Researchers find Germany refugees ‘willing to change antisemitic views’

Study led by historian Günther Jikeli spoke to 72 refugees from Syria and Iraq about their views on integration and antisemitism


‘Tis the season of glittering Christmas markets and giant Chabad menorahs. But there is also tension in the air in Germany.

Never has security been tighter than at this year’s inaugural Chanukah ceremony at the Brandenburg Gate, where Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal and Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller lit the first candle together behind metal barricades and a virtual wall of police vans.

Only days before, virulently anti-Israel demonstrations had filled the same plaza with smoke from burning flags.

The demonstrations were reportedly organised and attended by activists from Berlin’s longstanding Palestinian community. They raised questions about how common antisemitic and anti-democratic views are among new refugees and how vulnerable they might be to the influence of Muslims who grew up here in Germany.

This is a potentially explosive mixture, according to Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations, in Berlin.

A newly released study commissioned by the institute suggests that while classic and political antisemitism are widespread among refugees, there is a window of opportunity to reach them, and to steer them clear of entrenched antisemitism among some Muslims here.

It’s not too late, according to the analysis, which found “a readiness among some refugees to question the attitudes they have learned in their home countries”.

This should be used an opportunity for outreach, according to historian Günther Jikeli, who prepared the report on the attitudes of Iraqi and Syrian refugees towards integration, identity, Jews and the Holocaust.

The report released this week, entitled “Attitudes of Refugees from Syria and Iraq towards Integration, Identity, Jews and the Holocaust”, comes just as two prominent non-Jewish feminists grappled with similar questions.

Rather than focusing on Muslims in general, the two women pointed to political, radicalised Islam as the problem.

In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Monday, the two women — French philosopher Elisabeth Badinter and German journalist Alice Schwarzer — agreed that antisemitism among Muslims in their countries had increased, particularly among younger generations.

But while Ms Badinter said that perpetrators in France are more likely to have been born there to immigrant parents, Ms Schwarzer said the problem in Germany is usually attributable to newcomers from Arab countries, rather than to the millions of Muslims of Turkish background whose families have been here for decades.

The extreme problem “is new, and fuelled by political Islam,” Ms Schwarzer said.

More than a million Muslim refugees have come to Germany from war-torn regions in the Middle East since the summer of 2015. Terrorist attacks and sex crimes attributed to refugees — sometimes wrongly — have shaken confidence in Angela Merkel’s government and seen the rise of the far right.

For his study, Dr Jikeli interviewed 58 men and 14 women refugees from Syria and Iraq. Most were identified through aid workers as especially open to being interviewed. Aside from questions about integration in general, the subjects were asked their opinions of antisemitic images and about whether they were prepared to question some of their own prejudices, based on new experiences in Germany.

While most had positive impressions of Germany, many seemed to believe in conspiracy theories about Jews or Israel controlling the world.

Dr Jikeli found that “antisemitic thinking and stereotyping are very common in the interviews, even among those who emphasize that they ‘respect’ Judaism or that there is no problem living together between Muslims, Christians and Jews in their countries of origin and in Germany.”

Though the results are “shocking”, the study also underscores that “not all refugees are alike, and our understanding needs to be much more nuanced,” said Ms Berger.

“This study serves as an important contribution in that direction.”

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