Germany’s Jewish community issues appeal for anti-Semitism funding oath

Echoes of the Canada Summer Jobs attestation:

  • “Both the job* and my organization’s core mandate* respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression;”

Curious to see if the ewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism (JFDA) proposal generates similar opposition within Germany:

Just last week, a man wearing the Star of David was beaten down and kicked right in the center of Berlin. Some weeks earlier, a similar incident in Germany’s capital caused public outrage and sparked a nationwide debate on anti-Semitism when a 19-year-old Syrian attacked and Arab Israeli and his companion with a belt in broad daylight. Both victims wore kippahs (traditional Jewish head coverings) in what was an allegedly anti-Semitic attack.

Call for an oath

Enough is enough, according to more than 30 Jewish organizations and communities, who have now issued an appeal to the German government. In a declaration published on Monday, Germany’s Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism (JFDA) called on the authorities to crack down harder against anti-Semitic agitation and attacks. The organization is demanding that in the future, public funding for civil and religious groups should be granted only if those groups have publicly distanced themselves from all forms of anti-Semitism — a kind of pro-democracy oath.

The authors of the declaration stressed that this applies to Muslim organizations as well. Lala Süsskind, chairperson of the JFDA, warned against playing down anti-Semitism among Muslims out of misconceived concern. “Of course, anti-Semitism also exists on the Muslim side,” she told DW. Denying that does not prevent the exploitation of Muslim anti-Semitism by the enemies of Islam, but it is detrimental to combating anti-Semitism effectively and makes a mockery of the victims, Süsskind said. The German government should, therefore, examine very carefully which organizations benefited from public funding, she explained, and whether said organizations were, in effect, adhering to Germany’s Basic Law, or constitution.

As an example, the JDFA cited the controversial debate surrounding the Berlin Institute for Islamic Theology, which is scheduled to open its doors in 2022 as an affiliate of the city’s Humboldt University. It remains a controversial issue to this day how much control should be given to the three representatives of traditional conservative Islamic associations on the institute’s advisory board. They include the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, the Islamic Federation and the Islamic Community of Shiite Parishes. These associations are among those which, according to the Jewish organizations’ representatives, should make some kind of public commitment to democracy.

Even Jewish students in Berlin have been subjected to anti-Semitic harassment

‘Committed to this fight’

The president of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, does not think of himself as a direct addressee of the Jewish organizations’ initiative. “I take note of the appeal, and I believe it’s correct and important to highlight painful issues, to make every necessary effort to fight anti-Semitism, and that we remain committed to this fight with all the social power that’s available to us,” he told DW, adding that was all he could say about the matter.

Mazyek says his organization is committed to fighting anti-Semitism

After the interview, Mazyek sent DW a newspaper article detailing how he — as president of the Central Council of Muslims — visited the former Buchenwald concentration camp with a group of Syrian refugees in April. Mazyek’s message, which he wants to be understood by DW and by the public, is that his organization is actively campaigning for reconciliation between Muslims and Jews in Germany. He, therefore, said he doesn’t care to comment on appeals, pro-democracy oaths or any other such demands.

Süsskind said she found that response regrettable, and that it reminds her of previous dialogue between Jewish and Islamic organizations on the thorny issue of anti-Semitism. “There are few Muslim associations to which you can speak openly,” she claimed. What’s more, Süsskind added, the appeal was to be explicitly understood as an invitation to all religious groups, political parties and social associations — after all, not only Jewish life in Germany was at stake. “If people are not ready to stand up for their democracy, it goes down the drain,” she said.

An anti-Semitic attack in April prompted a show of solidarity from Berlin’s Jewish community

More financial support

The German government has not yet responded to the appeal issued by the country’s Jewish community. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had already announced on July 6 that the government plans to extend financial support for the Central Council of Jews in Germany. The annual subsidy will rise from €10 million ($11.75 million) to €13 million, both sides confirmed. The reason behind this was, according to Seehofer, the growing threat to Jewish life in Germany. “Those who threaten our Jewish citizens threaten us all,” he said.

Read more: Anti-Semitism in German schools to be tackled with anti-bullying commissioners

Süsskind stressed that the social climate has changed considerably with respect to Jews. She said she frequently receives hate mail, including one message that read: “In goes the knife, out goes the knife, the Jew’s dead.” When she tried to report the authors of those hate messages to the authorities, she was repeatedly informed that they were protected under freedom of speech legislation. In response, Süsskind asked: “Is that really possible?”

Source: Germany’s Jewish community issues appeal for anti-Semitism funding oath

Germany to fight anti-Semitism in schools with new team

Hard to know how effective this approach will be in terms of reach and results but important recognition of a problem, with hopefully follow-up on its effectiveness:

The German government plans to send 170 anti-bullying experts into schools after the summer break to tackle anti-Semitism among children.

“Anti-Semitism in schools is a big problem,” Families Minister Franziska Giffey said.

Last month Germans were shocked by the case of a boy aged 15 taunted by anti-Semitic bullies at the John F Kennedy School in a well-off area of Berlin.

Germany remains haunted by the Nazis’ mass murder of Jews in 1933-1945.

Ms Giffey, a centre-left Social Democrat (SPD) politician, said teachers needed more support to combat anti-Semitism, as the problem went beyond the classroom, involving parents and society at large.

“So in the coming school year, as a first step, we will send 170 anti-bullying experts into selected schools in Germany, funded by the federal authorities,” she told the daily Rheinische Post.

It remains unclear if the Jewish boy bullied at the John F Kennedy School will return there after the summer, the Berliner Morgenpost daily reports (in German). The bilingual school in Zehlendorf teaches German and American children.

Reports say one bully blew e-cigarette smoke in the boy’s face, saying “that should remind you of your forefathers” – a sarcastic reference to the Holocaust.

Bullies also reportedly drew swastikas on post-it notes and stuck them on the boy’s back.

Before 1989, Germany’s Jewish minority numbered below 30,000. But an influx of Jews, mainly from the former Soviet Union, has raised the number to more than 200,000.

How bad is anti-Semitism in Germany?

Berlin’s Anti-Semitism Research and Information Office (RIAS) says anti-Semitism is expressed on various levels, and not only by neo-Nazis, or by Muslim extremists who hate Israel.

“There is overall a worrying development of anti-Semitism becoming more socially acceptable. It has grown over the last couple of years and many cases go unreported,” researcher Alexander Rasumny at RIAS told the BBC.

RIAS documented 947 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, including 18 physical attacks, compared with 590 in 2016. The watchdog’s annual report (in German) said the increase was partly a result of more Germans reporting such incidents to RIAS, having learnt of its work.

In an interview (in German) with the daily Der Tagesspiegel, the German government’s new anti-Semitism tsar, Felix Klein, spoke of “a brutalised climate now, in which more people feel emboldened to say anti-Semitic things on the internet and in the street”. “Previously that was unthinkable, but the threshold has dropped.”

What other incidents have hit the headlines?

In April two young men wearing traditional Jewish skullcaps (kippahs) were assaulted in Berlin. The attacker, a 19-year-old migrant from Syria, was filmed shouting anti-Semitic abuse.

Later Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, advised Jews to avoid wearing kippahs. But in solidarity, thousands of Berliners wore kippahs on 29 April, declared an “action day” against anti-Semitism.

Two German rappers, Kollegah and Farid Bang, were investigated recently over their gangsta rap lyrics which referred insultingly to Auschwitz victims and the Holocaust.

They were not prosecuted, but were taken on an educational visit to Auschwitz, where the Nazis murdered an estimated 1.1m Jews during World War Two.

Rhetoric from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has fuelled concern about anti-Semitism. An AfD leader, Björn Höcke, drew strong criticism after he condemned Berlin’s Holocaust memorial.

Why this focus now on schools?

Mr Schuster says schools must take anti-Semitism seriously and not sweep it under the carpet.

“Such incidents happen in all types of school and all over Germany,” he warned.

One boy subjected to anti-Semitic taunts at a Berlin school was given a separate room to use during breaks, as well as a separate entrance, RIAS reported.

Another Jewish boy was removed from a school by his parents after a gang had tormented him for months and threatened him with a realistic-looking toy pistol.

Mr Rasumny told the BBC that anti-bullying action had to involve awareness training for teachers, because “they don’t always recognise current forms of anti-Semitism, or know when and how they should intervene”.

There have been cases of anti-Semitism even among kindergarten children.

There is much under-reporting of incidents in schools, Mr Rasumny said. “There is pressure to conform to the rules, not to be different, and often kids report bullying only if they can’t stand it any more,” he said.

In one case, he said, a Jewish music teacher had left a school after being told by a pupil there that “God wants Jews to die”. It emerged that another teacher had said something similar to the child’s mother.

German schools should teach children about Jewish history and culture as a whole, Mr Rasumny said, in order to tackle anti-Semitism. “It’s very important to educate about the Holocaust, but German Jewish history did not just start in 1933 and end in 1945,” he said.

Source: Germany to fight anti-Semitism in schools with new team

Many jihadis from Germany have German citizenship: Report | DW

More on German debates and the question of citizenship revocation. As noted, more symbolic than more effective approaches:

The German government knows of more than 1,000 Islamists who have left Germany for Syria or Iraq to support terrorist organizations there, media reported on Sunday.

The figure comes from an answer given by the government to a question from the parliamentary representatives of the Left Party, according to newspapers of the Funke media group.

The government also cited security authorities as saying that more than half of those who had left Germany for such conflict zones had German passports, the newspapers said in their report.

The figure given by the government shows a further increase in the number of those traveling abroad as jihadis, but indicates that the rate of departures has slowed considerably in comparison with two years ago.

According to the report, 243 supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) have also travelled abroad to support the coalition fighting the extremist group “Islamic State” (IS). Germany classes the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Unconstitutional proposal?

Although dozens of German Islamists are in prison in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, many others, including women and children, have since returned to Germany.

The report said that during coalition negotiations between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democratic Party (SPD), it was agreed that returning fighters with double citizenship should have their German nationality canceled if there is evidence of their having fought for a terrorist militia.

This plan was criticized by the Left Party’s expert for domestic affairs, Ulla Jelpke, who called it “unconstitutional.” She also told the Funke group newspapers that such a move would punish Germans who had fought alongside the Kurds against IS.

Turning back jihadis

Her counterpart from the SPD, Uli Grötsch, also slammed the proposal, even though his party agreed to it in the coalition deal.

“It is more symbolic than politically useful,” he said, saying that prosecution and deradicalization were what was needed instead.

However, the domestic affairs expert of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), Armin Schuster, defended the measure, saying that a jihadi who was no longer German could be sent back at the border.

via Many jihadis from Germany have German citizenship: Report | News | DW | 20.05.2018

Germany Acts to Tame Facebook, Learning From Its Own History of Hate – The New York Times

Good long and interesting read, highlighting a number of the issues and practical aspects involved:

Security is tight at this brick building on the western edge of Berlin. Inside, a sign warns: “Everybody without a badge is a potential spy!”

Spread over five floors, hundreds of men and women sit in rows of six scanning their computer screens. All have signed nondisclosure agreements. Four trauma specialists are at their disposal seven days a week.

They are the agents of Facebook. And they have the power to decide what is free speech and what is hate speech.

This is a deletion center, one of Facebook’s largest, with more than 1,200 content moderators. They are cleaning up content — from terrorist propaganda to Nazi symbols to child abuse — that violates the law or the company’s community standards.

Germany, home to a tough new online hate speech law, has become a laboratory for one of the most pressing issues for governments today: how and whether to regulate the world’s biggest social network.

Around the world, Facebook and other social networking platforms are facing a backlash over their failures to safeguard privacy, disinformation campaigns and the digital reach of hate groups.

In India, seven people were beaten to death after a false viral message on the Facebook subsidiary WhatsApp. In Myanmar, violence against the Rohingya minority was fueled, in part, by misinformation spread on Facebook. In the United States, Congress called Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to testify about the company’s inability to protect its users’ privacy.

As the world confronts these rising forces, Europe, and Germany in particular, have emerged as the de facto regulators of the industry, exerting influence beyond their own borders. Berlin’s digital crackdown on hate speech, which took effect on Jan. 1, is being closely watched by other countries. And German officials are playing a major role behind one of Europe’s most aggressive moves to rein in technology companies, strict data privacy rules that take effect across the European Union on May 25 and are prompting global changes.

“For them, data is the raw material that makes them money,” said Gerd Billen, secretary of state in Germany’s Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection. “For us, data protection is a fundamental right that underpins our democratic institutions.”

Germany’s troubled history has placed it on the front line of a modern tug-of-war between democracies and digital platforms.

In the country of the Holocaust, the commitment against hate speech is as fierce as the commitment to free speech. Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” is only available in an annotated version. Swastikas are illegal. Inciting hatred is punishable by up to five years in jail.

But banned posts, pictures and videos have routinely lingered on Facebook and other social media platforms. Now companies that systematically fail to remove “obviously illegal” content within 24 hours face fines of up to 50 million euros.

The deletion center predates the legislation, but its efforts have taken on new urgency. Every day content moderators in Berlin, hired by a third-party firm and working exclusively on Facebook, pore over thousands of posts flagged by users as upsetting or potentially illegal and make a judgment: Ignore, delete or, in particularly tricky cases, “escalate” to a global team of Facebook lawyers with expertise in German regulation.

Some decisions to delete are easy. Posts about Holocaust denial and genocidal rants against particular groups like refugees are obvious ones for taking down.

Others are less so. On Dec. 31, the day before the new law took effect, a far-right lawmaker reacted to an Arabic New Year’s tweet from the Cologne police, accusing them of appeasing “barbaric, Muslim, gang-raping groups of men.”

The request to block a screenshot of the lawmaker’s post wound up in the queue of Nils, a 35-year-old agent in the Berlin deletion center. His judgment was to let it stand. A colleague thought it should come down. Ultimately, the post was sent to lawyers in Dublin, London, Silicon Valley and Hamburg. By the afternoon it had been deleted, prompting a storm of criticism about the new legislation, known here as the “Facebook Law.”

“A lot of stuff is clear-cut,” Nils said. Facebook, citing his safety, did not allow him to give his surname. “But then there is the borderline stuff.”

Complicated cases have raised concerns that the threat of the new rules’ steep fines and 24-hour window for making decisions encourage “over-blocking” by companies, a sort of defensive censorship of content that is not actually illegal.

The far-right Alternative of Germany, a noisy and prolific user of social media, has been quick to proclaim “the end of free speech.” Human rights organizations have warned that the legislation was inspiring authoritarian governments to copy it.

Other people argue that the law simply gives a private company too much authority to decide what constitutes illegal hate speech in a democracy, an argument that Facebook, which favored voluntary guidelines, made against the law.

“It is perfectly appropriate for the German government to set standards,” said Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president of communications and public policy. “But we think it’s a bad idea for the German government to outsource the decision of what is lawful and what is not.”

Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president for public policy in Europe and the leader of the company’s lobbying effort against the German legislation, put it more simply: “We don’t want to be the arbiters of free speech.”

German officials counter that social media platforms are the arbiters anyway.

It all boils down to one question, said Mr. Billen, who helped draw up the new legislation: “Who is sovereign? Parliament or Facebook?”

Learning From (German) History

When Nils applied for a job at the deletion center, the first question the recruiter asked him was: “Do you know what you will see here?”

Nils has seen it all. Child torture. Mutilations. Suicides. Even murder: He once saw a video of a man cutting a heart out of a living human being.

And then there is hate.

“You see all the ugliness of the world here,” Nils said. “Everyone is against everyone else. Everyone is complaining about that other group. And everyone is saying the same horrible things.”

The issue is deeply personal for Nils. He has a 4-year-old daughter. “I’m also doing this for her,” he said.

The center here is run by Arvato, a German service provider owned by the conglomerate Bertelsmann. The agents have a broad purview, reviewing content from a half-dozen countries. Those with a focus on Germany must know Facebook’s community standards and, as of January, the basics of German hate speech and defamation law.

“Two agents looking at the same post should come up with the same decision,” says Karsten König, who manages Arvato’s partnership with Facebook.

The Berlin center opened with 200 employees in 2015, as Germany was opening its doors to hundreds of thousands of migrants.

Anas Modamani, a Syrian refugee, posed with Chancellor Angela Merkel and posted the image on Facebook. It instantly became a symbol of her decision to allowing in hundreds of thousands of migrants.

Soon it also became a symbol of the backlash.

The image showed up in false reports linking Mr. Modamani to terrorist attacks in Brussels and on a Christmas market in Berlin. He sought an injunction against Facebook to stop such posts from being shared but eventually lost.

The arrival of nearly 1.4 million migrants in Germany has tested the country’s resolve to keep a tight lid on hate speech. The law on illegal speech was long-established but enforcement in the digital realm was scattershot before the new legislation.

Posts calling refugees rapists, Neanderthals and scum survived for weeks, according to, a publicly funded internet safety organization. Many were never taken down. Researchers at reported a tripling in observed hate speech in the second half of 2015.

Mr. Billen, the secretary of state in charge of the new law, was alarmed. In September 2015, he convened executives from Facebook and other social media sites at the justice ministry, a building that was once the epicenter of state propaganda for the Communist East. A task force for fighting hate speech was created. A couple of months later, Facebook and other companies signed a joint declaration, promising to “examine flagged content and block or delete the majority of illegal posts within 24 hours.”

But the problem did not go away. Over the 15 months that followed, independent researchers, hired by the government, twice posed as ordinary users and flagged illegal hate speech. During the tests, they found that Facebook had deleted 46 percent and 39 percent.

“They knew that they were a platform for criminal behavior and for calls to commit criminal acts, but they presented themselves to us as a wolf in sheep skin,” said Mr. Billen, a poker-faced civil servant with stern black frames on his glasses.

By March 2017, the German government had lost patience and started drafting legislation. The Network Enforcement Law was born, setting out 21 types of content that are “manifestly illegal” and requiring social media platforms to act quickly.

Officials say early indications suggest the rules have served their purpose. Facebook’s performance on removing illegal hate speech in Germany rose to 100 percent over the past year, according to the latest spot check of the European Union.

Platforms must publish biannual reports on their efforts. The first is expected in July.

At Facebook’s Berlin offices, Mr. Allan acknowledged that under the earlier voluntary agreement, the company had not acted decisively enough at first.

“It was too little and it was too slow,” he said. But, he added, “that has changed.”

He cited another independent report for the European Commission from last summer that showed Facebook was by then removing 80 percent of hate speech posts in Germany.

The reason for the improvement was not German legislation, he said, but a voluntary code of conduct with the European Union. Facebook’s results have improved in all European countries, not just in Germany, Mr. Allan said.

“There was no need for legislation,” he said.

Mr. Billen disagrees.

“They could have prevented the law,” he said. YouTube scored 90 percent in last year’s monitoring exercise. If other platforms had done the same, there would be no law today, he said.

A Regulatory Dilemma

Germany’s hard-line approach to hate speech and data privacy once made it an outlier in Europe. The country’s stance is now more mainstream, an evolution seen in the justice commissioner in Brussels.

Vera Jourova, the justice commissioner, deleted her Facebook account in 2015 because she could not stand the hate anymore.

“It felt good,” she said about pressing the button. She added: “It felt like taking back control.”

But Ms. Jourova, who grew up behind the Iron Curtain in what is now the Czech Republic, had long been skeptical about governments legislating any aspect of free speech, including hate speech. Her father lost his job after making a disparaging comment about the Soviet invasion in 1968, barring her from going to university until she married and took her husband’s name.

“I lived half my life in the atmosphere driven by Soviet propaganda,” she said. “The golden principle was: If you repeat a lie a hundred times it becomes the truth.”

When Germany started considering a law, she instead preferred a voluntary code of conduct. In 2016, platforms like Facebook promised European users easy reporting tools and committed to removing most illegal posts brought to their attention within 24 hours.

The approach worked well enough, Ms. Jourova said. It was also the quickest way to act because the 28 member states in the European Union differed so much about whether and how to legislate.

But the stance of many governments toward Facebook has hardened since it emerged that the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of up to 87 million users. Representatives of the European Parliament have asked Mr. Zuckerberg to come to Brussels to “clarify issues related to the use of personal data” and he has agreed to come as soon as next week.

Ms. Jourova, whose job is to protect the data of over 500 million Europeans, has hardened her stance as well.

“Our current system relies on trust and this did nothing to improve trust,” she said. “The question now is how do we continue?”

The European Commission is considering German-style legislation for online content related to terrorism, violent extremism and child pornography, including a provision that would include fines for platforms that did not remove illegal content within an hour of being alerted to it.

Several countries — France, Israel, Italy, and Canada among them — have sent queries to the German government about the impact of the new hate speech law.

And Germany’s influence is evident in Europe’s new privacy regulation, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, or G.D.P.R.. The rules give people control over how their information is collected and used.

Inspired in part by German data protection laws written in the 1980s, the regulation has been shaped by a number of prominent Germans. Ms. Jourova’s chief of staff, Renate Nikolay, is German, as is her predecessor’s chief of staff, Martin Selmayr, now the European Commission’s secretary general. The lawmaker in charge of the regulation in the European Parliament is German, too.

“We have built on the German tradition of data protection as a constitutional right and created the most modern piece of regulation of the digital economy,” Ms. Nikolay said.

“To succeed in the long-term companies needs the trust of customers,” she said. “At the latest since Cambridge Analytica it has become clear that data protection is not just some nutty European idea, but a matter of competitiveness.”

On March 26, Ms. Jourova wrote a letter — by post, not email — to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer.

“Is there a need for stricter rules for platforms like those that exist for traditional media?” she asked.

“Is the data of Europeans affected by the current scandal?” she added, referring to the Cambridge Analytica episode. And, if so, “How do you plan to inform the user about this?”

She demanded a reply within two weeks, and she got one. Some 2.7 million Europeans were affected, Ms. Sandberg wrote.

But she never answered Ms. Jourova’s question on regulation.

“There is now a sense of urgency and the conviction that we are dealing with something very dangerous that may threaten the development of free democracies,” said Ms. Jourova, who is also trying to find ways to clamp down on fake news and disinformation campaigns.

“We want the tech giants to respect and follow our legislation,” she added. “We want them to show social responsibility both on data protection and on hate speech.”

So do many Facebook employees, Mr. Allan, the company executive, said.

“We employ very thoughtful and principled people,” he said. “They work here because they want to make the world a better place, so when an assumption is made that the product they work on is harming people it is impactful.”

“People have felt this criticism very deeply,” he said.

A Visual Onslaught

Nils works eight-hour shifts. On busy days, 1,500 user reports are in his queue. Other days, there are only 300. Some of his colleagues have nightmares about what they see.

Every so often someone breaks down. A mother recently left her desk in tears after watching a video of a child being sexually abused. A young man felt physically sick after seeing a video of a dog being tortured. The agents watch teenagers self-mutilating and girls recounting rape.

They have weekly group sessions with a psychologist and the trauma specialists on standby. In more serious cases, the center teams up with clinics in Berlin.

In the office, which is adorned with Facebook logos, fresh fruit is at the agents’ disposal in a small room where subdued colors and decorative moss growing on the walls are meant to calm fraying nerves.

To decompress, the agents sometimes report each other’s posts, not because they are controversial, but “just for a laugh,” said another agent, the son of a Lebanese refugee and an Arabic-speaker who has had to deal with content related to terrorism generally and the Islamic State specifically. By now, he said, images of “weird skin diseases” affected him more than those of a beheading. Nils finds sports injuries like breaking bones particularly disturbing.

There is a camaraderie in the office and a real sense of mission: Nils said the agents were proud to “help clean up the hate.”

The definition of hate is constantly evolving.

The agents, who initially take a three-week training course, get frequent refreshers. Their guidelines are revised to reflect hate speech culture. Events change the meaning of words. New hashtags and online trends must be put in context.

“Slurs can become socialized,” Mr. Allan of Facebook explained.

“Refugee” became a group protected from the broad hate speech rules only in 2015. “Nafri” was a term used by the German police that year to describe North Africans who sexually harassed hundreds of women, attacking and, in some cases, raping them. Since then, Nafri has become a popular insult among the far-right.

Nils and his colleagues must determine whether hateful content is singling out an ethnic group or individuals.

That was the challenge with a message on Twitter that was later posted to Facebook as a screenshot by Beatrix von Storch, deputy floor leader of the far-right party, AfD.

“What the hell is wrong with this country?” Ms. von Storch wrote on Dec. 31. “Why is an official police account tweeting in Arabic?”

“Do you think that will appease the barbaric murdering Muslim group-raping gangs of men?” she continued.

A user reported the post as a violation of German law, and it landed in Nils’s queue. He initially decided to ignore the request because he felt Ms. von Storch was directing her insults at the men who had sexually assaulted women two years earlier.

Separately, a user reported the post as a violation of community standards. Another agent leaned toward deleting it, taking it as directed at Muslims in general.

They conferred with their “subject matter expert,” who escalated it to a team in Dublin.

For 24 hours, the post kept Facebook lawyers from Silicon Valley to Hamburg busy. The Dublin team decided that the post did not violate community standards but sent it on for legal assessment by outside lawyers hired by Facebook in Germany.

Within hours of news that the German police were opening a criminal investigation into Ms. von Storch over her comments, Facebook restricted access to the post. The user who reported the content was notified that it had been blocked for a violation of section 130 of the German criminal code, incitement to hatred. Ms. von Storch was also notified too.

In the first few days of the year, it looked like the platforms were erring on the side of censorship. On Jan. 2, a day after Ms. von Storch’s post was deleted, the satirical magazine Titanic quipped that she would be its new guest tweeter. Two of the magazine’s subsequent Twitter posts mocking her were deleted. When Titanic published them again, its account was temporarily suspended.

Since then, things have calmed down. And even Mr. Allan conceded: “The law has not materially changed the amount of content that is deleted.”

via Germany Acts to Tame Facebook, Learning From Its Own History of Hate – The New York Times

ICYMI: After a massive refugee influx, Germany is confronting an imported anti-Semitism

Good balanced overview:

Bullied students. Crude rap lyrics. An ugly confrontation on an upmarket city street.

In another country – one less attuned to the horrors wrought by anti-Semitism – evidence that the scourge is once again growing might have been ignored.

But this is Germany, a nation that nearly annihilated an entire continent’s Jewish population. And after a series of high-profile incidents, the country isn’t waiting to sound the alarm on a pattern of rising hatred toward Jews.

In recent days, demonstrators have filled the streets, a first-ever national coordinator to combat anti-Semitism has taken up his post, and officials from Chancellor Angela Merkel on down have spoken out.

Germany is also doing something difficult for a country that sees itself as the open and tolerant antidote to the prejudice-driven murder machine it once was: acknowledging that the problem’s resurgence has been fueled not only by the far right, whose views have increasingly infiltrated the mainstream, but also in significant part by Muslims, including refugees.

“The nature of anti-Semitism in Germany is definitely changing,” said Sergey Lagodinsky, a member of the assembly of the Jewish community in Berlin. “We’re having a lot more violent, everyday confrontations that come through incidents with immigrants.”

That’s not an easy admission in Germany, where Merkel led the push three years ago to open the country to more than a million asylum seekers – many of them Muslims fleeing conflict. At the time, the move was widely seen, at least in part, as a grand gesture of atonement for the worst crimes of German history.

Since then, Merkel has rallied the nation around the slogan “We can do it,” brushing away suggestions that Germany will suffer for its generosity.

But she’s also been forced to concede the link between the new arrivals and creeping anti-Semitism. This month, she told an Israeli broadcaster that Germany was confronting “a new phenomenon” as refugees “bring another form of anti-Semitism into the country.”

That’s something critics have warned of for years, given that many of those who arrived in Germany came from nations where anti-Semitism is widespread, including Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. But officials, analysts and Jewish and Muslim leaders all say Germany has been slow to recognize the risks.

“The cultural dimension that is linked with the influx was always underestimated,” said Felix Klein, who started work this month as the federal government’s point person for combating anti-Semitism. “Now we have to deal with it.”

The first step, Klein said, is to understand the scale. But the data is surprisingly limited, and what is available has been called into question.

Police statistics, for instance, show that about 90 percent of the anti-Semitic cases nationwide are believed to have been carried out by followers of the far right – traditionally the bastion of prejudice toward Jews in Germany.

But government officials and Jewish leaders doubt that figure, citing a default designation of “far right” when the perpetrator isn’t known. The government also has no reliable means of tracking anti-Semitism that falls below the level of the criminal – something Klein said he’s determined to change.

A survey of victims of anti-Semitism commissioned last year by the German Parliament concluded that Muslims were most often identified as the perpetrators. A separate study found comparatively high levels of anti-Semitic thinking among refugees with a Middle Eastern or North African background.

The number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in Germany has remained fairly steady over the past decade, at around 1,500 every year, although researchers think the actual numbers are much higher, said Uffa Jensen, a professor at the Technical University of Berlin. One recent survey found that 70 percent of Jews said they would not report an anti-Semitic incident because they feared the consequences.

Even if the overall numbers are relatively stable, the behavior behind the data has changed, said Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

“The incidents are more aggressive, more pronounced, and directly affect Jewish people with insults or attacks,” Schuster said.

German schoolchildren have reported the word “Jew” being thrown around as a taunt on the playground. Some have said they have been threatened with death.

“There are incidents that go so far that kids have to leave their schools because it’s no longer possible to stay. I can’t remember that happening in the past,” Schuster said.

Beyond the bullying, two high-profile instances of anti-Semitism have spawned outrage in recent weeks.

A German rap duo won the top honor at the country’s most prestigious music awards this month for an album that included lyrics boasting of bodies “more defined than those of Auschwitz inmates” and threatening to “make another Holocaust.” Amid a backlash, the awards program was terminated.

Meanwhile, cellphone video footage emerged of an assailant shouting anti-Semitic slurs and whipping a belt against a man wearing a kippa, or Jewish prayer cap. Police arrested a 19-year-old Syrian refugee in connection with the assault, which took place in the trendy Berlin neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg.

“When I watched the video, I looked into his eyes. I don’t understand how a young man can be so filled with hate,” said Sigmount Königsberg, anti-Semitism commissioner for the Jewish community of Berlin.

Königsberg deals with hundreds of incidents each year and said a substantial majority of the cases involve an alleged Muslim perpetrator.

Far-right assailants are less common, he said. But that makes sense, if only for geographic reasons: Germany’s Muslim and Jewish communities are both concentrated in big cities, such as Berlin. Far-right supporters are more likely to live in the countryside.

The German far right has been emboldened lately, winning seats in Parliament last fall – the first time that’s happened since the 1950s. Authorities say elements of the far right have grown more vocal in their anti-Semitism. But they have been even louder in denouncing Muslims, capitalizing on resentment toward Merkel’s decision to let in the refugees.

Ironically, far-right politicians have used concerns about anti-Semitism to make their case against the refugees – a logic that many Jewish leaders reject.

“The world doesn’t revolve around Jews. If people are dying in Syria, you can’t let them die because you may face more anti-Semitism in a couple years,” said Lagodinsky, the member of the Berlin Jewish assembly.

Rather than bar refugees, Lagodinsky said, the solution starts with being more honest in talking about the problem – something he said mainstream German society is often afraid to do for fear of targeting a Muslim minority population that already feels under siege.

Aiman Mazyek, for one, welcomes the conversation. The president of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany emphasized that it’s only a small minority of Muslims who are taking part in anti-Semitic acts. But he said there is no doubt that some newcomers – and some who have been here far longer – have failed to integrate into a society that has put “Never Again” at its core.

“If people come here and want to integrate, they need to understand the DNA of the country. And part of that DNA is the legacy of the Holocaust,” he said.

Mazyek said it will take effort to educate people who may have grown up in countries where anti-Semitic rhetoric is rampant and others who may have been raised in Germany but who nonetheless feel drawn into “the unresolved conflicts of the Middle East.”

But he said there is also reason for optimism.

“Many of them came from countries where there was dictatorship, where they weren’t free. There’s the potential there for much more empathy when they visit a concentration camp,” he said.

Josh Spinner, an American-born, Berlin-based rabbi, said Germany also needs to keep its problems with anti-Semitism in perspective.

“There’s nowhere in Europe where there isn’t a sense of unease” among Jews, said Spinner, who is also chief executive of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, an education-focused philanthropic group.

German unease was reflected vividly this past week in a Berlin protest that drew about 2,000 people, who came wearing prayer caps. They listened as speakers warned of a rising threat and insisted that the country would not tolerate a return to its anti-Semitic past.

But Spinner said Germany still has it better than most places on the continent – in part because its past has taught it to be vigilant and aggressive in responding to signs of hatred.

Spinner said that he has walked Berlin’s streets wearing a kippa for years without any serious problems and that he will continue to do so. Warnings that Germany would become inhospitable for Jews after taking in so many refugees have, for the most part, not come to pass.

“Relative to the perceived threat, not much has happened,” Spinner said. “And that’s a relief.”

Source: After a massive refugee influx, Germany is confronting an imported anti-Semitism

Opinion | The Wrong Way for Germany to Debate Islam – The New York Times

Thoughtful commentary:

It was a warm June day in a northern German village, and I was talking to a Syrian friend outside a local shop. I had just bought some ice cream and offered to share it, but my friend refused. He was observing Ramadan: no food or drink until after sunset.

“If you had found asylum at the Arctic Circle instead of Germany,” I asked, “would you have starved by now?” It wasn’t an entirely academic question. In our village on Germany’s Baltic shore, the sun doesn’t set in summer until around 11 p.m.

My Syrian friend chuckled at the question about the Arctic Circle — where the summer sun never fully vanishes — but insisted: The law is the law; it’s what the Prophet Muhammad commands.

But wouldn’t the prophet be content if you observed, say, Damascus time? I wondered.

He chuckled again: No, this wouldn’t be what he had said.

The exchange left me with mixed feelings. I felt great respect for my friend’s willpower and the idea of Ramadan: to experience deprivation in order to stir empathy with the poor. What startled me, though, was his refusal to question religious commands and at least try to align them with reason without reducing their moral purpose.

This is an anodyne example, but it relates to a conundrum facing Germany as a country. To many non-Muslim Germans, the comparatively high significance that many Muslims attach to divine laws raises the question of to whom all the immigrants and refugees who have come to us in recent years would rather pledge allegiance and loyalty: the state that took them in, or Allah? Are the newcomers really convinced of the blessings of an open, liberal society, or are they just happy to seize its advantages?

The new German minister for the interior, Horst Seehofer, recently addressed this fear with a sentence that was meant as a reassurance to voters: “Islam does not belong to Germany.” With this Mr. Seehofer, who is also the chairman of the conservative Christian Social Union party, is rejecting an opposite claim made back in 2010 by Christian Wulff, then the president, and subsequently by Chancellor Angela Merkel. One of Mr. Seehofer’s party colleagues, Alexander Dobrindt, went even further: “Islam, no matter the form, does not belong to Germany.”

Their provocation is calculated to create a backlash against the naïveté and carelessness of those who have tried to make space for Islam as a part of German culture — a position conservatives think has been dominating public discourse for too long.

What a splendid idea: Counter leftist simplification with rightist crudeness! If there is one thing that doesn’t belong to a enlightened nation like Germany, it is a deliberate coarsening of a debate where a maximum of nuance is needed.

On the surface, of course, there’s an obvious tension between the largely secular, liberal traditions of German culture and those forms of Islam that, for example, place religious law over secular law. But that’s also a moot point: Muslims have been living here in large numbers since the 1960s, and now Germany’s six million Muslims make up roughly 6 percent of the population. The problem is that the way Germany has dealt with them is a history of mistakes.

The first mistake, the one conservatives made, was to believe that the early “guest workers” brought from Turkey in the 1960s, to make up for a labor shortage, would eventually go home again. The second mistake, the one the left made, was to embrace all foreigners, whatever their values. After Sept. 11, more or less all sides have made a third mistake, the failure to ask painful questions about how to reconcile Islam with an pluralist, secular democracy.

Apathy, illusions and false tolerance have left important issues unaddressed for half a century. That has now turned to hostility: Many Germans just don’t believe that Islam is compatible with Western values.

And yet the fact that there are many liberal observant Muslims living in Germany suggests the opposite. These are the people who speak out against false dogma, the overly literal reading of the Quran, and anti-Western teachings. The problem is their small number and the hostility they encounter from fellow Muslims here in Germany.

In a representative survey conducted by the University of Münster in 2016, 47 percent of Turkish immigrants and their descendants said that it was more important for them “to abide by religious commands than by the laws of the country I live in.” Some 32 percent said that Muslims should try to re-erect a social order like the one during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. And 50 percent said there was “only one true religion.”

These are troubling figures. While giving divine laws priority over worldly laws does not necessarily mean rejecting democracy (many Christians and Jews would subscribe to the same statement), the apparent longing of so many Muslims for an authoritarian rather than an open society is shocking. Their intolerance for those of other beliefs matches a political attitude that surprised this country one year ago: Of the roughly 700,000 Turkish Muslims in Germany who participated in the constitutional referendum in Turkey last April, 63 percent voted in favor of granting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unilateral powers.

This contempt for liberalism is a real problem, but rhetoric like Mr. Seehofer’s will only make things worse. It will compound a feeling, already widespread among Muslims, of not belonging to Germany anyway. The sentence “Islam does not belong to Germany” is a gift to radicals who hold an obsessive, binary, West versus Islam worldview.

So how do we move on? Instead of prolonging the mistakes of the past, the secular majority in Germany should make clear two things to their fellow Muslim citizens. Yes, Muslims belong here — but belonging brings with it expectations. Being a citizen means, first and foremost, upholding the values and laws that make this country so attractive. The secular majority must learn how to convey this expectation in a clear yet civil manner.

Germans struggle with this because they are uncomfortable, for historical reasons, with making such demands of religious minorities. The problem, in other words, is not just politicians who wield stupid slogans. It is also the majority of nonpopulist Germans who are shy about expressing the terms of participation in a pluralist society.

via Opinion | The Wrong Way for Germany to Debate Islam – The New York Times

Anti-Semitism in Germany: Are immigrants unfairly portrayed in the media? | DW

Good nuanced exploration of the issues and discussions:

There’s hardly a more explosive issue in Germany than the question of anti-Semitism among Muslim immigrant communities and in particularly the more than 1 million migrants and refugees who have arrived in the country since 2015. On Friday the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Meyer H. May, told a German newspaper that such anti-Semitism was spreading like a “tumor” in Germany.

May is by no means the first Jewish leader to make this claim, but is the situation really that bad? To better understand the issue, I went to a day of discussions, hosted by an initiative to inform journalists about migration issues, with experts, social workers, refugees and a member of a Jewish sports club in Berlin.

Empirical figures on the phenomenon are hard to come by. Definitions of what qualifies as anti-Semitism vary wildly, and it’s often difficult to tell whether anti-Semitic acts that are criminal in Germany — for example, painting a swastika on a synagogue wall — are committed by Muslims, right-wing extremists, or individuals or groups motivated by some other form of anti-Jewish aggression.

What struck me most was the skittishness of people charged with combating Muslim anti-Semitism, particularly in Berlin’s schools, with regard to their description of it as a Muslim problem. The experts were at pains to counter the idea that Germany had “imported” a “new” anti-Semitism. Hostility to Jews was a wider social phenomenon, they argued, and by no means were all Muslims anti-Semitic.

Fighting anti-Semitism in times of right-wing populism

Sina Arnold, the co-author of one of the few academic studies on the phenomenon, characterized the anti-Semitism she found among refugees she interviewed as “fragmentary.” Anti-Jewish stereotypes were common, she says, but it was extremely rare for refugees to view the entire world through the lens of anti-Semitism.

“What we’ve seen is that with the migrants of the past few years, people have entered the country who have anti-Semitic attitudes — as do some people who are already here,” Arnold told DW. “Not all of the migrants, but many of them. Many of them come from countries like Syria, in which an anti-Zionism that bordered on anti-Semitism was part of state ideology.”

Arnold was quick to add that attempts to combat such attitudes should not “tar-brush” Muslims with racist stereotypes and that the sort of anti-Semitism found among migrants and refugees is not new to Germany. Equating Islam with anti-Semitism is a tactic used by the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

But surely the situation Germany currently faces is new, I thought, if only because this is the first time Germany has taken in over a million largely Muslim new arrivals in such a brief span of time. That fact alone means that measures to prevent anti-Semitism need to be tailored to this specific new audience.

“Prevention efforts always have to be targeted at groups,” said historian and rabbi Andreas Nachama. “For instance it makes a big difference if you’re talking to 20- or 60-year-olds. It makes no sense to put everyone in the same boat. We’ve had a different input in the past few years.”

Prevention or political correctness?

Don’t point fingers. Try to teach people to embrace multicultural values instead of teaching them not to embrace anti-Semitism. Those are two of the guiding principles of the Kreuzberg Initiative against Anti-Semitism, or KIGA, named after the heavily Muslim Berlin district where it is located. The group trains teachers, conducts workshops in schools and contributes to the political-education “welcome classes” refugees receive after arriving in Germany.

KIGA co-founder Aycan Demirel defines one of its main purposes as trying to prevent the radicalization of Muslim youths. At the same time, he warns against overreacting, telling the story of a school that was so alarmed at a very young Muslim boy using the word “Jew” as an insult that a series of authorities that led all the way up to public prosecutors were called in to consult on the case.

When it comes to understanding prevention and education methods, it’s very difficult for journalists to form their own opinions. Schools confronted with anti-Semitism incidents are understandably publicity-shy, and it would require a raft of parental consent forms for KIGA to take a reporter along with them to witness their work with schoolkids, who are still minors. Much of the fight against anti-Jewish hatred takes place away from the eyes of the fourth estate.

Hostility and hope

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians complicates relations between Muslims and Jews in Berlin

It is impossible to quantify the level of anti-Jewish sentiment among Berlin Muslims, but it’s clear that there is hostility. At the same time, hatred is by no means the only response in what is a very heterogeneous community. Those two conclusions were born out by the other participants at the open day.

Evgeni Abramovych, from the Jewish sporting club TuS Makkabi Berlin, described football matches with heavily Muslim teams as being far more aggressive than with other opponents. Racist insults and spitting, he said, were not infrequent occurrences. On the other hand, Abramovych also told of Muslim clubs that had approached TuS Makkabi to play friendlies in a gesture of solidarity.

Sandy — a 25-year-old refugee from Syria who came to Germany in 2014 and who teaches in welcome classes for more recent arrivals — acknowledged that some of her compatriots did hold anti-Semitic views. But she also said that she had never encountered such attitudes in her interactions with new Muslim arrivals as part of the KIGA Discover Diversity program.

Sandy and her fellow Syrian refugee Samer both speak German and use their participation in KIGA projects to learn more about their new country and pursue their interest in politics, which began back in their homeland.

via Anti-Semitism in Germany: Are immigrants unfairly portrayed in the media? | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 24.03.2018

Debate On Role Of Islam Divides German Government : The Two-Way : NPR

Merkel has rebuked his comments (Merkel contradicts interior minister, saying ‘Islam belongs to Germany’):

Germany’s new minister of interior, Horst Seehofer, has stirred up debate about the role of Islam in Germany.

In an interview with the German newspaper BILD Seehofer said: “Islam is not a part of Germany. Germany has been influenced by Christianity. This includes free Sundays, church holidays and rituals such as Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. However, the Muslims living in Germany obviously do belong to Germany.”

This statement conflicted with the position of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel said, even though Germany has been influenced mainly by Christianity and Judaism, there are more than four million Muslims in the country, they “belong to Germany and so does their religion.”

Konstantin von Notz, member of the opposition Green party, protests, “The statement of Interior Minister Seehoher is complete nonsense. Germany cannot afford such behavior in the important questions of integration.”

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental right guaranteed to everyone by our constitution,” said Andreas Nick, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. “Individuals should be judged by their behavior which of course needs to comply with the laws of the land — no more, no less.”

Apart from members of Seehofer’s Christian Social Union, only the far-right Alternative for Germany, or the AfD, agreed with his statement. The AfD’s spokesman Jörg Meuthen told NPR that he himself had made similar statements many times before. He maintained that Seehofer was simply not credible on the subject, and the interior minister’s remarks should be viewed as “a populist attempt” by the CSU to take votes from the AfD “ahead of the Bavarian elections in October this year.”

“Islam is definitely part of Germany: millions of Muslims live in Germany and have become citizens of this country,” Mouhanad Khorchide, head of the Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Muenster, told NPR. “We cannot differentiate between Islam and Muslims. According to the German constitution there is no religion without the individual.”

Khorchide expressed concern about the consequences of Seehofer’s interview. “Such statements polarize the German society,” he said. “Instead of talking of a ‘we,’ which would include Muslims, the conversation now distinguishes between Germans and Muslims. For many Muslims this creates a feeling of being unwanted and unwelcomed. Many of them are second or third generation residents, and Germany is their home.”

An expert on Islamic law, Mathias Rohe, believes the whole debate to be meaningless. “Of course Germany has been influenced by Christianity – but no one ever doubted that,” he said. “No Muslim has ever questioned the Christian history of Germany or demanded a change in that understanding.”

It would make more sense, he said, for people to “concentrate on the considerable number of concrete issues” that will need to be addressed in Germany in the coming years.

via Debate On Role Of Islam Divides German Government : The Two-Way : NPR

Islam doesn’t belong to Germany, new interior minister says

The remarks are slightly more nuanced than the header but still unfortunate. The same remark, “live with us, not next to us or against us” applies to all groups:

New Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Islam did not belong to Germany, in an interview published on Friday, setting him on a collision course with Chancellor Angela Merkel who has stressed the need to integrate Muslims.

Seehofer also set out a range of hardline policies on immigration, as the new coalition prepares to see off the rising challenge of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which entered the national parliament in last year’s elections.

“Islam does not belong to Germany,” Seehofer told mass-selling Bild newspaper, contradicting former German president Christian Wulff who fuelled a debate over immigration in 2010 by saying Islam was part of Germany.

In 2015 Merkel echoed Wulff’s words at a time when anti-immigration campaign group PEGIDA – or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West – was holding marches.

The German government estimates between 4.4 and 4.7 million Muslims are living in Germany. Many of them have a Turkish background and many of the more than a million migrants who have arrived in the country from the Middle East and elsewhere after Merkel adopted an open-door policy in mid-2015 are also Muslims.

Seehofer – a member of Merkel’s CSU Bavarian allies who are further to the right than her own Christian Democrats (CDU) – said he would implement a “master plan for quicker deportations”.

He also promised to do more to tackle the reasons people flee and classify more states as ‘safe’ countries of origin, which would make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers.

“Of course the Muslims living here do belong to Germany,” Seehofer said before going on to say Germany should not give up its own traditions or customs, which had Christianity at their heart.

“My message is: Muslims need to live with us, not next to us or against us,” said Seehofer, who was sworn in as interior minister on Wednesday.

Seehofer is keen to show his party is tackling immigration ahead of Bavaria’s October regional election, when the AfD is expected to enter that state assembly.

In a coalition agreement, Merkel’s CDU/CSU conservative bloc and the Social Democrats (SPD) agreed they would manage and limit migration to Germany and Europe to avoid a re-run of the 2015 refugee crisis.

They also said they did not expect migration (excluding labour migration) to rise above the range of 180,000 to 220,000 per year.

via Islam doesn’t belong to Germany, new interior minister says

‘Never Again’: Fighting Hate in a Changing Germany With Tours of Nazi Camps – The New York Times

Having visited Dachau, I can attest to the power of such visits:

It was not the execution wall or the electric fence or even the description of the smell of human flesh burning day and night that made the teenagers stop cold.

It was the bunk beds.

In their wooden ordinariness, they spoke to the 10th graders visiting the former Nazi concentration camp of Sachsenhausen as no history book had. “This is how they lived,” whispered Damian, 15, his eyes taking in the tightly packed rows of ladderless three-level bunks.

When Jakob Hetzelein, a history teacher in a working-class district of northeastern Berlin, decided to take his students to Sachsenhausen, a short suburban train ride from the German capital, he was not sure how it would go down.

His lessons on Nazi Germany had met muted enthusiasm. In a mock election in class, several students had supported the nativist Alternative for Germany party. One boy was recently caught scribbling a swastika on a friend’s jacket. Another does Hitler impressions when he thinks Mr. Hetzelein is not looking. Left index finger under his nose, right arm extended.

And then there are Mahmoud and Ferdous, recent refugees from Egypt and Afghanistan, where anti-Israel sentiment routinely blends into anti-Semitism and sometimes Holocaust denial.

Mr. Hetzelein, 31, who used to teach in a vocational school where nine in 10 students had Turkish or Arabic backgrounds, knows about casual anti-Semitism. “Jew” is a popular insult on some soccer fields in Berlin.

“It has become harder to teach history,” he said.

Teaching history is a pillar of national identity in postwar Germany. That is why Sawsan Chebli, a Berlin state legislator with Palestinian heritage, recently came up with an idea that is radical even by the standards of a country that has dissected the horrors of its past like no other: make visits to Nazi concentration camps mandatory — for everyone.

“This is about who we are as a country,” she said in a recent conversation in Berlin. “We need to make our history relevant for everyone: Germans who no longer feel a connection to the past and immigrants who feel excluded from the present.”

Ms. Chebli’s proposal comes at a time when Germany is grappling with the creeping rise of two kinds of anti-Semitism and as the Jewish community, now numbering about 200,000, is once again nervous.

Neo-Nazis have been emboldened by the arrival of Alternative for Germany, the first far-right party to break into Parliament since World War II. And there are concerns that the recent absorption of more than a million immigrants, many from the Middle East and many Muslim, has inadvertently created incubators of a different kind of anti-Semitism — one hiding behind the injustices of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but often reverting to hateful old stereotypes, too.

It was the sight of Arab immigrants, including Palestinian-Germans like herself, burning an Israeli flag underneath the Brandenburg Gate in December while chanting “Death to Israel” that moved Ms. Chebli to speak up.

Since then, other disturbing stories have emerged in the German news media: an Afghan boy greeting his teacher with “Heil Hitler” and proclaiming that he, too, was Aryan. A group of Syrian refugees calling the Holocaust “a Jewish conspiracy,” explaining that they had learned that in school back home.

The reaction in Berlin, where there are strict legal prohibitions of Holocaust denial and Nazi propaganda, has been swift. The government announced that it was appointing its first-ever anti-Semitism coordinator. Some in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party have urged the immediate deportation of anti-Semitic Muslims.

Günter Morsch, the director of the Sachsenhausen memorial, says he does not think that is helpful. “We cannot allow this debate to create another form of racism,” he said. “What about the Germans who are anti-Semitic?”

Nine in 10 anti-Semitic hate crimes reported in Berlin are committed by German citizens. And for all the seeming contradictions, there is a common denominator between Muslims who espouse anti-Semitic views and those on the far-right (who also hate Muslims), Mr. Morsch said.

“Anti-Semitism correlates more closely with educational background than with ethnic background,” he said, citing empirical studies.

Ms. Chebli says that visiting a concentration camp is no panacea, but that it can help. She visited one as a young woman. The experience changed her, she said.

“It is a powerful way of keeping memory alive and giving meaning to our mantra of ‘never again,’ ” Ms. Chebli said. “But we need to get back to the essence of what this is about: It’s about standing up for human rights and the rights of minorities — all minorities.”

Muslims, too

During their visit to Sachsenhausen, the teenagers huddled around their guide in the vast triangular courtyard of the camp, its perimeter still dotted with watchtowers.

Sachsenhausen was no death camp, although tens of thousands of inmates are believed to have died here; those were built by the Nazis outside Germany. But it was the nerve center of two dozen major concentration camps run by the Nazis.

From an inconspicuous office building in one corner of the camp, civil servants decided what kind of medical experiments would be conducted, how many executions would take place and how much cyclone B gas would be delivered to the gas chambers in Auschwitz. “Desk perpetrators,” the guide, Mariana Aegerter, calls them.

“Does anyone here know who was imprisoned here?” she asked the class.

Nelson, a boy with shoulder-length hair, tentatively raised his hand. “Jews?”

There were Jewish prisoners in Sachsenhausen. But unlike in the death camps, they were a minority. Of more than 200,000 inmates over the years, some 40,000 were Jewish. Many died here.

The Nazi regime targeted many, Ms. Aegerter explained, like communists, clerics, homosexuals, Roma and the disabled. But also those considered “antisocial”: The homeless, the jobless, those on social welfare, and boys with long hair — Ms. Aegerter’s eyes lingered on Nelson — or with too many girlfriends, or with a weakness for American music, like Jazz or swing.

By the time Sachsenhausen was liberated, she said, nine in 10 prisoners were foreigners, coming from 45 countries. There were Muslims, too.

“Muslims, too?” Ferdous said later. “I did not know that.”

Building bridges

Ms. Aegerter, a young historian, says her central aim during tours of the camp is to bring to life what is an empty space, to make students visualize life there, and ultimately to create a bridge between the visitor and the prisoner, between the present and the past.

“Our most powerful tool,” she said, “is identification.”

Recently, a young Syrian had asked a fellow guide, “Why do you turn your torture chambers into a museum?”

To make sure we will never have torture chambers again, he had replied.

The boy had thought this over for a while. “We have torture chambers in Syria,” he eventually said. “Maybe, when the war is over, we should turn them into a museum, too.”

It is not always easy. Once, a Palestinian schoolgirl asked Ms. Aegerter, “Don’t you think that what the Jews are doing with the Palestinians today is the same as what the Nazis did with the Jews?”

No, she had explained, but that did not mean one had to approve of everything the state of Israel was doing. The girl seemed unconvinced.

Ms. Chebli comes across this all the time, she said. “I have Palestinians tell me: I had to leave my country because of the Holocaust and you want me to worry about anti-Semitism?”

She recounted the lukewarm reaction of one young man to her concerns about growing anti-Semitism. Born and raised in Germany, he does not see himself as German because, he says, Germans do not see him as German.

“Of course, anti-Semitism is important,” he had told her, “but what about the racism I experience every day?”

To win over young Muslims for the fight against anti-Semitism, Ms. Chebli said, Germany has to fight Islamophobia, too.

“It’s much easier for me to persuade a young Muslim of the relevance of the Holocaust if I acknowledge their own experience of discrimination and create that link,” Ms. Chebli said.

Sometimes, creating a link with young Germans is just as tricky, Ms. Aegerter points out.

Now 34, she grew up in the eastern state of Brandenburg in the 1990s. Swastikas were a common sight in her town: Scrawled on the inside of toilet cubicles. Graffitied onto walls. A boy in her class had tattooed one on his shin. It was only after she and some friends had complained that the boy had been asked to wear long trousers during sports lessons.

These days, Ms. Aegerter has teachers on the phone who share their concerns about far-right tendencies among their students.

One teacher told her before a class visit that he had planned the trip specifically because he worried about three boys drifting into neo-Nazi territory. But on the day, all three called in sick.

“Sadly, that is no exception,” Ms. Aegerter said.

In some cases, she said, it is the parents telling teachers they do not want their children to visit a concentration camp.

When students do come, it can be transformative, said Mr. Morsch, who has been director of the memorial for 25 years.

“It would be naïve to expect a two-hour tour to turn neo-Nazis into anti-fascists,” Mr. Morsch said. “But give us a little time, and we can achieve a lot.”

He recalled a recent group of students from a vocational school that had a persistent problem with neo-Nazi graffiti. They spent several weeks in Sachsenhausen renovating one part of the memorial — but also working in small groups, dissecting drawings and letters of prisoners and creating their own exhibition.

“After they spend some time with us, the problem went away,” Mr. Morsch said.

Mr. Morsch still believes that camp visits should remain voluntary. He fears an obligation to come would take away from the learning experience.

Mr. Hetzelein disagrees. Whether schools or the law make the call, students rarely get a say. He grew up in Bavaria, the only German state where visiting a Nazi memorial is already required.

As a high school student, he went to Dachau, near Munich. Years later, he saw Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in what is Poland today.

The cast-iron gates, the barbed wire and the sheer scale of it still haunt him. “It’s not enough to read books about it,” he said, “you need to feel it.”

A week after visiting Sachsenhausen, Mr. Hetzelein asked his students whether they thought their children should one day be made to visit a camp.

Of 22 students, 21 agreed. Among them: Ferdous, Damian and Nelson.

via ‘Never Again’: Fighting Hate in a Changing Germany With Tours of Nazi Camps – The New York Times