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Armin Laschet: ‘Judiciary Needs to Be Able to Identify Antisemitic Crimes’

The Chief Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, criticized German courts on Sunday, for not identifying antisemitism in several cases. The judiciary in the country had to develop further, he said in Berlin.

The German Bishops’ Conference hosted a panel discussion in Berlin on Sunday night, entitled ‘Has Europe Become Old, Tired and Anemic?’. Because of the recent Nazi attack in Halle, the subject changed. The alarming rise of antisemitism was discussed instead. Apart from Minister President Armin Laschet, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, was part of the panel.

‘New Facet’ of Antisemitism

So were Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who heads the German Bishop’s Conference, the European Commission’s Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism, Katharina von Schnurbein, and Rabbi Julian-Chaim Soussan of the Orthodox Rabbi Conference in Germany.

Armin Laschet, who is part of the conservative party CDU and might even become a candidate for Chancellor, said antisemitism in Germany had never really disappeared after 1945. It had articulated itself on different volume levels since. In 2015, with the refugee influx, a “new facet” of antisemitism had appeared.

Katharina von Schurbein is taking part in a panel discussion in Berlin.
Katharina von Schurbein is the European Commission’s Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

There was a “societal consensus” against antisemitism, Laschet stated during the discussion. But it had to be explained to every new generation. He and other participants criticized German courts and prosecutions for ignoring the antisemitic aspect of hate crimes.

Consolation from Non-Jews

Laschet said more school grades, especially those with large shares of migrants from the Middle East, should visit Holocaust memorials, including Yad Vashem in Israel. Learning about the fate of Jewish individuals and families during the Holocaust would make the students empathetic. That way, they would start to ask questions at home too.

Rabbi Julian-Chaim Soussan said non-Jews needed to fight antisemitism. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Josef Schuster said, there had been one single positive aspect since the Nazi attack of Halle: He had received comments from non-Jews from all over Germany which had included consolation. Schuster conceded the situation regarding antisemitism in Germany was serious. He said the outcome of a recent poll conducted by the World Jewish Congress had confirmed what had been known before.

One of the results of the poll was that about one fourth of all Germans have antisemitic views. Schuster mentioned another poll done by the ‘Stern’ magazine many years ago, in which one fourth of all respondents had said they would not want to have Jewish neighbors.

Civil Courage

Schuster harshly criticized the Berlin prosecution in connection with a man’s attempt to enter the New Synagogue Berlin with a knife in his hand, a few days before the Halle murders. The fact that the prosecution had let the suspect go had been “the falsest sign anyone could have sent.”

Court decisions criticized by the panel included one taken in Düsseldorf in 2014. An attack on the Synagogue of Wuppertal during the Gaza war had been “politically motivated” and could not be considered an antisemitic act, the Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf had ruled back then.

Josef Schuster criticized the Berlin prosecution. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Civil courage was important, Josef Schuster stressed. People needed to stand up to antisemitism and other forms of hatred, including in their families or during discussions in pubs.

Training for Teachers and Police

More problematic rulings were discussed. For instance, Rabbi Julian-Chaim Soussan mentioned a very recent one by the Higher Administrative Court in Münster on a slogan used by the extremist far-right party ‘Die Rechte’ during the campaign for the European Elections. It read “Israel is our harm.” The court came to the conclusion that it did not constitute an incitement of the masses, which is a crime punishable by German law, even though it very much sounded like an amended version of “Jews are Our Harm”, an antisemitic slogan used by Nazi Germany.

Cases of this kind needed to be condemned, Rabbi Soussan stated. He also said non-Jews were the ones who needed to fight antisemitism. Slurs or statement at schoolyards were a big issue here. Teachers needed to react to those immediately. The panel agreed that teachers had to be trained to identify antisemitism.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx: “Christians and Jews belong together.” Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Katharina von Schnurbein stressed the importance of educating police officers as well. The Working Definition of Antisemitism of the IHR could be used. It was imperative that the media understood it as well, including the fact that anti-Zionism was antisemitism.

‘Jesus Never Became a Catholic’

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who had just come out of a meeting with the Orthodox Rabbi Conference, said Christians and Jews belonged together. This fact needed to be shown, the commonalities of those two religions stressed. Attacks on Jews were attacks on everyone. “Jesus was a Jew, until the end. He never became a Catholic”, Marx stated.

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