Tag Archives: anti-Semitism

“Brexit” – no good prospect from a Jewish point of view





Hellen Joanne Cox, pro-European MP and human rights activist, one of the rising stars of British Labour, was murdered by an assassin shouting anti-European slogans on 16 June, 2016. I dedicate my article to her memory.




With seven days to go to the decision of whether the UK stays in the Union, Jewish observers ask what a “Brexit” would mean for the Jewish community in Europe. Besides that, what does it mean for Israel if Britain leaves Europe? Many years ago it was Winston Churchill who, in a historic speech calling for reconciliation after (and in spite of) the Second World War and the atrocities  perpetrated by Nazi Germany, called out to his fellow-countrymen: “Let Europe arise!” Some years later, when the European Economic Community was formed, France, under de Gaulle, went out of her way to bar Britain from joining. In the end, Britain did join Europe. But with anti-European resentment in the UK growing and nationalism on the rise everywhere in Europe, it is not unlikely that the popular vote on 23 June might be “Leave”.

Dissent between those against and those in favour of “Remain” has grown and become fiercer over the past weeks. On 16 June, pro-EU Labour MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed in the street after a constituency meeting in the small Northern English town of Birstall. The assailant had shouted “Britain first” before his deadly attack put the 42 y-o mother of two to the ground.

No doubt leaving the EU would have devastating political and economic consequences for Britain. Most of the continental EU members as well as the United States have come out in favour of continued British membership. But what is the Jewish position on the issue?

A “Brexit” could have a detrimental effect on the fate of the Jewish community in Europe. Rising numbers of Muslim immigrants, especially in the Southern and Western member states, have accompanied, and probably strengthened, an upsurge of anti-Semitism during recent years. Blatant anti-Semitism is widespread among Muslims in Europe, in particular Muslim youth, and is displayed by them with a gross frankness. Unrestrained by historical reservations usually encountered in Western Europeans, many Muslims in Europe seem to be convinced that anti-Semitism is a natural fact. It is not uncommon for a German, when introduced to an individual with Arab background, to be “complimented” with side remarks on how Hitler was a “good man”. It is so absurd, one might feel an impulse to laugh it off. But it has to be seen in the context of nationalism (and anti-Semitism) on the rise in quite a few member states. Europe needs British liberalism and humanism to continue to be factors in shaping European political and cultural developments, and so do European Jews.

Alliances of European democrats and human rights activists cannot afford to lose their British allies. They have an important role to play in the struggle to keep Europe an open pluralist society. It is not a coincidence that right wing populists and outright nationalists form a large proportion within the anti-European movement. For European Jewry, no hopeful vision can emanate from this constellation.

Looking at Israel, there should be more than just vague concerns about the prospect of the UK opting out of the EU. Without the mitigating influence of Britain on EU policies critical of the Jewish state, advocates of the Boycott might be strengthened. While the European attitude towards Israel has hardened during recent years, traditionally liberal UK negotiators have often argued for more empathy with Israel’s security interests in Brussels and Strasbourg. Economically, the EU is Israel’s most important partner. European investors stand for a strong section of foreign capital in Israel. There is a good deal of cooperation in scientific fields, as well. European tourism to Israel is still flourishing. Tel Aviv ranks alongside Berlin as a destination for young travelers in search of sizzling urban culture. Against this background, Israel’s position in Europe may be weakened by the loss of a friend in the sphere of European decision-making. At the same time, Israel’s interests in Britain will suffer from the decline forecast for British economy in case of a “Brexit”. Even now, British assets are at risk of stumbling, as many investors get prepared for a negative outcome of the referendum. A considerable number of Israeli companies are listed in the City.

Aged and writing with the last drop of ink…

Nobel Prize winning writer Günter Grass has written what is rather a pamphlet than a poem. Published by the New York Times, El Pais and La Repubblica simultaneously, his latest work Was gesagt werden muss (What has to be said) is nothing more than a trivial indictment of Israel, a country Grass considers a constant threat to world peace.  The writer alleges that Israel  claims a “right to strike first” with the underlying intention of eliminating the Iranian people. He describes Israel as a nuclear power endangering a world peace which is “brittle anyway”.

With the publication of his poem a few days before Passover, Grass seems in good and long-time company, historically speaking. Since the middle ages, Jews have been accused of ritual murder immediately before Pesah in Europe. As early as 1144, the Jews of Norfolk, England, were alleged to have kidnapped, tortured and crucified an aristocratic child, William of Norwich, to celebrate Passover and mock Christian Easter holidays. Since then, accusations of ritual murder by Jews have been used to trigger off pogroms in various countries of Europe, in particular Germany. Grass only adds to this by slandering Israel to be planning a genocide.

The nobel prize winner’s attitude seems barely informed by political insight. He hasn’t  got any word to lose on Iran’s continuous threats to wipe out Israel and the Jews. In his view, Iran’s leader Ahmadinedjad isn’t a real danger to Israel but just a loudmouth. Not only because of this one-sidedness, Grass’s poem loses all literary merit. In fact it reminds the critical reader of some of the worst lyrical smears produced by aligned East German poets at the time of the GDR, with little mastery of aesthetics. And by turning Israelis from victims of a genocidal threat to its perpetrators, he commits more than just a slight political incorrectness.

Dieter Graumann, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has duly reacted, criticizing the text as an “aggressive pamphlet of agitation”. “An outstanding author may be a far cry from an outstanding analyst of Near East politics”, is Graumann’s scathing summary.

Grass received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999, when on the summit of his reputation as a writer. Since then, however, some of his publications have been called mediocre by literary critics. Perhaps he senses the reasons for this decline himself, when characterizing himself as “aged” and his writing as produced “mit letzter Tinte” (with the last drop of ink).

Racism in German sports – the DFB response

The mention of racism can trigger irrational reactions in Germany; most Germans carry the burden of a guilt complex because of the Shoa, which makes the open-minded acknowledgement of the presence of racism in German society difficult. Yet, as in all societies, racism is an everyday phenomenon. This becomes particularly evident in the soccer arenas.

Just the other day, the Bremen state government issued what they call a Development Plan for Participation and Integration, a strategic document on diversity policies. It identifies 14 field of action in which to confront the need for promoting diversity in Bremen’s urban society in the coming four years. There is also a chapter on sports determining this field as one of the main areas for action. The text does not mention racism. Yet, it is well known that German sports are a playground for all known forms and variants of racism. There is structural racism in the shape of discrimination against people with a different cultural background. But there is also common or garden racism in the way people treat each other, as anybody will confirm who has overheard competitors defile and try to intimidate each other using racist swear words, or who has listened to a crowd making “ape noises” when a midfield player with black African roots passes the ball. Likewise, “Zigeuner”, a derogatory term for Sinti and Roma is frequently used by hooligans to infuriate and provoke opponents, notwithstanding the fact that some of the best German soccer players were Sinti (like Gerd Müller, famous Bayern Munich striker).

Only a few weeks ago, a soccer Bundesliga player hailing from Israel, Itay Shechter, was showered with antisemitic abuses by spectators. The board of FC Kaiserslautern, the club in question, has made efforts to spot the culprits and has in fact officially reported the incident to the police. Kaiserslautern chairman Stefan Kuntz declared at a press conference that such “derailments” were not to be tolerated “either now or in future” by the club’s leadership.

Dieter Graumann, presiding the Central Council of Jews in Germany, is quoted as calling the Kaiserslautern incident a shame and scandal for German soccer. He deplored that the national soccer association, DFB, has not come out with a „faster and louder“ reaction on what happened. Although the majority of Kaiserslautern fans displayed their unmistakable support for Itay Shechter, the DFB should have done more than just verbally denouncing the perpetrators as „yesterday people“ (a common euphemism for right-wingers in Germany) or, less politely, „stark staring idiots“.

In defence of the DFB, people have hinted to the fact that the soccer association has been awarding the Julius Hirsch Prize for seven years now. This award commemorates a German national team member of the thirties murdered in Auschwitz.  DFB President Wolfgang Niersbach is adamant in continuing the policy of this predecessor, Theo Zwanziger, ostracizing anti-Semitism, anti-Ciganism, racism, sexism, and homophobia in society as well as on the sportsfield. From its charity matches, the DFB’s national team contributes funds towards a foundation with the explicit aim of promoting efforts to curb racist and sexist phenomena in sports. The team management will also use the occasion of the European Cup in Poland and the Ukraine in summer to pay a visit to the Auschwitz memorial, a spokesman said.

Late in May, the German side will play Israel in what will be the final test game before the European Cup. This has been agreed between Niersbach and Ori Shilo, Secretay General of Israel’s national soccer association. The Germans have made it a point that the game was scheduled away from Sabbath to enable observant Jews to watch it.  Israel has been a member of UEFA since 1994.

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