January 18th, 2017

"Questions of security have become more urgent"

Speech of Daniel Botmann, Executive Director of Central Council of Jews in Germany, at the reception during the European Forum on Antisemitism, 16.1.2017

Executive Director Daniel Botmann.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen!

What has been the sad reality in some of our neighbouring countries and since 2001 in the USA, also occured in Germany at the end of last year: an Islamist terrorist attack in our own country. The attack on the Christmas Market at the Gedächtniskirche in the heart of Berlin shocked us all deeply. The solidarity that Germany received from its allies and from friendly states was comforting. Victims of the attack are still fighting their injuries. For an Israeli family the attack meant the death of the mother of two children and very severe injuries for the father.

Security is therefore the overarching subject in Europe at the beginning of 2017. Both for the Jewish community in Germany, as well as for Europe as a whole, questions of security have become more urgent.

I therefore very much welcome that we focused on state initiatives against antisemitism and on security at this year’s meeting of the European Forum on Antisemitism! I would also like to convey greetings from our President Dr. Schuster!

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

for years the value attesting antisemitism in the population has been stable at 20 percent. Expressed in numbers that is around 16 million people who in some form or other think negatively about Jews and are prejudiced or also actively act in such a way.

16 million people in Germany – and there are just about 100,000 Jewish community members in Germany! That shows that antisemitism also works without Jews. It exists due to long-standing traditional stereotypes, ignorance, or pure malice. It does not matter what causes it and how it manifests itself: it is always dangerous.

New forms of antisemitism have joined the classic form of antisemitism that today is mainly found with right-wing extremists: antisemitism from the left, mainly manifesting itself in inflammatory criticism of Israel as well as the deep hatred of Jews and the State of Israel by Muslim extremists. We must also take into account that almost one million of the refugees Germany has received, grew up in states opposed to Israel.

This conflicting situation requires Jewish communities to be more vigilant. Almost throughout Germany the security measures in Jewish institutions had to be increased. This is, incidentally, connected with significant costs for many communities.

Similarly the communities need trained security personnel. The Central Council of Jews in Germany therefore regularly carries out trainings and seminars for the communities’ security personnel. Similarly we have introduced a new form of early warning system via SMS. In doing so, communities receive indications of possible threats from us at a very early stage.

We are not happy about these developments. Surely all of us gathered here today still had the hope ten or twenty years ago that the threat would become smaller and police protection for Jewish institutions could become superfluous.

This hope has been dissipated and now it is important to deal with the current situation soberly and soundly. Right-wing populists have unfortunately already stirred fear. As umbrella organisation of the Jewish communities in Germany, we believe that it is our task to support the communities and to represent our concerns at the political level.

In doing so, we have encountered open doors at the Federal Chancellery, the Federal Ministry of the Interior and at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. It can clearly be said of the present Federal Government that the protection of the Jewish community is really important to the top political representatives.

But it can also be clearly felt that all Federal German States have massively decreased the number of personnel in the police forces. And just as Israel does not rely on other countries to truly help in case of conflict, we also build on our strength, in addition to that of the police.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, it is one thing to provide security with trained personnel or structural measures. Yet another thing is just as important for us: We would like to contribute to peaceful coexistence and at the same time reduce prejudice toward Jews. As ultimately it should be our joint goal to deprive extremists of their intellectual breeding-ground!

We are therefore active on many levels with different projects in this respect. The Central Council of Jews in Germany is in touch with the Muslim community and openly states in this forum that the fight against antisemitism has to be intensified. Where possible, we use the possibilities of the rule of law – we bring charges against preachers of hate.

But we also help to build bridges. The Central Council of Jews in Germany is a member of the initiative „Weißt du, wer ich bin?“ (“Do you know who I am?”) which promotes Christians, Jewish and Muslim interreligious projects.

Our focus is particularly on young people – those who will shape the Germany of tomorrow. It is important to us to strengthen Jewish children’s and youths’ own identity. To thus empower them against hostility. To this end we run projects such as the Jewrovision, the biggest song and dance contest for Jewish youths in Europe.

We have recently also adopted a declaration together with the Standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs to improve the imparting of Judaism in school teaching. Often Jews are reduced to the Shoa and their status as victims in schools. It is our aim to achieve that – particularly in our immigration society – the rich Jewish culture, tradition and history is transmitted. We would also like to encourage meetings between young Jews and non-Jews at schools.

As the more we know about each other and the better we know and understand each other, the more difficult it will be for extremists to divide our society and to disseminate hatred.

In the following weeks we expect the latest report of the Antisemitism Commission. The expert’s recommendations for action have to be followed up! The Central Council of Jews in Germany will champion this.

This begins with not accepting the word “Jude” as an insult and that Jewish teachers receive their colleagues’ support. This means supporting both non-governmental initiatives such as RIAS, the research and information platform against antisemitism (“Recherche- und Informationsstelle gegen Antisemitismus”) as well as supporting initiatives or individuals committed to fighting right-wing extremisms. The Central Council of Jews in Germany regularly honours such people with the Paul Spiegel award for civil courage.

And finally an antisemitism commissioner should be appointed at federal level to expedite the implementation of recommendations.

Our commitment to fight antisemitism and for the security of the Jewish community is required on many levels. This is strenuous and not always easy. But it is worth it!

On that note I wish all of us courage, vigour and success this year!