The new face of anti-Semitism
On Friday evening, a young Jewish man had just left a bar on Rosenthaler Platz in central Berlin when someone approached him and started to heckle him about his views on Israel.
The aggressor then punched him twice in quick succession, knocking him over. When his victim was on the floor, he kicked him in the head and fled.
Five days later, the Jewish student is still in hospital waiting on an operation for the skull fractures he suffered.
This brutal assault tells us a lot about the state of anti-Semitism in Germany today. In particular, its aftermath shows how, in some quarters, it is once again acceptable to twist the story to pin the blame on the Jew.
Jewish student Lahav Shapira knew his attacker - they had come face to face on opposite sides of protests over Gaza at Berlin’s Free University
Shapira, 30, has helped organise marches in solidarity with Israeli hostages taken by Hamas.
His attacker, a 23 year old from the Middle East, was one of several activists who occupied a lecture hall at the university in December calling for “an end to the genocide.” The activists blocked several Jewish students from entering the hall due to “their support for Israel.” Shapira was among them.
The fact that Shapira recognised his attacker, who had been in the same bar as him moments before the assault, meant the police could quickly apprehend him.
The case has now been taken over by a special unit for political crimes. Whether it was just coincidence that the man was in the same bar as Shapira, or whether he planned his crime more methodically will come out in due course.
This is the worst assault yet on a Jew in Germany since the Hamas massacres on October 7th led to a war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group.
But for Jewish students it hardly comes as a surprise.
“What we have been warning about for months has now happened,” Hanna Veiler, head of the union of Jewish students, told the Jüdische Allgemeine newspaper this week.
“It has become normal for us to check on our way home to make sure we are not being followed. It has become normal to be prepared for anti-Semitic incidents at any time in everyday university life,” she said.
Pro-Palestinian activists on campus “only have to replace the word ‘Jew’ with ‘Zionist’ to feel that they have the moral authority to use violence,” she stated, adding that the response from many such activists to the attack on Shapira has been that “Zionists deserve their suffering.”
This twisted logic isn't just confined to university campuses - it has played out on social media too, where left-wing activists have gone into overdrive to try to turn Shapira into the oppressor.
On X (Twitter), anonymous accounts have been sharing a three-second video clip that shows Shapira shoving a pro-Palestinian protester. The footage stems from the lecture hall occupation in December. In the full footage of the scene, caught on camera phone, Shapira can be seen trying to pin a picture of a Hamas hostage on the wall next to posters of the victims of Israeli bombings.
A heated exchange ensues in which the pro-Palestinian side try to stop him. At one point Shapira shoves an activist who is barring his way. That shove is now being shared online as alleged proof that Shapira is violent - i.e. proof that he got what he deserved. To be clear, Berlin prosecutors say they have no evidence that Shapira instigated a fight last Friday.
These days, you don’t even have to be involved in activism to “get what you deserve.” Last month, a young Israeli couple were assaulted by two Arab men at a fast food restaurant in the Berlin neighbourhood of Neukölln after they were overheard speaking Hebrew. One of the men tried to hit the young woman over the head with a chair.
These sorts of attacks are examples of a new type of anti-Semitism that Germans are still uncomfortable talking about: hatred towards Jews in 2024 is more likely to come from Middle Eastern migrants than from neo-Nazis.
Officially, this isn’t true. In national police statistics, over 90 percent of anti-Semitic crime is still “assigned to the far-Right.” The problem is that the culprits for things like swastikas scrawled on a wall are hardly ever apprehended. And, when in doubt, police still tick the “far-Right” box in the crime report.
This practice has recently been criticised. A report commissioned by the Bundestag in 2017 found that the official statistics “distort the picture towards the Right” and “shouldn’t be mistaken for a representation of reality.”
Indeed, other research paints a very different picture.
A 2017 study conducted by the University of Bielefeld among victims of anti-Semitism found that 80 percent thought the culprit was a Muslim. Last year, a survey by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung found that Muslims were over three times as likely as the rest of society to agreed that “Jews shouldn’t be surprised if they get a smack.”
That chimes with anecdotal evidence I’ve heard.
When I visited a Berlin synagogue shortly after the Hamas attacks in October, people I interviewed said that they avoid migrant neighbourhoods like Neukölln and Kreuzberg due to safety concerns.
One man said that ever fewer Jews send their children to state schools for fear that they will be bullied by their Muslim peers. That isn't just paranoia. There have been several cases in recent years of Jewish children being bullied out of school by Muslim classmates.
It would seem that this hatred is being stoked up in mosques.
A study released by the Bertelsmann Institute in December found that non-practising Muslims are about as anti-Semitic as the rest of society (i.e. one in five think Jews have “too much influence” in Germany). But, among Muslims who regularly attend mosque, half think that Jews have “too much influence” and close to 80 percent agree that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is “the same as how the Nazis treated the Jews.”
Given that hundreds of German mosques are run by imams sent by the Turkish government, that isn't the most surprising finding. After all, a couple of months back, the head of Ankara's religious authority described Israel as “a dagger” in the heart of the Muslim world.
Muslim attitudes to Jews vary though. Migrants from countries in southern Europe like Bosnia have broadly similar views of Jews to those in German society as a whole.
By the way, religion can work in both directions. Devout Christians are much less likely to be anti-Semitic than the rest of society, the Bertelsmann survey showed. “After centuries of hostility, churches in Germany have taken a critical look at their role in the Holocaust, something that has had an effect on their congregants," the report noted.
This isn’t to say that far-Right anti-Semitism has gone away, either.
The Bertelsmann study found that half of AfD voters think that Jews have “too much influence.” (FYI, there isn’t a single Bundestag MP who identifies as Jewish.)
In 2019, a sturdy lock on the door of a synagogue in the city of Halle was the only thing that prevented a deranged Nazi gunman from murdering the congregants inside.
Indeed, the tragic story of the Shapira family highlights the various dangers Jews have faced in the post-Nazi era.
Lahav Shapira’s grandfather, Amitzur Shapira, was one of the Israeli Olympic delegation who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Munich in 1972.
More recently, when Lahav Shapira was still a teenager, he was beaten up by a neo-Nazi on the street of his hometown in rural eastern Germany. It later turned out that his attacker had been radicalised by the village football coach - a man who proudly sported a Hitler moustache.
Shapira’s brother, a well known comedian, was physically assaulted by a group of Arab youth who screamed "fuck Jews" at him on a Berlin S-Bahn on New Year in 2015.
The threat has never gone away. But, with ever more immigrants arriving from countries where anti-Semitism is normal, it is now becoming more diffuse.
A remark that stayed with me from my visit to that Berlin synagogue shortly after the October 7th massacre was from an orthodox Jew who grew up in the capital.
I asked him how the threat had changed. “In the old days the police knew whom to watch, now it could come from anywhere,” was his reply.
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