The number of anti-Semitic hate crimes in Germany surged to a two-decade high in 2020, according to new statistics released by the German government. Anti-Semitism in Germany has been steadily growing in recent years, fueled in part by far-left anti-Israel activists and by mass migration from the Muslim world. The problem is now being exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic, which far-right conspiracy theorists are blaming on both Jews and Israel.
German police reported a total of 2,275 anti-Semitic hate crimes — an average of six per day — in 2020, according to preliminary data provided by the federal government. The tally represents a more than 10% increase over the number of anti-Semitic crimes reported in 2019, itself a record-breaking year for such offenses. The official numbers represent only the crimes reported to the police; the actual number of incidents is presumably much bigger.
The new data, published on February 11 by the newspaper Tagesspiegel, shows that police were able to identify 1,367 suspects — but that only five individuals were ultimately arrested. The statistics also show that 55 (roughly 2.5%) of the crimes involved violence. This implies that most of the other incidents appear to involve anti-Semitic hate speech on the internet, property damage or propaganda crimes such as anti-Jewish graffiti.
The number of anti-Semitic crimes registered in 2020 was the highest since the Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA) introduced the so-called Politically Motivated Crime (Politisch motivierte Kriminalität, PMK) recording system in 2001.
Identifying the Perpetrators
It remains unclear why so few perpetrators have faced legal consequences for their crimes, especially when government officials repeatedly claim that fighting anti-Semitism is a top priority. A reason may be that it is politically incorrect to identify the true suspects.
The anti-Semitism statistics for 2020 do not include information about the backgrounds of the perpetrators. Tagesspiegel, as is common with German media outlets, automatically blamed the far-right:
"From the point of view of the police, most anti-Semitic crimes can be attributed to right-wing perpetrators. Islamist, left-wing and other Jew haters are only a small minority in the statistics."
Independent studies, however, have found that right-wing extremists have been responsible for only a fraction of anti-Semitic attacks in Germany in recent years. The Berlin-based Research and Information Center on Antisemitism (Recherche- und Informationsstelle Antisemitismus, RIAS), for instance, reported that that the far-right was responsible for less than 20% of anti-Semitic hate crimes in Berlin in 2018.
A 2017 survey of German Jews by the University of Bielefeld found that 60% of anti-Semitic attacks were said to have been carried out by Muslims, compared to 19% by far-left extremists and 19% by far-right perpetrators. Muslims were also said to be responsible for 81% of anti-Semitic attacks involving physical violence. The survey found that 70% of German Jews believe that mass migration from the Muslim world has fueled anti-Semitism in Germany.
Nevertheless, German police, possibly under orders from political authorities, systematically assign unsolved anti-Semitic hate crimes to the far right. In one well-known case, police blamed far-right extremists for chanting the Nazi slogan "Sieg Heil" at an Islamist al-Quds rally in Berlin.
The director of RIAS, Benjamin Steinitz, said that slogans like "Sieg Heil" or "Jews out," which are automatically attributed to right-wing extremists, are also popular in Islamist circles. He added that most anti-Semitic incidents are attributed to German citizens, but the statistics do not reveal whether they are Muslim immigrants who have obtained German citizenship.
An April 2017 report by the Independent Expert Group on Anti-Semitism (Unabhängigen Expertenkreises Antisemitismus), which advises the German government, found:
"Xenophobic and anti-Semitic crimes are always assigned to the far right if no further specifics can be identified and for which no suspects have been identified. This may result in a distorted picture of the motivation for the crime and its perpetrators."
In May 2019, after the German Interior Ministry blamed 90% of the anti-Semitic attacks in Germany on "right-wing" perpetrators, the influential German blog Tichys Einblick wrote:
"The number of anti-Semitic acts in Germany has increased to a worrying degree.... This includes anti-Semitic graffiti or damage, threats against Jews or physical, violent assaults. Anti-Semitism is shameful for the whole country. In the statistics, 90% of the crimes are right-wing extremist perpetrators. But... most of the perpetrators are anonymous and are never caught. How do you know whether a swastika graffiti or an insult against Jews comes from right-wing German perpetrators? The police simply 'suspect' this.
"Only recently, a parliamentary inquiry revealed that a large part of the anti-Semitic crimes there — 120 of 253 cases — were assigned to the 'right' in the statistics, although the perpetrators' motives were unknown....
"The well-known historian and anti-Semitism expert Michael Wolfssohn described Muslim anti-Semitism as the most dangerous threat to Jews in Germany and Europe.
"Why are the majority of anti-Semitic acts attributed to 'right-wing' German perpetrators? One can see a political motive behind this — growing anti-Semitism can be used politically as a weapon 'against the right.'"
In July 2019, after police provided the German Senate with inaccurate statistics on the perpetrators of anti-Semitic hate crimes, the newspaper Die Welt wrote:
"There has been criticism from experts for a long time that the allocation of the vast majority of anti-Semitism cases to right-wing extremist perpetrators is incorrect and that other groups of perpetrators, for example from Islamist and other Muslim circles, are given too little attention."
In January 2021, Israel's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs wrote about anti-Semitism in Germany:
"Police sometimes don't even interfere in antisemitic incidents and instead stand nearby watching. In most cases, they don't react because they don't recognize an antisemitic incident or don't understand that expressing antisemitic statements is a problem, and thus don't see any reason to interfere. This lack of awareness also leads to the fact that most complaints by victims of antisemitic crimes are not being processed by the police.
"In addition to this, the police continue to assign antisemitic incidents to the 'Right' when no further specifications are identifiable, and the suspects are unknown. The Bundestag [Parliamentary] reports, which are based on the data reported by the police, attribute the overwhelming majority (94%) of incidents to rightwing motives. As in previous years, this number is being contested by organizations monitoring antisemitism, politicians, Jewish leaders and experts, as well as the Federal Commissioner for Antisemitism, who argue that the police's system of categorizing incidents leads to a distorted picture concerning the motive and the perpetrators' circle, and thus hampers effective policy making."
In 2020, the highest-profile anti-Semitic incident in Germany involved the Chief Rabbi of Munich, Shmuel Aharon Brodman. On July 9, while exiting a tram, he was verbally assaulted by four men who insulted him and made disparaging comments about the State of Israel. According to Brodman, the men spoke both English and Arabic. Police later said that the alleged suspects were between 20 and 30 years of age and of Arab descent.
To be sure, the far-right also bears responsibility for anti-Semitism in Germany — just not all of it, as is often claimed. One of Germany's leading anti-Semitism scholars, Monica Schwarz-Friesel, has noted that what makes the far right particularly frightening — and therefore more newsworthy — is that they are completely open about their hatred of Jews and Israel. By contrast, she said, Jew haters on the far left tend to shroud their anti-Semitism behind the guise of anti-Zionism and Palestinian activism.
The surge in anti-Semitism in Germany in 2020 is also related to the Coronavirus pandemic, which fringe groups are using as a pretext to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Some of the conspiracy theories consist of medieval anti-Jewish scapegoating repackaged for a modern pandemic. A common claim is that Jews manufactured the Coronavirus to advance their supposed global control.
Most Coronavirus-related anti-Semitism is spread on the internet. A comprehensive assessment of Coronavirus-related anti-Semitism in Germany can be found in the 2020 Annual Report on Anti-Semitism published by Israel's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs on January 27, 2021:
"In 2020, a total of 42.3K German posts, written by 11.24K users, were categorized as antisemitic by the ACMS [Anti-Semitism Cyber Monitoring System]. New Antisemitism [manifested as opposition to Zionism and criticism of the Israeli government] (39.1%) and Classic Antisemitism [manifested as demonization of Jews, Jewish conspiracy theories and call for explicit violence against Jews] (40.5%) accounted for almost the same share of antisemitic discourse, and Holocaust Denial and Distortion accounted for 20.4%....
"The number of posts featuring Holocaust trivialization and antisemitic conspiracy theories referencing Covid-19 have been on the rise since March. The most common types of antisemitic posts relate to different forms of conspiracy theories and among them 53.4% contained Classic Antisemitism....
"Other altered antisemitic codes include theories surrounding 'Jewish influence,' and claims the pandemic serves the Jews to amass enormous profits from the vaccines, and thus take over the world's economy, and ultimately, world domination....
"Well-known Jewish personalities such as members of the Rothschild family or George Soros are referred to as backers, masterminds, or profiteers of the pandemic because of their alleged influence on the pharmaceutical industry.
"Anti-vaxxers also compare alleged 'vaccination stations' to Auschwitz, and claim that the police are developing a dictatorship which will persecute those who refuse the vaccine by sending them to concentration camps...."
As in other European countries, central and local governments in Germany have tried to contain the pandemic with lockdowns and other severe restrictions on personal movement. The extended social distancing measures, which have caused widespread economic and financial distress, have sparked anti-government protests.
Germans opposed to government lockdowns hail from across the political spectrum: this is not a strictly left or right issue, but one of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly to protest against what many perceive to be a massive government assault on civil liberties.
Some of the protests are being organized by a small but growing grassroots movement called Querdenker ("Unconventional Thinkers" or "Out-of-the-Box Thinkers") that opposes German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "Merkill Corona dictatorship."
The Querdenker movement was founded by Michael Ballweg, a Stuttgart-based software entrepreneur, to pressure the Merkel government to lift the Coronavirus-related restrictions on basic constitutional rights. It's manifesto states:
"We insist on the first 20 articles of our constitution: human rights; personal rights; freedom of belief and conscience; freedom of opinion; freedom of assembly; freedom of movement. We are non-partisan and do not exclude any opinion."
The movement, which now has 70 branches across Germany, has organized more than 100 Coronavirus protests, which, according to the group, have been attended by at least 100,000 people.
One of the largest Querdenker demonstrations to date took place in Berlin on August 29, 2020. An estimated 40,000 people — libertarians, constitutionalists, Greens, esoterics, naturopaths, LGBT activists, pandemic deniers, anti-vaccine and anti-mask activists and families with children — gathered to protest the government's Coronavirus policies. The protests turned violent after being infiltrated by several hundred far-right agitators waving Nazi-era flags.
Since then, dozens of anti-Semitic incidents have been reported at such rallies. Some protesters have been seen wearing t-shirts with Nazi-era yellow stars in which the word "Jew" was replaced with "unvaccinated." Others have carried posters with the inscription, "Vaccination makes you free," a reference to the "Work makes you free" slogan placed at the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Some have referred to the "final solution of the Corona question" as well as of "vaccination in Dachau."
Other protesters have trivialized the Holocaust by putting themselves on the same level as the Jews persecuted by the Nazi regime and by referring to themselves as resistance fighters opposing an allegedly undemocratic government. Some protesters have claimed that the government-imposed quarantines are equivalent to Nazi-era prison camps. Others have said that after being in quarantine, they now know how Anne Frank felt.
"By comparing the measures taken to contain the pandemic to the Holocaust, the Shoah is being trivialized," said Alexander Rasumny of RIAS. "Something like that is hurtful for all people who have a personal point of reference to the Shoah, actually for all Jewish people."
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recently warned that many of the conspiracy theories about the Coronavirus pandemic had made it clear: "Even today, anti-Semitism is not just a phenomenon of the right-wing extremist fringes. It reaches into the middle of our society."
The German government's anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, warned that the Coronavirus pandemic is becoming a breeding ground for anti-Jewish agitation:
"Unfortunately, it is not surprising that Jews and Israel are primary targets. Anti-Semitic hate speech spreads quickly on the internet and in particular on the common social media platforms.
"We are talking about a Jewish takeover of the world economy, Jewish profits from a possible vaccine, biological weapons developed by Israel, or a Jewish attempt to reduce the world population. The crudest forms of anti-Semitism are breaking out.
"The past has tragically shown that words can become deeds. Each and every individual is challenged here by intervening and reporting anti-Semitic defamations to the platform operators."
Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht announced more intensive action against anti-Jewish statements on the internet. "We will require more accountability from online platforms. They must not to allow themselves to be misused to agitate and hurl conspiracy theories."
Meanwhile, German analyst Stefan Frank has detailed how left-leaning media in Germany and elsewhere are also responsible for pushing anti-Israel and anti-Zionist memes related to the pandemic:
"Anti-Israel activists in the media are currently running a downright fake news campaign aimed at giving the public the false news that the Palestinians are not getting vaccines and that Israel is to blame. Not only AP and ZDF, but also a number of others are involved....
"Behind this is not just a general aversion to Israel, but the conscious strategy of never reporting anything positive about Israel. If the vaccinations have started in Israel, readers might get the idea that this is a good thing. That is why the message has to be turned into its opposite by omitting relevant information, distorting it and outright lies."
The 2020 Annual Report on Anti-Semitism published by Israel's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs on January 27, 2021 noted:
"In 2021, Germany will be celebrating 1,700 years of Jewish life in its territory [the first documentary evidence of settlement of Jewish communities north of the Alps comes from the year 321. In an edict, Emperor Constantine allowed the magistrate of Cologne to accept Jewish members] but is still struggling with antisemitism....
"We identified a massive increase in consumption of conspiracy theories claiming that Jews sought to profit from the Coronavirus from the pharmaceutical industry, that Jews were disproportionately responsible for spreading the virus, or that Jews are using the virus to create a New World Order that will tighten their grasp over world economies. Anti-vaxxers wore yellow stars in demonstrations and posted them to their social media profiles; comparing coronavirus restrictions to the Nazi restrictions placed against Jews during the Holocaust while claiming they were being led to the vaccine 'like sheep to the slaughter.'
The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, said:
"In view of the numerous anti-Semitic incidents at the Corona-denial demonstrations last year and the conspiracy myths on the internet, it was unfortunately to be expected that the number of anti-Semitic crimes would rise again. Now it is a sad certainty. The preliminary statistics show that the radicalization of society is advancing and respect for minorities is falling."
The German government's anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, added:
"The rise in anti-Semitism must be a warning to us. In the course of the so-called Corona protests, the limits of what can be said were shifted, the Shoah was relativized, and well-known anti-Semitic hate images renewed.
"The increase in criminal offenses is a clear sign that democracy must show itself to be defensive, especially in crises such as the ongoing pandemic. Social cohesion is measured especially here in Germany by how firmly we stand together against hatred of Jews."
In a Die Welt essay — "More Than Two Thousand Crimes but Only Five Arrests?" — columnist Henryk Broder concluded:
"With the exception of Bremen and Hamburg, every federal state has an 'anti-Semitism officer,' and in Berlin there are even four. They all agree: 'There is no place for anti-Semitism in Germany.' Negative consequences of the Enlightenment? People who cling to conspiracy theories might be tempted to believe in a correlation, possibly even a causality: the more anti-Semitism is fought, the more it spreads. Awareness campaigns can also have negative consequences. People do exactly what they are warned not to do. Smoking, drinking, having unprotected sex, eating an unhealthy diet, driving a car faster than allowed. That is why, for example, suicides are reported very cautiously, and nobody should be encouraged to imitate them.
"If this were also the case with anti-Semitism, the concept of anti-Semitism would have to be rethought. The traditional recipes have proven to be of little help: reading the diaries of Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel and Imre Kertész, visits to concentration camps, conversations with contemporary witnesses. The movie 'Schindler's List' arrived at German cinemas in 1994 and had more than six million (!) viewers. The film 'changed the image of the Nazi dictatorship and the historical awareness of the murder of European Jews' (Deutschlandfunk Kultur). Viewed in this way, Germany should have long been an anti-Semitism free zone, a role model for the whole world, with a foreign minister who 'went into politics because of Auschwitz.' It's really bad that you cannot force reality to behave as theory would like it to."