Angela Merkel’s departure from politics is a sad moment for many German Jews – The Forward

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(JTA) – After a German court criminalized the non-medical circumcision of boys in 2012, Angela Merkel did something very unusual for the ‘rule of law chancellor’ as she has been dubbed.

Merkel said the ruling, which was issued against a person who circumcised a Muslim child, risked making Germany a “laughing stock”. His statement violated the country’s unspoken rule that chancellors do not criticize the country’s judicial branch from their executive perch.

“I don’t want Germany to be the only country in the world where Jews cannot practice their rituals,” she said at the time.

It was symbolic of Merkel’s commitment to the Jewish community “on realpolitik,” said Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, Zurich-born president of the Conference of European Rabbis. In 2013, her organization awarded Merkel an award for “making a crucial intervention for the consecration of the milah in Germany and beyond,” as Goldschmidt called it, using the Hebrew word for circumcision.

“She has been an unwavering ally, not just in rhetoric but in decisive action,” Goldschmidt told the Jewish Telegraph Agency.

In November, Merkel, 67, will step down after 16 years in power, ending the tenure of one of the most important European leaders in recent memory. His legacy – marred for some by Germany’s acceptance of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and its policy of fiscal austerity towards the rest of the European Union – is mixed in its home country. But for the German and European Jewish establishment at large, his departure marks the loss “of a reliable partner for the Jewish community,” Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told JTA.

“I am deeply sorry to see Chancellor Angela Merkel leave the political scene,” said Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor who heads Munich’s Jewish community.

Merkel’s consequent policies had significant impacts on German Jews – both on the ground and politically, as the right-wing populist AfD and the more progressive Green Party made gains following the stumbles. of his party. Nevertheless, she leaves room for a fighter for Jewish causes.

“It’s a mixed legacy, where the good far outweighs the bad,” Goldschmidt said.

The refugee dilemma

The daughter of a Church minister from the former East Germany, Merkel is the European Union’s longest-serving current leader. She is not seeking re-election in Sunday’s general election, in which her center-right Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, appears to be in a close race with the center-left Social Democratic Party, or SPD.

As the head of the EU’s largest economy, Merkel lobbied for pan-European solidarity. It deepened Germany’s partnership with countries like France and the United Kingdom, two nations with which Germany has a turbulent history. But its financial austerity measures – especially towards Greece in 2015 as a precondition for a bailout of the economic recovery, which added to Greece’s political instability – alienated many Europeans, especially those in the lesser economies. poorer.

Nationally, she oversaw a strict public spending policy – a frugality that has helped Germany weather the economy from the coronavirus crisis better than most, with the help of a bailout funding package from $ 1.2 trillion. Its environmental policy includes an ambitious plan to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2040 in order to combat global warming.

But it was Merkel’s daring drive to welcome nearly a million refugees – allegedly with little screening or long-term planning – at the height of the Syrian civil war that has polarized German society the most.

The move sparked a far-right backlash and helped fuel the rise of the AfD, or Alternative for Germany Party. The party wants a return to “German as the predominant culture instead of multiculturalism”, stricter immigration laws and an end to public funding of mosques and other Muslim religious activities.

“As long as Merkel was strong, there was no far right in the German parliament,” Goldschmidt said. “You can argue for and against the [refugees] Morally and economically decision, but politically it was a mistake.

Some AfD leaders have also advocated dropping the apologetic rhetoric that became the norm in Germany after its defeat in World War II and the trauma of the Holocaust. The party has also dealt with controversies involving anti-Semites and neo-Nazis within its ranks. Germany’s Central Council of Jews urged citizens not to vote for the AfD, calling it a “hotbed of anti-Semitism, racism and misanthropy” in a September 10 statement.

But the AfD, which is pro-Israel and whose program talks about the “Judeo-Christian and humanist foundations of our culture,” rejected claims that it had a problem with anti-Semitism and expelled several members for anti-Semitic behavior and Nazi sympathies. He has a few Jewish supporters, including a candidate for parliament in Berlin.

Some see a link between these dynamics and the explosion of anti-Semitic incidents that Germany has experienced in recent years. The government documented 2,351 cases of anti-Semitism in 2020, the highest tally since 2001 and a 15% increase from 2019. The government attributes 90% of incidents to the far right – embodied in the attack on ‘neo-Nazi gunman against a synagogue in Halle in 2019. But critics of government documentation practices say many attacks are in fact carried out by people from Muslim families, and that Germany has played down these statistics to avoid d ‘sound Islamophobic.

According to these statistics, relatively few anti-Semitic incidents were perpetrated by people who came to Germany during the immigration crisis that began in 2011. But one of these asylum seekers was involved in the terrorist attack. deadliest Islamist on German soil, a car hitting a Christmas market in 2016 that killed 12 people. A 16-year-old Syrian refugee was arrested last week on suspicion of wanting to attack a synagogue near Düsseldorf.

The fears of the far right as well as the anti-Semitic attitudes of some German Muslims have grown so much that some Jews are questioning their future in Germany. And there are those who blame Merkel for the atmosphere.

“Just eight years ago, I also voted for her. It was a big mistake, ”said Pavel Feinstein, a 61-year-old artist and father of three from Berlin. “I am thinking of aliya,” he added, using the Hebrew word to immigrate to Israel.

“I feel that it is slowly but surely becoming more and more uncomfortable and I do not see any rosy prospects due to demographic development,” he said, referring to the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Germany. “She’s responsible for it. ”

Feinstein is one of at least 100,000 Jews who immigrated to Germany from the former Soviet Union. He has in the past expressed his support for the AfD, but declined to say who he intended to vote for on Sunday.

On anti-Semitism and Israel

Along with international surveillance, Merkel has been more quietly a vocal leader in the fight against anti-Semitism.

During his tenure, the German federal and state governments all appointed special envoys to monitor and combat hatred of Jews. Following the 2019 Halle Synagogue massacre attempt near Berlin – in which a far-right extremist failed to make his way into a crowded Yom Kippur synagogue and then killed two people near a kebab shop – the German federal government gave German Jews an additional $ 26 million for security needs.

In 2019, his government also allocated an additional $ 66 million for preservation work at the former Nazi Auchwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Poland. On a visit there that year, her first visit as Chancellor, Merkel said she felt a “deep shame” of what her compatriots had done to Jews before and during the Holocaust.

“Remembering crimes… is a responsibility that never ends. It belongs inseparably to our country, ”said Merkel. “Being aware of this responsibility is part of our national identity. “

In 2015, Merkel became the first president chancellor to visit Dachau, the former concentration camp near Munich where the Nazis killed some 40,000 victims, many of them Jews. And this year, in partnership with local German communities, his government launched a series of events across the country celebrating 1,700 years of Jewish presence in Germany.

As for Israel, Merkel advocated a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, which at times put her at odds with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed a Palestinian state. But the two “agreed to disagree” on some issues, and under Merkel, Germany delivered several state-of-the-art naval destroyers to Israel, funding one-third of the $ 500 million prize of the project.

In 2019, the CDU secured the passage of a resolution in the lower house of the German parliament that calls for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, known as BDS, an anti-Semitic movement – a view shared by many. German Jews.

Schuster pointed to one of the many speeches she has made to the Israeli parliament over the years, noting that she said “Israel’s security would never be negotiable for Germany, because the historical responsibility of Germany is part of the “reason of state”, “he declared. , which means that it is intrinsic to German government policies.

During the Merkel years, “We almost got used to a pro-Jewish, pro-Israel attitude in government,” said Elio Adler, a dentist from Berlin and an activist who promotes Jewish causes in German politics.

“And of course, we hope that will continue in the future,” he added.


The post “A Steadfast Ally”: Angela Merkel’s Leaving Politics A Sad Time For Many German Jews appeared first on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

‘An unwavering ally’: Angela Merkel’s departure from politics is a sad moment for many German Jews

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