April 26, 2018 — Berlin
This piece originally appeared in Tagesspiegel.
By Deidre Berger and Fabian Weißbarth
The recent violent antisemitic attack in the Berlin neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg has reignited the debate over antisemitism in the Muslim community. For the Jewish community, such experiences are everyday occurrences. In the opinion of those affected, the perpetrators generally have a migrant background.
Nonetheless, the official statistics on antisemitic incidents almost exclusively classify the multitude of antisemitic incidents (four a day!) as right-wing extremism. According to police statistics, 95% of all offenses are “right-wing politically motivated.” This leads to a distorted public debate on antisemitism, insufficiently reflecting the perspective of those affected.
Antisemitism is recorded one-dimensionally in the official crime statistics. The categories are placed into a grid, generally distinguishing between “right” and “left,” which is inadequate to capture more fully the various dimensions of antisemitic incidents. A slogan such as “Jews out” is almost exclusively attributed to right-wing extremism, although little is known about the actual circumstances/ The statistics consider other Nazi-related incidents as mostly “right-wing.” This, in turn, as has happened in the past, leads to the classification of Hitler salutes by Hezbollah supporters at the Islamist al-Quds demonstration as “right-wing.”
It is not surprising, therefore, that ensuing political discussions frequently miss the mark. One argument frequently heard is that antisemitism in Muslim communities is artificially inflated in order to draw attention away from the general public’s antisemitism. It is a fact that antisemitism exists at all levels and in all sectors of German society across the political spectrum.
However, Jewish experiences also bear truth. According to a study by Dr. Julia Bernstein from the University of Frankfurt, commissioned by the Independent Expert Group on Antisemitism of the German Parliament, 80% of those physically attacked reported the perpetrator was of Muslim background.
It is difficult to make progress in combating antisemitism with references to the overall situation without addressing this specific reality. It is therefore of critical importance to revise the official police statistics. Fortunately, Felix Klein, the new Commissioner against Antisemitism, has already identified this as an urgent priority.
It is possible to take a different approach, as we see with the latest report on “Antisemitic Incidents 2017,” by the Berlin-based Research and Information Center on Antisemitism” (RIAS), which differentiates incidents by taking into account widespread stereotypes, conspiracy theories, and antisemitic ideologies. This type of information helps provide targeted and sustainable prevention concepts.
Those who want to fight antisemitism seriously need an honest picture of the situation, which also takes into account the experiences of those personally affected.
Deidre Berger is Director and Fabian Weißbarth is Assistant Director for Public Affairs at AJC Berlin.