PES­SIMISM GROWS IN LAND OF THE HOLO­CAUST

With al­most two at­tacks a day on Jews in Ger­many, there are calls to ad­dress the anti-Semitic threats which are of­ten ig­nored due to po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS | REVIEW - Derek Scally in Ber­lin

Once upon a time, Yo­rai Fein­berg was the man with Ber­lin’s best Is­raeli food. In his epony­mous res­tau­rant, the Is­raeli man’s eyes shine with de­light as he dis­cusses what makes his falafel – dark brown out­side, glow­ing emer­ald green inside – so good. But a wary shadow re­turns to his eyes, how­ever, when talk turns to his health and the at­tack.

“When I came here to Ber­lin six years ago it was very nice, drunk guys hugged me say­ing ‘ you’re wel­come’,” he says. “But now I don’t know.”

Just be­fore Christ­mas, hav­ing a smoke out­side his res­tau­rant, a man came over and be­came be­rat­ing him. In a six-minute video, shot by Fein­berg’s girl­friend, the 60-year-old shifts ef­fort­lessly from at­tack­ing Is­raeli pol­i­tics to­wards some­thing darker. If you want an in­struc­tional video in let­ting your anti-Semite mask fall, this is it.

“Money is all you Jews have on your mind,” the man shouted. “You’ll all land in your stupid gas cham­bers. No­body wants you here.”

Fein­berg hailed down pass­ing po­lice who de­tained the man and later charged him with defama­tion, in­cite­ment and re­sist­ing ar­rest. Five months on, Fein­berg is full of praise for the po­lice, who reg­u­larly pass by the res­tau­rant in a pa­trol car. And what be­came of the man? Fein­berg shrugs his shoul­ders.

Since Ger­man uni­fi­ca­tion in 1990, the pop­u­lar nar­ra­tive sur­round­ing anti-Semitism in Ger­many has been straight­for­ward: iso­lated in­ci­dents in­volv­ing young, drunk skin­heads in eastern Ger­many. Added to the nar­ra­tive in re­cent years are testos­terone- filled young men from fam­i­lies with Arab and Turk­ish roots.

But with al­most two at­tacks a day on Jews and Jewish venues in Ger­many now, and Jewish re­search groups doc­u­ment­ing many more, that nar­ra­tive no longer holds up.

In­golf Schaller, the man who at­tacked Fein­berg, is a grey-haired phys­io­ther­a­pist in western Ber­lin. Un­til re­cently he prac­tised in a 19th- cen­tury build­ing in a leafy res­i­den­tial street where, be­side the door, 20 brass “stum­bling stone” plaques re­call 20 Jewish res­i­dents of this build­ing mur­dered in Riga, There­sien­stadt and Auschwitz.

“I’m very un­happy with what hap­pened. I feel at­tacked by Fein­berg,” says Schaller.

Why? He felt “pro­voked” by the menora – the seven-armed Jewish can­de­labra – in the res­tau­rant win­dow. The video shows him point­ing to it, shout­ing, “I don’t want to see this here.”

Ask him to­day why not, and he says: “I’ve been apo­lit­i­cal for 40 years but Ne­tanyahu pol­i­tics make me fu­ri­ous.”

So fu­ri­ous that he felt en­ti­tled to blame Yo­rai Fein­berg per­son­ally, bring up gas cham­bers and threaten Jews in Ger­many with geno­cide?

“That’s not like me,” he says cryp­ti­cally be­fore end­ing the con­ver­sa­tion.

Given Ger­many’s tragic past, it’s not sur­pris­ing that me­dia re­ports about Jewish life here of­ten ac­cen­tu­ate the pos­i­tive: young Is­raelis em­brac­ing the he­do­nis­tic free­doms of the coun­try their grand­par­ents fled.

But no feel-good re­portage can change how, though grow­ing, the Jewish pop­u­la­tion to­day is still less than half that of 1933, at about 270,000. Of­fi­cial fig­ures sug­gest to­day’s Ger­many has as many Bud­dhists as Jews.

There is a more pes­simistic counter-nar­ra­tive, that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the land of the Holo­caust. De­spite po­lice guards on sy­n­a­gogues and Jewish build­ings, it’s a nar­ra­tive many would rather over­look.

If a rabbi is at­tacked or an Is­raeli cou­ple spat on near the Bran­den­burg Gate, all such events are brushed off, after two days of out­rage, as re­gret­table one- off in­ci­dents. But pres­sure is build­ing now for Ger­many to ad­dress an anti- Semitic triple threat.

The first threat is from asy­lum seek­ers and refugees raised in Syria and other coun­tries where Is­rael, Ju­daism and Zion- ism are mixed to­gether and served up with mother’s milk.

The ef­fects were clear two weeks ago when a 20-year-old Is­raeli stu­dent, Adam Ar­moush, wore a kippa on the street to prove to a friend how safe Ber­lin was for Jews. He was set upon by three Arab-speak­ing men, in­clud­ing a 19-year-old Palestinian man raised in Syria and now a refugee in Ger­many, who flogged him with his belt shout­ing yahudi – Ara­bic for jew.

The sec­ond anti- Semitic threat is from young sec­ond- and third-gen­er­a­tion men from im­mi­grant fam­i­lies raised on satel­lite tele­vi­sion from Turkey and neigh­bour­ing coun­tries that mixes anti-Jewish stereo­types with de­mands to ex­ter­mi­nate Is­rael for its Palestinian pol­i­tics.

Reg­u­lar Pales­tine sol­i­dar­ity marches in ma­jor Ger­man cities of­ten de­scend into young men, un­der the eye of po­lice, burn­ing Is­rael flags and chant­ing slo­gans like “Jew! Jew! Cowardly pig!”

This sec­ond threat has now reached Ger­man s chools. Ear­lier t hi s month, 15-year-old Ber­liner Liam Rück­ert, tired of deal­ing with “shitty Jew” re­marks and death threats in school, told the Bild tabloid he was now mov­ing to board­ing school in Is­rael.

“The [Ber­lin] school board had no un­der­stand­ing at all for my son’s sit­u­a­tion,” says his mother, Billy Rück­ert.

Anti- Semitic bul­ly­ing and threats against Jewish chil­dren in schools are now com­mon­place, par­ents com­plain, as are prin­ci­pals who view Jews as a greater risk to a school’s rep­u­ta­tion than the bul­lies.

Vladislava Zde­senko, a Ber­lin lawyer, has urged Jewish par­ents to come for­ward and press charges to in­crease po­lit­i­cal pres­sure for greater action and ed­u­ca­tion work.

“We have pri­mary school chil­dren beat­ing up Jewish pupils,” she said. “We can only act re­pres­sively, by pur­su­ing their par­ents.”

She sees the grow­ing sit­u­a­tion in Ger­many as part of a wider prob­lem in Europe: how to re­act when one group at­tacks western fun­da­men­tal val­ues to at­tack an­other group? But Ger­many suf­fers from a unique “mis­un­der­stood po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” to­wards mi­nori­ties, she ar­gues: a lack of will to de­fend – and im­pose – the non-ne­go­tiable so­cial con­tract that emerged from the painful lessons of its own his­tory.

“We find our­selves in a cul- de- sac over what do when our so­ci­etal con­sen­sus is tested by one eth­nic or re­li­gious group at­tack­ing a mi­nor­ity: Jews, women, ho­mo­sex­u­als,” she said.

The para­dox of Ger­many’s “never again” lip ser­vice be­came clear this month when an Echo prize – the lo­cal equiv­a­lent of a Grammy – went to a rapper duo who sang about hav­ing bod­ies “more de­fined than an Auschwitz prisoner”.

It took two weeks – and dozens of re­turned prizes from pre­vi­ous win­ners – for the prize com­mit­tee to abol­ish the awards on Thurs­day in their cur­rent form.

That move was crit­i­cised hours later as a re­brand­ing ex­er­cise by those filling an en­tire city block of Ber­lin’s Fasa­nen­strasse for a sol­i­dar­ity demon­stra­tion: “Ber­lin wears the kippa”.

It was a his­tor­i­cally bur­dened site for a demo: be­tween the post- war sy­n­a­gogue that re­placed the orig­i­nal struc­ture burned in Nazi-or­gan­ised loot­ing in 1938, and a ho­tel seized from its Jewish own­ers a year ear­lier. The date was his­toric, too: 85 years ago to the day since the Nazis passed a law squeez­ing Jews out of uni­ver­si­ties.

Ber­lin mayor Michael Müller told the kippa-wear­ing crowd that “our fun­da­men­tal val­ues are non- ne­go­tiable” but, asked about his con­crete plans to de­fend th­ese rights, he talked in­stead of the need for “every­one to be alert, ev­ery day, ev­ery­where”.

In a speech Josef Schus­ter, head of the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of Jews in Ger­many, called out po­lit­i­cal lip ser­vice and took a swipe, too, at ef­forts by the far-right Al­ter­na­tive für Deutsch­land ( AfD) to hi­jack anti-Semitic at­tacks for their anti-Mus­lim poli­cies.

“We’ve had enough,” he said, de­mandi ng “1 00 per c ent r es­pect” f or al l mi­nori­ties in Ger­many. He warned that “pour­ing a sauce of harmony over ev­ery- thing will not do our so­ci­ety any good”.

As the demo broke up, many Jews in the crowd said the rea­son they were not even more anti-Semitic at­tacks in Ger­many was be­cause they had learned to be scrupu­lously dis­creet.

“It’s not brave to wear the kippa at this demo but it would be to wear it home,” said Myr­iam, a 68 year-old Ber­liner, watch­ing the crowd re­mov­ing their hats as they left.

Back in the cel­lar-cum-of­fice of his Ber­lin res­tau­rant, sur­rounded by bot­tles of oil and kosher wine, Yo­rai Fein­berg looks like a man in a nu­clear bunker, await­ing dis­as­ter.

After last De­cem­ber’s at­tack he was touched by a groundswell of sup­port from Ber­lin­ers. Now he is tired.

Ev­ery day his res­tau­rant gets an­swer­ing ma­chine book­ings, in ac­cented Ger­man, like: “Fuck off Jews. We will put you in the oven and kill you. Heil Hitler.”

Pulling out his mo­bile phone he shows a se­ries of on­line book­ings, in­clud­ing one from Adolf Hitler per­son­ally, us­ing the made- up email ad­dress such as “besserohne- j uden@ deutsch­land. de” ( Bet­ter-with­out-Jews).

After seven decades, Ger­many is seek­ing a new booster in­jec­tion for its “never again” vac­cine against the old anti-Semitic virus – for refugees, Turk­ish- Ger­man youths and even age­ing Ger­man phys­io­ther­a­pists l i ke In­golf Schaller. Five months ago, he shouted at Fein­berg: “No one will help you. In 10 years, you’ll get what’s com­ing to you.”

Ber­lin’s state pros­e­cu­tor said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion against Schaller was on­go­ing and that a de­ci­sion was “im­mi­nent” on whether to pro­ceed with the charge of in­cite­ment.

Emerg­ing from his bunker, wear­ing his kippa and a tired smile, Fein­berg says he was “very dis­ap­pointed” with the state pros­e­cu­tor.

“Will there be Jews liv­ing in Ger­many in a decade?” he won­ders aloud. “I don’t know.”

Many Jews in the crowd said the rea­son there are not even more anti-Semitic at­tacks in Ger­many is be­cause they have learned to be scrupu­lously dis­creet

PHO­TO­GRAPH: TO­BIAS SCH­WARZ/AFP/GETTY

A par­tic­i­pant in the “Ber­lin wears kippa” rally. A 20-year-old Is­raeli stu­dent wear­ing a kippa was at­tacked two weeks ago by three Arab- speak­ing men in the Ger­man cap­i­tal.

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