Whenever I say that there’s a thin line between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israeli’s policies, I get excoriated. Truth be told, I think that not a trivial part of movements like BDS or campus protests against Israel are directed not at Israeli politicians, but against Jews themselves. BDS founders have covertly (and sometimes overtly) expressed approbation for the elimination of Israel itself, and there’s simply too much opprobrium directed at Israel—as opposed to other states whose malfeasance is far worse—to be explained by politics alone. Finally, the New York Times reported in 2014, after the synagogue attack discussed here took place, that demonstrators in Belgium and France were shouting not “Down with Israel!” or even “Death to IsraelI”, but “Death to the Jews!”
This opinion has been sustained by a new decision by a European high court—in Germany no less.
In February of 2015, as reported by The Jerusalem Post (and an article in The Daily Beast), a German judge convicted three German-Palestinian men of tossing Molotov cocktails at a synagogue in the city of Wuppertal. The charge on which they were convicted was “serious arson,” but here’s the kicker: the learned judge pointedly added in his decision that the crime was not motivated by anti-Semitism, declaring instead that it came from “a desire to bring attention to the Gaza conflict.”
Does that make sense? Why should German Jews be attacked for what is going on in Israel? Are they responsible for what happened in Gaza? No, the only explanation is that these men wanted to attack Jews, or a Jewish place of worship.
Now I’m not all that keen on added penalties for “hate crimes”, as I feel that punishment should be levied solely for an act itself and not because the perp has some animus against a group. Further, I’m not sure that anti-Semitism would have caused a German judge to levy a longer sentence or whether Germany recognizes anti-Semitic “hate crimes”. (One reader told me that skinheads who had done the same thing were treated much more harshly.)
What offends me is not the judge’s failure to issue a harsher punishment, but his flat claim that throwing Molotov cocktails at a place of worship in Germany constitutes political criticism rather than anti-Semitism. What world is that judge living in? There is, after all, an Israeli embassy to demonstrate against! As Vox noted yesterday:
The court’s decision is baffling — and deeply troubling. The men didn’t target the Israeli Embassy or one of its consulates. They attacked a Jewish institution. To conflate Israelis with Jews — and to say that a disagreement with the policies of the former somehow justifies attacking the latter — is by definition anti-Semitic. And if there is a line between anti-Israel sentiments and anti-Semitic ones, this attack definitely crossed it.
“The ruling judges … found that it was somehow logical that if you were angry with the state of Israel you would choose [to attack] a synagogue, because there are no objects of the state of Israel to protest,” Deidre Berger, the director of the AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations, told me Friday. “It’s very difficult for us to get a sense of the dimensions of the problems of anti-Semitism in Europe when cases of anti-Semitism are not characterized as such.”
Let’s face it—in many parts of the Middle East, both children and adults are taught not to hate Israeli politics, but to hate Jews per se—as seen by the vile Nazi-like caricatures of Jews coming from both private and state media in that region. This indoctrinated Jew-hatred is also reported by ex-Muslims like Ali Rizvi and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Talk about “Islamophobia”!
Those who claim that implementing a two-state solution—which I favor, but am increasingly wondering if it’s workable—will act to eliminate Muslim animus against Israel are living in La La Land.
But to the point: just this week, a German higher court affirmed the lower court decision, which included suspended sentences for all three men. The decision that the act was not anti-Semitic was also affirmed.
What’s especially ironic about this is that the synagogue previously on that site was burned by the Nazis on the infamous Kristallnacht of November 9/10, 1938, and had been rebuilt. Back then it was clearly anti-Semitism, now it’s criticism of Israeli policy toward Gaza. Does any rational person believe that?
James Kirchick at The Daily Beast made a startling but accurate analogy:
A group of skinheads torch a black church somewhere in the Deep South. Upon being apprehended by the police, they cite the injustices that Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe has visited upon the white farmers of his country as justification for their arson. Mugabe is black, he rules on behalf of “the black race,” and therefore black people everywhere must be made to feel responsible for his crimes.
Anyone making such a ridiculous argument would rightly be labeled a racist. But change the victims from black people to Jews, and the perpetrators from pale neo-Nazis to dark-skinned Muslims, and a great many people will claim that what is obviously a crime motivated by blatant bigotry is in fact a politically-inspired protest.