The Cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel approved a bill last week requiring social media companies to report to police and take every action to remove social media posts that glorify or threaten violence or express hate speech.
Companies that fail to remove illegal posts could face fines up to $54 million. Under the proposed legislation, which still requires the approval of both houses of Germany’s parliament, individuals who use social media to threaten physical harm to other people or their property will face harsher punishments. The legislation would also ensure longer sentences for crimes with antisemitic motivations, a provision that was added in after the attack on the Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur.
The legislation would allow the German government to collect IP addresses from users whose posts violate the law and obtain users passwords in cases of terrorism and murder. Minister of Justice Christine Lambrecht explained that the legislation is designed to “dry up the breeding ground where this extremism flourishes.”
The cabinet’s approval of the legislation come amid a tumultuous time for minorities in Germany. On Wednesday evening, the same day as the cabinet approval, a far-right extremist killed 10 people in Hanau, Germany. In the wake of the attack, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder called for “more effective measures by the police and authorities to protect the lives of Germany’s minorities.”
A poll commissioned by the World Jewish Congress together with Schoen Consulting last year found that one in four Germans hold antisemitic beliefs, including 41% of respondents who agreed that "Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Germany.” The results prompted President Lauder to say that antisemitism has reached “crisis point” in Germany. Despite the overall troubling findings of the report, there were some signs of optimism. Strong majorities agreed that there was a rise in hostile behavior towards Jewish people and that something should be done to combat it.
In September 2017, Germany adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. President Lauder has been an outspoken advocate of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, saying it “allows governments to carefully analyze antisemitic incidents within a universal standard, thus bypassing any argument of ambiguity, and enabling a swifter and more comprehensive response to any event as it arises.”
In November 2019, President Lauder honored Chancellor Merkel with the 2019 WJC Theodor Herzl Award, which recognizes outstanding individuals who work to promote Herzl’s ideals for a safer, more tolerant world for the Jewish people. The award ceremony was held at the Jewish community center in Munich, co-hosted by President of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria & WJC Commissioner for Holocaust Memory Dr. Charlotte Knobloch.
During his remarks, President Lauder praised Chancellor Merkel for her leadership, telling the Chancellor, “You are the guardian of democracy, the guardian of civilization and the guardian of Europe… you have always supported the Jewish community in this country.”