militant groups and Israel has caused tension to flare across Europe. Anti-Semitic chants and threats marred pro-Palestinian protests in France, Germany, and Italy. In France, the French office of the American Jewish Committee said last week that French Interior Ministry figures showed there had been a 91 per cent increase in anti-Semitic incidents to 527 from 1 January to 31 July.
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, praised Germany’s efforts to fight anti-Semitism. “There are some places where I’d expect to see this,” Mr Lauder said. “But not in Germany. Since the end of the war Germany has strongly supported the Jewish rebirth. So why has all this good work been darkened by the stain of anti-Semitism?”
Ms Merkel said: “We want Jews to feel safe in Germany. They should feel that this country is our common home.”