June 4, 2019
Germany is facing a rising wave of antisemitism. Violent attacks targeting Jews were up by 60% in 2018. Jewish children report harassment in their schools. The German government’s antisemitism commissioner just two weeks ago warned Jews against public displays of Judaism.
Now, AJC—the first American Jewish organization to establish a post-Holocaust presence in Germany—has invited thousands of American Jews to Berlin next year for the first-ever AJC Global Forum in the German capital, marking 75 years since the end of World War II.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed gratitude to the organization for bringing the American Jewish community to Germany next year.
“I regard this decision as a sign of trust,” Merkel wrote in a letter to AJC President John Shapiro, CEO David Harris, and Global Forum 2019 attendees. “We in Germany are profoundly grateful for this.”
In 1949, AJC became one of the first American Jewish organizations to start rebuilding relations with Germany after the Holocaust. Three decades later, AJC launched the first exchange program between Germany and the American Jewish community to foster understanding through personal encounters. In 1998, AJC opened its Berlin Ramer Institute, making it the sole American Jewish organization with a permanent presence in the country.
When the Berlin office opened, Harris said AJC was there to serve as a “another ally, supporter, and watchdog” to counter any future “German fear that the demons will again come out of the closet.”
AJC has served as a watchdog in Germany since before the war. In 1923, AJC reported that anti-Jewish activities had declined in most European countries, except for Germany. In 1933, it published a book detailing the rise of Adolf Hitler’s campaign. And throughout the 1950s and 60s, it continued to sound the alarm when it detected signs of a resurgence of Nazism in the upper echelons of the German government.
Today, thanks to AJC efforts, nearly a dozen state governments in Germany have appointed commissioners to monitor antisemitism on the ground. AJC pressed the German government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism—which it did in 2017—and is pushing the nation to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.
Earlier this month, the German parliament passed landmark legislation that denounced the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement as antisemitic.
But the situation remains tense for German Jewry, Europe’s second-largest Jewish population. Just last week, Felix Klein, Germany’s government commissioner on antisemitism—a post for which AJC had advocated—warned Jews against wearing kippot (yarmulkes) in public to avoid being targeted by antisemites.
“Berlin, we have a problem,” Harris tweeted after the commissioner’s warning.
“Germany has been a leader in the fight against antisemitism. Yet if German Jews are being warned against wearing kippot in public, much more must clearly be done,” he said.
In an interview with CNN, Merkel expressed dismay over the fact that every synagogue and Jewish school across the country needs constant police protection.
“There is to this day not a single synagogue, not a single daycare center for Jewish children, not a single school for Jewish children that does not need to be guarded by German policemen,” she told CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour.
“We have to tell our young people what history has brought over us and others,” she said.’
In her letter to AJC, Merkel called the Shoah a “betrayal of all civilized values” and commended the organization for its efforts toward reconciliation and longstanding friendship.
“We can now share in delight at the fact that Jewish life is flourishing once again in Germany,” she said. “We are also united in opposing antisemitism, racism and xenophobia and championing human rights, democracy and pluralism in Germany, Europe, the United States and worldwide.”
“I wish you a successful AJC Global Forum 2019,” she said, “and greatly look forward to next year’s Global Forum in Berlin.”