By Eric Martin
Though it seems hard to believe, Adolf Hitler, Edward I of England (of Braveheart fame) and Walt Disney (the founder of America’s most beloved children’s entertainment empire) share one distasteful, shameful trait: a reputation for antisemitism – the historic hatred of Jews.
When we think of antisemitism, what usually comes to mind is World War II, the Holocaust, and the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany in pursuit of “the final solution to the Jewish problem”; however only rarely do we imagine antisemitism taking place in the context of modern day life in 2019.
Anette Adelmann, the General Secretary of the International Council of Christians and Jews – from Heppenheim, Germany – was the keynote speaker at “Antisemitism: What Can We Do?”, a seminar sponsored by the Council of Christians and Jews WA Inc (CCJWA) at Wesley Uniting Church on 12 August.
Her insights into current antisemitic behaviour in Europe, particularly Germany, were a valuable insight into the real need for educational programs to counter a racist trend that does not seem to have declined in the 74 years since the end of the War.
“I think the general statement that we have a problem with antisemitism in Germany is probably true.
“Antisemitism in German society is nothing new, it didn’t change within the last 50 years: the stereotypes are the same, the antisemitic thoughts and statements are the same – what really changed is the way that those statements and stereotypes found their way into ‘public’ publications and the media,” Ms Adelmann said.
She shared that as a teenager, living in a country with less than 10,000 Jews in the whole of Germany, she was a complete stranger to the concept of antisemitism.
“Jews didn’t tell other people that they were Jews, so there was no opportunity for an antisemitic incidence because no-one talked about his or her own Jewishness,” Ms Adelmann shared.
“This changed in the middle of the 1990s; we have a very present, self-confident Jewish community in Germany now: Jewish life, Jewish tradition and Jewish culture is visible in Germany and we welcome it.
“Not liking someone because they’re different isn’t antisemitism, that’s xenophobia; criticising Israel isn’t antisemitism, it’s part of the democratic process; antisemitism is something much more dangerous – it means persecuting Jews and denying them the right to exist collectively as Jews, with the same rights as any other collective of people.
“Statistically, antisemitic acts didn’t increase in Germany in the last four years, but when we have a closer look at the statistics, the mode and method of surveys changed.”
Father Michael Moore SM, Rector for Redemptoris Mater Seminary Perth, and representing the Archdiocese of Perth, drew attention to the rich history that Jews and Christians share and extolled the efforts of important dialogue taking place at a senior level within the hierarchy of both faiths.
“There have been meetings of rabbis and cardinals and bishops in Galilee; for the first time ever, a group of Rabbis, of reconstructionist, orthodox, ultra-orthodox, all together with cardinals and bishops from all over the world have met twice, in Galilee, under the auspices of the Catholic Church and the Neocatecumenal Way; which has a great love of the tradition of the Hebrews and the gift that they have given us,” Fr Moore explained.
Highlighting the unfortunate evolution of antisemitism, Ms Adelmann described the three forms of antisemitism that occur today, stressing that we have to talk about “antisemitisms” in plural.
Religious antisemitism occurred during the middle ages and focused on the religious differences between Jews and Christians, including common allegations of ‘Christ Killer’ and of drinking the blood of children during religious rites.
Both Martin Luther and the Catholic Church espoused the differences between Christian and Jew and such prejudice still exists in some circles today.
The traditional, political antisemitism that emerged in Europe in the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century had its basis in nationalism, white supremacy and the fear of international Jewish power (which never existed but was nevertheless a very real fear of the wealth and potential influence of the Jewish community at large).
“This political antisemitism we still have in Germany and this is one path that actually increased,” Ms Adelmann said.
The third type of antisemitism prevalent today, she said, is one that uses critiques in regards to Israel’s politics for antisemitic stereotypes and statements.
“This is the form of antisemitism that we find in all social paths in Germany: the rightwing and the leftwing political parties, and in all social classes we have in Germany, especially a kind of antisemitism that we more and more figure out as vivid among our refugees – who came to Germany in the last three years, who have undergone totally different education in regards to Israel and the relations with Israel in their own countries.
“And they are very often simply not aware that this is antisemitism that they are using in their speech,” she added.
“There is no magic bullet against it and we have to make sure that projects and initiatives combating antisemitism are not only implemented in special educational programs and organised events, but are addressing as manifold and different fields of our everyday reality as possible, and take place in a variety of social settings.”