Call for minorities to unite against far-right mobs in Chemnitz

Jewish groups say they are 'very frightened' by developments in eastern Germany and beyond


Last week’s violent anti-migrant demonstrations in the city of Chemnitz, triggered by the August 26 murder of a German man — allegedly by two migrants — revealed the dark underbelly of right-wing populism in Germany once again.

Hours after the murder of Daniel Hillig, far-right activists announced a demonstration aimed at showing who is in charge in Chemnitz, a city of a quarter million in the former East German state of Saxony.

Over two days, neo-Nazis harassed, chased and beat people on the streets they considered to be foreigners. Some videos also caught right-extremists attacking police.

Officers had to resort to using water cannon to subdue some rioters. Politicians across the mainstream spectrum expressed concern about the state’s failure to stop the violence sooner.

But although Jews per se were not under attack in this case, Jewish leaders and activists worry about a threat to the democratic values that make life possible for them in Germany.

Most seemed especially concerned about the far-right’s use of the murder for propaganda, attacking foreigners in general because the two men charged with manslaughter are of Syrian and Iraqi descent.

In an essay for Germany’s Jewish weekly Jüdische Allgemeine, Nora Goldenbogen, head of the Dresden Jewish community and of a regional association of Saxony Jewish communities, said she was “very frightened” by developments in Chemnitz and beyond.

“We are experiencing an escalation and radicalisation to a previously unknown degree,” she wrote. “We see how quickly right-wing radicals can organise. This has taken on a new quality.”

Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, accused the far-right political party Alternative for Germany (AfD) — the first such party to be represented in the Bundestag — of making political hay from the tragedy and urged mainstream parties to shun its anti-migrant agenda.

The riots “confirm two fears,” Mr Schuster said in a statement: “Firstly, that a fairly large number of people can be mobilised quickly for anti-democratic demonstrations. And secondly, an alarmingly great number of people will not hesitate to hunt down certain groups of people based on rumours and call for vigilante justice.” 

Deidre Berger, head of the American Jewish Committee office in Berlin, praised citizens who stood up to the right-wingers.

But she told the JC that “the longer the demonstrations continue, attracting members of the far-right from throughout Germany, the greater the sense of unease that antisemitism can erupt at any moment. This is a difficult moment for Jews living in Germany.”

“At first glance these incidents appear not to have anything to do with Jews,” added Sigmount Königsberg, Berlin Jewish community commissioner against antisemitism.

“But for one thing, there were neo-Nazi groups calling for freedom for Ursula Haverbeck,” he said, referring to an 89-year-old convicted Holocaust denier currently in prison.

“And secondly, even if these people at first say nothing against Jews, if they are against Muslims then they are also against Jews. They have a volkisch notion of white supremacy.” Völkisch equality was a concept with Nazism that excluded legal rights from people not of German or similar heritage.

Elio Adler, Berlin-based co-founder of Valies Initiative, a Jewish-German advocacy group, said the German state’s inability to curb violence from both the far right and far left weakenedits legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

He said public concern about how the government handles foreigners who commit crimes is legitimate, but added: “the tone of some of the protests completely drowned out the [serious] content. The main point should have been about mourning the death of the victim, and about strengthening the constitutional state and upholding its laws and decisions.

“Instead, the death was instrumentalised for an agenda of hate and exclusion,” Mr Adler said.

“The essence of democracy is under attack,” said Mr Koenigsberg. “Jewish life in all its diversity can only blossom freely in an open and democratic society. It is absolutely urgent that we defend our democracy.”

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