Note: This article by Jeremy Havardi, Director of the London Bureau of International Affairs for B’nai B’rith UK first appear online for the Jewish News on January 16 2017 and can be found HERE.
Last week a German regional court upheld a legal ruling which found that an arson attack on a synagogue could not have been motivated by anti-Semitism. The incident in question occurred at the height of the 2014 Gaza war when 3 Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails at the Bergisch synagogue in the city of Wuppertal, following the end of Ramadan celebrations. Luckily no one was killed or injured in the attack. The original judges’ ruling, later backed by the higher court, was that there was insufficient evidence of anti-Semitic intent and that what these men had tried to do was bring “attention to the Gaza conflict”. The Palestinian perpetrators were deemed to be merely criminals, not racists.
Such a ruling naturally drives a coach and horses through any definition of anti-Semitism. By regarding this act as a form of political protest, the court’s judges have effectively legitimised and sanitised a racist crime against Jews. For a synagogue and its congregants are clearly no more on the front line of the Middle East conflict than a mosque and its worshippers. The very willingness to draw a connection between Jewish congregants in a synagogue and Israeli deeds, wrongful or otherwise, is itself anti-Semitic and depraved.
One can only imagine the reaction if a fanatic attacked a mosque, only to turn around to his accusers and declare that he was bringing attention to the global jihad. Such a deplorable act would be treated as a hate crime without a moment’s thought. The refusal to assign any racist motive to these perpetrators is both obscene and illogical.
It is sometimes said that by expressing overt support for Israel, the Jewish community makes itself a party to the conflict and invites the kind of ‘reprisals’ seen at Wuppertal. Yet such an argument, which is not uncommon, is deeply sinister. The notion that Jews should be silenced to avoid an incendiary backlash from Muslim extremists is tantamount to appeasing terror and aggression. It is an equally egregious denial of Jewish free expression.
No doubt, these Palestinian youths were incensed by what they saw as Israeli excesses, leaving aside the fact that it was Hamas which started the conflict for domestic reasons, that Hamas ignored multiple ceasefire requests, that Israel was battling a policy of human shields and that the IDF sought wherever possible to minimise civilian casualties. But the idea that their ‘anti-Israel’ feeling was purely political simply strains credulity when one considers the wider context.
In the course of protests against Israeli policy in 2014, protestors could be heard chanting “Hamas, Hamas, Juden ins gas!” (‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas!’) while another mob denounced “Scheiss Juden!’ (‘Jewish shit’).” In Berlin, Jews were told to “come out and fight on your own” and were addressed as “cowardly swine.” Such manifestations were in no way unique to Germany of course. An eruption of the most primitive anti-Semitic abuse could be heard at demonstrations against Israel across the world. Given such incendiary rhetoric, it is not surprising that three Palestinians targeted innocent Jews at prayer.
A key lesson from the 2014 Gaza war is that noxious anti-Semitism remains a potent part of the anti-Israeli brew and is, for some, its most intoxicating element. It is somewhat ironic that a German court failed to see this.