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Manfred Gerstenfeld on Deutsche Zustände, edited by Wilhelm Heitmeyer

Filed under: Antisemitism
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review 18:1-2 (Spring 2006)

This series of books analyzes issues in Germany related to “group-targeted misanthropy” (GMF).1 This term includes categories such as racism, anti-Semitism, hatred of foreigners, homeless, homosexuals, and Muslims, as well as sexism. Though anti-Semitism is mentioned in the first two books as well, it is a major topic only in the third.

The editor, Wilhelm Heitmeyer, is head of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Conflict and Violence Research at the University of Bielefeld. In the third book, he defines four key questions concerning GMF (p. 17): (1) Can connections be identified between its various elements? (2) To what extent does GMF undermine the dignity of weak groups? (3) What explains the development, strengthening, and expansion of hostile mentalities and attitudes toward groups? (4) What changes occur in the magnitude and interrelations of GMF over the course of time?

Five articles are devoted to anti-Semitism in this volume. Aribert Heyder, Julia Iser, and Peter Schmidt discuss whether the criticism of Israeli policy is related to the increase in anti-Semitic attitudes in Germany (pp. 144ff.) They do so mainly by analyzing the GMF 2004 survey findings, which are based on a poll of 2,656 representatively selected German-speaking people in Germany (p. 17).

Thirty-two percent of those interviewed agreed – or “largely agreed” – with the statement: “Because of Israel’s policies I have increasing antipathy toward Jews” (p. 151). Forty-four percent concurred with the assertion: “Because of Israel’s policies I can well understand that people have something against Jews.”

Sixty-one percent of those polled confirmed that: “I am fed up hearing again and again about the German crimes against the Jews.” Sixty-eight percent agreed with the allegation: “Israel undertakes a war of destruction against the Palestinians.” Fifty-one percent shared the opinion: “The way the state of Israel acts toward the Palestinians is in principle no different from the Nazis’ behavior in the Third Reich toward the Jews.”

Several of these statements are core anti-Semitic ones according to the definition of Jew-hatred that is commonly used by international bodies. These findings indicate that, once again, the majority of Germans hold anti-Semitic stereotypes and particularly those characterizing the new anti-Semitism that targets Israel.

In another essay, Werner Bergmann and Wilhelm Heitmeyer ask whether negative attitudes toward Jews in Germany are on the rise (p. 224.) They mention the longstanding taboo in Germany against expressing such prejudices in public. This is now broken by various elites, the mass media, and those who try to sanitize the country’s history.

Bergmann and Heitmeyer confirm a trend mentioned by many others. In meetings of this author with Germans who see it as their duty to keep the memory of their country’s misdeeds alive, these often mention that they are in a minority and that many other Germans view their activities negatively. Elsewhere in this journal, Andrei Markovits analyzes how in Germany a new “uninihibitedness” toward the Jews has emerged that fuses “old” and “new” anti-Semitism.2

Two case studies deal with specific incidents. Inge G?nther and Axel Vornbäumen tell the story of the sixty-old-year Jewish owner of a grocery store in Berlin who in 2003 left Germany for Israel. His business had been ruined earlier in the year by German skinheads and Arab youngsters (p. 175). His clients began to stay away after excrement and filth were regularly placed before his door, his shop window was broken, and on the walls graffiti such as “Gas the Jews” and “Jews should leave” appeared. The authorities did not intervene. (In the second book, the early stages of this case had already been discussed.) The authors observe that this is a contemporary recurrence of the prewar campaign for boycotts of Jewish businesses.

Another case study by Florian Oel analyzes the opposition of several neighbors to the planned Jewish community center in Leipzig. They appeal to the judiciary, with various pretexts, to prevent its establishment. All appeals have so far been rejected, but new ones are regularly made (p. 193).

The book concludes with an interview with the non-Jewish actress Iris Berben, who takes pro-Israeli positions. Her experience confirms findings of the other authors. She relates that while in the past she received many anonymous anti-Semitic letters, they now often bear the senders’ names (p. 268).

Opinion polls in the last few years have corroborated that there is substantial German anti-Semitism. This book confirms many of the anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli tendencies that recently have become more visible in German society. One major incident occurred when the late Jurgen M?llemann – then a key figure of the liberal FDP party – in the 2002 parliamentary elections made Israel, Ariel Sharon, and the then German Jewish leader Michael Friedman major targets in his campaign.

In a past issue of this journal, the historian Susanne Urban mentioned that anti-Semitism in Germany includes certain varieties: pre-Auschwitz anti-Semitism, neo-Nazi anti-Semitism, neoliberal anti-Semitism, leftist anti-Semitism, “anti-Semitism disguised by general reflexive ‘criticism’ of Israeli policies,” and “anti-Semitism and, hence, anti-Zionism as part of the new German claim of having been victims in WW II.”3

Today many in the German mainstream are trying to remove the Holocaust from the country’s history. Probably the more they do so, the more doubts they will raise as to what most Germans have truly learned from their nation’s problematic past.

Major efforts have been made to reeducate the population of a country whose behavior during World War II has become a paradigm for absolute evil. For several decades it seemed that this had largely succeeded, and where it had not, this concerned a relative limited minority.

This book brings additional proof that this conclusion may have been premature and that in the postwar generations anti-Semitic stereotypes are strongly resurgent. The attention to anti-Semitism in Germany will increasingly have to shift from historians to political scientists and sociologists in view of the new, negative intellectual and cultural infrastructure being laid in society. The increase in group-targeted misanthropy, whose consequences are unforeseeable, will have to be monitored much more carefully in the coming years.

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1. The German term is Gruppenbezogene Menschenfeindlichkeit.

2. Andrei S. Markovits, “A New (or Perhaps Revived) ‘Uninhibitedness’ toward Jews in Germany.”

3. Susanne Urban, “Anti-Semitism in Germany Today: Its Roots and Tendencies,” Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 16, Nos. 1 & 2 (Fall 2004), p. 128.