[Editor's note: Tikkun does not have the finances to verify claims made in articles that we put up, so we have to trust our readers to make their own decisions. In the case of German antiSemitism, there may be a way for some people to read the article below as condemning Germans as a whole, disregarding the very strong sentiment among most Germans against anti-Semitism. I want to recognize the significant strides made by many Germans to challenge what I call Jew-hating, without denying the significant development of antiSemitism among a growing fringe of German politics. Many people in Germany and around the world did not take Hitler's hateful politics serious until it was too late. Many Americans didn't take seriously the danger to democracy posed by the candidacy of a hate-mongering Republican presidential candidate till after he had won the presidency thru the mechanism of an electoral college that allows the election of a candidate that has millions of votes less than the candidate the American majority prefers. So too now it is important to take seriously the rise of the extreme Right in Germany today even though up till now it actually represents a small percentage of the population. --Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun firstname.lastname@example.org}
Antisemitism in Germany is certainly nothing new. But now this ideological virus has returned with a vengeance pairing up with the Covid-19 Coronavirus. With the impact of the Coronavirus, socially inconspicuous people seem to have turned towards delusional conspiracy fantasies in a very short time. Like it or not, they are furious, angry, eye-rolling and they are rallying in increasing numbers. Others release their conspiracy fantasies on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Their messages are underscored by self-appointed, dubious, and pretentious crypto-experts.
In Germany, right-wing Coronavirus conspirators are again talking of a looming world government which wants to wipe out centuries of Christian civilization. In right-wing mythology, Christian civilization are code words for a racially-pure German nation Aryan Volksgemeinschaft. This is presented as a threatened species. people must defend the Volksgemeinschaft against others them.
From a historical perspective, the inventors of such conspiracy fantasies are particularly fond of developing them in the context of morbid sickness, contagious illnesses, and fast spreading pandemics. These conspiracy fantasies are often directed against Jews, a people who are historically vulnerable as a religious minority. One could even say that anti-Jewish thinking has always included a conspiracy component, certainly since the Middle Ages, when the spread of plague was linked to Jews. Behind every dangerous and contagious thing was the Jew—the ultimate enemy.
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The signifiers of evil, such as Anti-Christ Satan and legions of impish devils, these followers of the Mosaic Law were presented as an ins insidious group set up to harm Christianity. One of the more hideous images was that of the Jewish physician administering lethal medicine to a Christian king. In the 20th century the exact opposite was created. In German concentration camps; it was the demonic Nazi doctor SS doctor who gave lethal injections to thousands of Jews, including babies and young children.
Not only Germany’s Nazis believed that it was the Jews who were responsible for epidemics sweeping across Europe. As the conspiracy fantasies go, all this forms part of an invented Jewish undercover agent who, disguised and unrecognized, engages in malevolent activities. One of great perpetrators of this monstrous slander was Richard Wagner, particularly through the medium of his wife Cosima, a direct conduit to Hitler’s ears. Meanwhile Germany philosopher and university chancellor Martin Heidegger wrote on the eternal Jew defacing German culture. Common to Hitler, Wagner and Heidegger is the myth that Jews coordinate secret plans to take over the world.
These fairy tales for infantile adult minds have long polluted the historical knowledge of Christianity. Through Guttenberg’s invention of the mechanical printing press, so-called evidence was not just presented one by one in manuscript copies but reproduced on a grant scale. The twentieth century’s conspiratorial icing on the cake was the Russian forgery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, mass printed by Germany’s Nazis.
Such anti-Semitic conspiracies are often about dividing the world into goodies and baddies. They thrive on simplistic explanations for all sorts of imaginary threats, paranoid suffering and political impotence, conceited or genuine. Nothing is better suited to holding together the divergent interests of a global-warming anti-science denier and a Holocaust denier’s inability to grasp the complexity history than a conveniently powerful but secret adversary who lurks undetected behind the scenes and, even worse, pretends to be a do-gooder. Once the new German anti-Semitic narrative was written, it doesn’t matter if Bill Gates is Jewish or not; in the eyes of the conspiracy experts, he is anyway – or as good as! With Coronavirus, Germany’s anti-Semitic right-wing has swung into renewed action predominantly through attacks on so-called fake journalists and hygiene rallies.
During so-called pandemic of panic hygiene rallies, German anti-Vaxxers, right-wing extremists, and Neo-Nazis demonstrate again and again on German streets against Corona restrictions. Most recently, the former president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Charlotte Knobloch, warned against the open hatred of Jews during such protests where Antisemitism was seen and heard strongly among participants.
Perhaps not always openly displayed, this new model of German Antisemitism plays an important role in these protests. There are videos of so-called hygiene rally participants who say quite clearly that it is International Jewry, Zionism, Israel, and the Jews who are behind the current Corona pandemic. Today’s Antisemitism often manifests itself ambiguously through ciphers and codes. For example, George Soros (the Hungarian-born Jewish American philanthropist) and the Zionist entity (the State of Israel) are accused of being originators of the virus – Israel stecke hinter der Pandemie.
However, not all participants in these rallies are consciously spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy myths. Indeed, many of the protesters believe that Bill Gates and the World Health Organization (WHO), the non-Jewish masks for the underground conspiracy, who have put the coronavirus into the world. Various so-called concerned citizens claim, Covid-19 does not exist at all.
Nevertheless, not every bizarre claimant is anti-Semitic. Some are merely moronic. On the other side, most conspiracy fantasies are structurally very well-connected to traditional anti-Jewish worldviews. Antisemitism is the fantasy that there are Jews behind the scene working everywhere as controllers of politics and the economy. German conspiracy fantasists today openly talk of the creation of a new world order, the deep state, and satanic plans of a secret society. These lexical pieces of smut provide the fertile breeding grounds for the belief, the Jews are behind it. In 2019, 45.7% of Germans believed that secret associations had too much influence in politics and 32.7% believed that German politicians are puppets on strings guided by powerful groups.
Like Hitler, today’s anti-Semites see themselves as victims. They believe they are the ones oppressed by Jews. They present themselves (to be) in a vulnerable position. As a consequence, these confused and innocent souls are forced take to the streets to defend themselves. These are the people who are involved in the hygienic rallies. Yet its participants are not homogeneous. Among them are ordinary Germans seeking to express what they claim are legitimate criticism of political decisions – mostly against Corona preventive restrictions. Others believe in a Corona pandemic orchestrated by the government, and led by that highly educated chemist Angela Merkel. They talk of a Merkel dictatorship.
In order to understand why Germans attend hygiene rallies, one needs to realise that Germany is in crisis. In such catastrophic moments, conspiracy ideas are very attractive to many people. Under Corona restrictions, life for many Germans has suddenly changed significantly, creating the feeling of insecurity. Leaving the house means wearing a face mask, schools have been closed and so have restaurants and pubs. Violating the new rules incurs steep fines. Traffic is down, people stay at home. Many actually work form home. Social isolation impacts on people. Society as a whole does no longer appear to be working. These are unseen changes that make people search for explanations. As a consequence, Germans take to the Internet. Unfortunately, this is also exactly the place where many find conspiracy fantasies linked to right-wing ideologies and Antisemitism.
Antisemitism has never really left Germany and Germany’s Neo-Nazis are now trying to build on it. Given Germany’s Nazi past and its post-war history of denial and the re-installing of ex-Nazis into the German body politic, administration, and economic apparatus, it is not surprising that so many people on German streets are, yet again, expressing anti-Semitic ideas, or at least tacitly accepting them from digital influencers and a legion of right-wing leaders.
People who remember Germany’s modern history will not be surprised by this phenomenon. In times of uncertainty, insecurity and fear, simple people (often poorly educated and ignorant) look for simple explanations. Complex situations are interpreted through a childish catechism of good-versus-evil, us-versus-them, Germans-versus-germs (i.e. Jews). Such a reaction was almost to be expected in a country that had already given the world Auschwitz and Einsatzgruppen.
Far-right extremists and German Neo-Nazi parties have been waiting for just such a crisis in order to spread their anti-Semitic vitriol, hoping to reach ever greater numbers of people. Attending hygiene rallies are Neo-Nazi thugs and middle-class anti-vaccination activists, all as involved and culpable as muddled parents who want their children to be able to return safely to day-care centres. And indeed, right-wing extremist and Neo-Nazi strategies fall of fertile grounds.
Antisemitism in Germany is on the way up. One of Germany’s most reputable newspapers – the Süddeutsche Zeitung – reported in 2019 that 27% of all Germans carry anti-Semitic attitudes while a whopping 41% believe that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust. German Antisemitism also reaches into the ranks of the well-educated as 28% of all people with university degrees think that Jews have too much power in Germany’s economy while 26% agree with the statement Jews have too much power in world affairs. 22% believe that people hate Jews because of the way they behave.
At the same time, many people in Germany believed in conspiracies long before the Coronavirus appeared on the scene. We should note that Conspiracy theorist is a label that does not apply to all social strata and milieus equally. The single most defining element for a belief in conspiracy fantasies is education or the lack thereof. The higher the education, the less they believe in conspiracy fantasies. The lower educational achievements are, the more people are inclined to believe in conspiracy fantasies. The true character of conspiratorial attitudes was disclosed in Germany’s acclaimed Mitte-Study (2019). The prestigious research found that only a third of respondents agreed with the statement that the government is telling the people the truth.
Aside from its biological threats to the health of nation and the rest of the world, the Corona crisis offers new opportunities for German Antisemitism. It provides an opportunity to express such an idée fixe more openly. Today, the obsession that Jews are to blame for illnesses is linked back to the Middle Ages. Current protest takes up this old pattern. In today’s conspiracy fantasy, Jews are linked to the Coronavirus. They are the virus.
Even people who see themselves as rational can be sucked down into anti-Semitic thought patterns. In the case of simplistic critique of capitalism, for example, there is a lot of talk about the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, Bill Gates and George Soros. In anti-Semitic conspiracy fantasies, they have too much power and are part of a global financial elite.
This new kind of Antisemitism is particularly evident during the weekly hygiene rallies where participants have already attached their badge of dishonour yellow stars little pinheads with “not vaccinated” written onto them. These heroes of the anti-vaxer movement really think they are being persecuted, like Jews during the Nazi era. Such grotesque historical revisionism is one of the most obvious manifestations of the current political climate in Germany. It is frightening but, alas, it is nothing new.
Overall however, Germany is not an anti-Semitic society. The society and its democratic institutions fight Antisemitism. Merkel’s centrist coalition government is spending €115 million to fight hate, racism, and Antisemitism in a programme that focuses on crime and prevention – the Hitler salute, for example, is still a criminal offence in Germany. The government plays an active role in education on the Holocaust. It has a dedicated special envoy – an “Antisemitismbeauftragter” – tasked with the fight against Antisemitism. Next to this, there are democratic organisations that fight Antisemitism such as, for example, the Berlin based Amadeu Antonio Foundation, StopAntisemitismus.de, the Catholic Kirche Und Leben [church and life] initiative, and RIAS Berlin where people can register anti-Semitic incidents.
Despite all this, there still is Antisemitism. Today, anti-Semitic and right-wing AfD apparatchiks compare their supposed oppression with the persecution of Jews. This is a well-known pattern of perpetrator-victim reversal. To fight this, it is important that democratic society oppose the antisemitic strategies of the right. After 75 years since Germany’s liberation from Nazism, Germany still needs a great deal of democratic education about the Holocaust. In addition, counter-demonstrations are also very important. Germany is still in dire need to promote openness, acceptance, social cohesion, democracy, and historical awareness of the Holocaust reaching well beyond the Coronavirus.