A white supremacist in Hanau murdered ten people. German authorities, however, refuse to acknowledge the connection between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, considering only the latter to be worthy of attention.


Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Greg: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wolpert in Arlington, Virginia. On February 19th, a man walked into a shisha bar in the town of Hanau, a suburb of Frankfurt, Germany, and began shooting with a nine-millimeter pistol, killing nine people there and in a nearby coffee shop. He then went home, killed his mother, and took his own life. This shooting has become a highly divisive political issue in Germany because of the killer’s racism. Here’s how some of the leaders from Germany’s political parties reacted to the mass-shooting. Chancellor Angela Merkel, of the Christian Democratic Party, Christian Lindner of the Neo Liberal Free Democratic Party, Robert Habeck of the Green Party and John Carter of the Left Party.

Greg: Jack [inaudible 00:01:39] of the Far-right Alternative for Germany argued on Twitter that the shooting was neither a left wing or right wing attack, but just an act of insanity. The German police discovered that the shooter had legally registered weapons, that he was influenced by white supremacist ideology and sought to kill as many Muslims as possible. The mass shooting and German politicians reactions to it, highlight the different ways in which Germany deals with right-wing extremists depending on whether they target Jews or Muslims. Joining me now to discuss the different reactions to racist mass shootings is Shir Hever. Shir is a Real News correspondent in Heidelberg, Germany and is the author of the book, The Privatization of Israeli Security that was published by Pluto Press in 2017. Also, he is a board member of the German organization, Jewish Voices for Just Peace in the Middle East. Thanks for joining us today, Shir.

Shir: Thanks for having me, Greg.

Greg: So what was the official response of German authorities to the Hanau attack? And do you think that this was the correct way to respond?

Shir: So the German police has been taken by surprise and is very embarrassed by this because apparently, according to the records, this man … the killer actually reached out to the German police and to other institutions and tried to make contact with them because he was under the impression that his Islamophobic ideas would be welcomed by the government, by the police. And he wanted to cooperate with them in the act of killing Muslims basically. And they kind of brushed it away or it didn’t respond in time. And so he went on and decided to commit murder on his own. And I think that’s something that the German police is now responding to by saying the problem is that a response is to decentralize and calling for not stricter gun control, because Germany already has quite strict gun control laws, but rather a more centralized system for controlling guns, a more centralized system for managing racism and hate crimes.
And I’m not completely sure that this is the right response that one should expect from the German police in this case. In fact, one specific response with the German police was especially dis-concerning, because they said that they are now preparing for counter attacks or retaliatory attacks from Muslims. So already, their initial responses to suspect the victims, the Muslim community in Germany of maybe planning some kind of counter attack and attacking people of … attacking Christians or Far-right white nationalists. And interestingly, or very tellingly when there were other attacks in Germany for example, targeting Jews like there was in [Hale 00:04:31] late last year, there was no similar statement with the police. “Oh, no. Now the Jews are going to organize a counter attack and attack a white nationalist.”
But one thing I do want to point out that I think was a very good response, and it came surprisingly from the Green Party in Germany, the Green Party in many ways has many conservative elements that I do not expect them to make the statement, but they’ve actually echoed something that left organizations and especially anti-racist organizations in Germany have been saying for years, that it doesn’t make any sense that Germany has an official government appointed employee to deal with the matter of antisemitism, racism against Jews, but there is nobody to deal with other forms of racism. And we need in Germany somebody who will be organizing the efforts in the education specifically on all kinds of racism regardless of whether the targets are Jews or Muslims or [inaudible 00:05:39].

Greg: Now, in Germany there are laws that prohibit Holocaust denial and state security organs are charged with the surveillance of organizations that are suspected of antisemitic activities as you point out. And also there is a federal and state level official charged with combating antisemitism. But prior to this shooting in Hanau, there were polls that show that Islamophobia is actually much more widespread in Germany today than antisemitism is, and there are numerous attacks against Muslims and have been in recent years. So why are German authorities focusing on the protection of Jews so exclusively and not of most Muslims? And is this now going to change after the Hanau attack?

Shir: Well, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that in the German political discourse, in the German political culture, there is a complete mix of Judaism and the state of Israel to the point that people have forgotten the historical facts of the Holocaust and many Germans don’t understand that the state of Israel was only founded after the Holocaust, and there was never a war between Germany and Israel. In fact, the Jews that are being targeted in Germany by far-right crime, receive very little protection from the German state despite of all these mechanisms that you listed. Because the people who are in charge of fighting antisemitism for Germany … first and foremost among them is Dr. Felix Klein, who is the federal appointee for the issue of an antisemitism. He doesn’t really concern himself so much with far-right racism.
He barely mentions or criticizes and the far-right party alternative for Germany and their antisemitic statements and history. But rather, he’s focusing on criticism of the state of Israel. And because of that, there is this kind of false equivalence as if you have the left on the one side and the right on the one side, and both of the extreme left and the extreme right around this medic. That’s nonsense. That’s just not the case. And Muslims are in many ways on the same situation as Jews are, in many ways worse off than Jews in Germany today in the amount of stereotypes, and racism and discrimination that they are subjected to just because of their religion. But the authorities and the government often considers them to be potential perpetrators rather than victims of racism, because the focus is specifically on antisemitism, but it’s not really a focus on antisemitism, it’s just a focus on criticizing the state of Israel.
And Jews are perceived as if they are somehow representative of that state, even though of course, most Jews in the world and most Jews in Germany are not supporting Israeli state policy and do not see themselves as representatives of the Israeli state. And I think that’s a very big problem. And we have here a problem of blaming the victim when newspapers in Germany are talking about antisemitic attacks, and then immediately referring to Muslims, even if the perpetrators were not Muslims, or to the BDS movement as if that has anything to do with antisemitism and attacks on Jews in Germany and it does not. And I think that needs to change. That was the question. Is it going to change?
It needs to change. The problem is, do Muslim communities have the power to change it just by their activity in civil society? I think on their own they do not, but neither do the Jewish communities. It only works when minority groups work together in solidarity to demand to be treated equally and with respect. And the group that does have power in the German political system, is a state of Israel just because it’s a state, not because it’s particularly strong as a state, but it uses antisemitism as a tool to improve relationship with the German government instead of caring for the safety of persecuted minorities in Germany or in other countries.

Greg: Well, I think your point about solidarity is very important, but of course, the solidarity probably should also be coming from non Muslims and non Jews in Germany towards both of these populations. And that’s a real problem as you say. I think the issue of equating our criticism of the state of Israel with antisemitism is just so prevalent, also in my experience. But I also wanted to ask about your organization, Jewish Voice for Just Peace. It has taken part in vigils and calls for a fight against all forms of racism, not just antisemitism. Now, does this represent and mainstream view among German Jews? And how is the relationship between the many Jewish communities and Muslim communities in Germany anyway?

Shir: Yeah. Well, first of all, yes, our organization is definitely committed to a joint struggle against all forms of racism and for promoting peace. And we are working together in demonstrations and other kinds of political activities together with groups representing other minorities, and also, groups that don’t necessarily represent minorities, but groups on the left that believe in solidarity and they’re neither Muslim nor Jewish, but they still and want to join these coalitions of course. I think that there is a kind of myth in Germany as if Jews and Muslims are inherently hostile to each other. And that is absolutely a myth because of course, in history, the relationship between Jews and Muslims has been far better than they have been between Jews and Christians, or between Christians and Muslims. So in many ways that that kind of mythology is part of perpetrating far-right’s vision of the so-called Judeo-Christian culture, which is a very racist concept. And of course, we rejected completely.
But I do think that when we talk about the German Jews and how they respond to these things, you have a lot of people who just don’t want to deal necessarily with politics and we don’t necessarily want to have their Judaism part of their public life at all. And they say that’s a private thing. And it doesn’t matter if I’m Jewish or not in the way that I choose my political opinions, that’s absolutely fine and respectable. But there are also Jews on the left and Jews on the right. And my organization is of course, an organization of Jews on the left who are progressive and demand equal rights, human rights and so on. There are also unfortunately, Jews on the right and even on the far-right. And I feel the need to mention that in Hamburg, there was this organization called, German-Israeli Society in Germany. And the German-Israeli Society is organizing an event in a synagogue in Hamburg on March 29th inviting professor [inaudible 00:13:20] from Israel to speak about Islamic culture and how evil it is.
[inaudible 00:13:29] is a well known Islamophobe. He has called for raping the sisters and mothers of Muslim terrorists in order to discourage terrorism. That is his idea for a solution. Now the problem is that this is a far-right group. This is a hate crime and this is incitement to racism. If the situation was different, if it was for example, a mosque inviting some extremist preacher from … or a professor from Iran to give a talk about the values of Judaism in a way like that and calling for rape and other forms of violence, that would’ve been illegal. That person would never have received a visa to enter Germany in the first place. German law does not allow freedom of speech to that extent, except when it is organized by this far-right Jewish group. Because this group which is funded by the state of Israel, is considered to be almost above the law because limiting their speech would be considered to be a form of antisemitism, which is of course, nonsense.
And I think it’s not that the right wing Jews who reject solidarity with Muslim groups are more. They’re not more of them. It’s just that they receive more institutional support. And we know that Felix Klein … I mentioned it before, the official for fighting antisemitism, he’s a good friend of the German-Israeli Society. He has no problem visiting them and speaking to them directly because they are his partners, but he, the same man, is boycotting our group, refusing to meet with Jewish Voice For Just Peace because according to him, we are possible antisemites. So I think this is a question I would like to pose for our audience, for you, what do you think is a better way to protect Jewish life in Germany? Is it to form solidarity with other groups who are suffering from racism? Or to create a separation and say, “Well, we’re only interested in racism against Jews antisemitism, but all other forms of racism just don’t interest us.”

Greg: Yeah. I think that’s an excellent question, but we’re going to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Shir Hever, Real News correspondent based in Heidelberg, Germany. Thanks again Shir for having joined us today.

Shir: Thank you, Greg.

Greg: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.


Shir Hever

Dr. Shir Hever grew up in Israel and now lives in Germany. He has been reporting on Israel/Palestine stories for 16 years, and for the Real News specifically since 2016. He’s the author of two books and many articles, and is a committed member of several Palestine solidarity groups.