Get involved if you experience antisemitism | Op-ed by Commissioner for Jewish Life and the Fight Against Antisemitism in Germany Dr. Felix Klein

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Get involved if you experience antisemitism | Op-ed by Commissioner for Jewish Life and the Fight Against Antisemitism in Germany Dr. Felix Klein

(c) Shahar Azran / World Jewish Congress

Commissioner for Jewish Life and the Fight Against Antisemitism in Germany Dr. Felix Klein writes that with the recent surge in antisemitic conspiracy myths and imagery surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, German citizens should become active in the fight against antisemitism. 

The coronavirus crisis is currently demanding a high level of adaptability from all of us. Again and again, we must react quickly, both in the political and psychological spheres, while remaining flexible and restricting ourselves in various ways in order to protect our society as a whole, as well as each and every individual.

But it is not just about protecting yourself and others from the virus. Some people are now more susceptible to irrational explanations: Conspiracy myths are currently booming. These "theories" – which are rather clumsy and very simplistic– often blame "the Jews" or Israel for the crisis.

The current protests against the government’s response to the coronavirus are clearly a magnet for those who believe in or propagate conspiracy myths and others who espouse very different extreme attitudes: Opponents of vaccination are marching in strange agreement with right-wing extremists, antisemites, and Holocaust deniers. The rebelliousness being demonstrated by the new Resistance 2020 party and the Reich Citizens is typical of antisemitic thinking: an attitude of breaking the taboo to "finally" reveal the truth about who "pulls the strings" in the background. And, as has been the case for thousands of years, it affects Jews today.

The desire for scapegoats

Allusions to secret plans, schemes, and the invisible power of Jewish financial capital or the Mossad are spreading widely, not only offline, but online. I was dismayed to hear that misinformation and conspiracy theories are now being expressed even in church circles. According to the latest Leipzig study on authoritarianism, about a third of Germans are inclined towards the "conspiracy mentality," with this percentage being significantly higher— two thirds—among members of right-wing parties.

The more fragile social cohesion is, the greater fear and insecurity become; the more spaces for physical social exchange shrink, the more people turn to scapegoating. The fear of the invisible virus is combined with the desire to identify specific culprits. This is a basic mechanism of antisemitic thinking.

This fear-driven aggression is extremely dangerous. History has shown that even during epidemics such as the medieval plague, the Jewish population was quickly blamed and in turn became the victim of pogroms. The racialization of modern antisemitism in the 19th century resulted in the National Socialist attempt to wipe out the Jewish population in its entirety. Even after 9/11, there was a significant increase in antisemitic conspiracy myths., In addition to Orthodox Jews, Israelis, and  Jews  in general, Asian-looking people are now also being targeted because of conspiracy ideologies related to the coronavirus crisis

The recent deadly attacks in our country demonstrate that the search for a scapegoat can have life-threatening consequences: The Hanau assassin was a follower of "QAnon," a right-wing conspiracy “theory” from the United States which also meets with the approval of many right here in this country. The connection between the belief in conspiracies and the propensity to violence has been proven by the latest studies. In this context, figures that have been published by the Federal Ministry of the Interior since 2017 under the main heading of “hate posts” are worrying: In 2018, 1,472 such crimes were registered. More than half of all registered hate postings were characterized as incitement (58.8 percent), followed by insults and incitement to commit crimes.

That is why it is so important for the legal situation here to adapt quickly. The federal government's package of measures is aimed precisely at this problem. I am confident that the combination of deterrence and education can achieve a lot here. We must not allow a growing element of society to withdraw into a self-referential, parallel-news universe in which supporters of absurd and corrosive ideas reinforce each other in a manner that is far from rational and does not conform to reality.

After all, it is about cohesion in times of crisis. Such cohesion cannot be prescribed from top-down. We are all required to react in everyday life when confronted with conspiracy theories and antisemitism. Examine things critically; Get involved! Every individual counts in this battle against viruses and antisemitism and for an open and unified society.

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