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Civil Society

Young Jews in Germany fear for their safety

With an increasing rate of anti-Semitic demonstrations and violence, some young German Jews no longer feel safe in their home country. Many are starting to wonder what the future holds for them.

"At the moment I virtually feel like I'm the foreign minister of Israel," says Eliott Reich, 22, a student in Berlin. Born and raised in Germany, Reich is of Jewish faith. Like many other young German Jews, he has been closely following the latest developments in the Middle East, but also the worrying new trend in his own country: growing anti-Semitism.

Reich recently took part in a pro-Israel demonstration in Berlin. He was shocked by the aggression displayed by the counter-demonstrators. The chanted slogans such as, "Hamas, Hamas! Jews into gas!" For him, words like this have nothing to do with Israel - they are "purely anti-Semitic," he says.

"I have no problem whatsoever with legitimate criticism of Israel," Reich explained. "But there's a huge difference between criticizing Israel and anti-Semitism."

Unsettling scenarios

The strong police presence at pro-Israel demonstrations is meant to make the participants feel safe. Access to the protest sites is guarded and entrants' bags are inspected. Reich and his friends have been asking themselves, "Why is this even necessary in Germany? Why can't demonstrations be peaceful, without the danger of attacks - at least in Germany?"

Demonstrators hold placards and flags during a Muslim protest against the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in Berlin, July 25, 2014
(Photo: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch)

Anti-Israel protests in Germany are increasingly aggressive

This new wave of anti-Semitism, seemingly originating chiefly from communities of people with Muslim heritage, continues to spread throughout Europe and is becoming increasingly visible in Germany. It is attracting support from both left-wing and right-wing radicals.

In particular young German Jews, who are experiencing such strong anti-Jewish sentiment for the first time in their lives, are becoming anxious. They do not understand how something like this can happen today at all.

It is clear that Reich is also deeply concerned. The more the riots escalate, the more he worries. "Will anti-Semitism once again become so strong in Europe that we Jews won't be able to practice our religion freely even here?" he asked.

Physical danger

Mike Delberg's parents came to Germany from the former Soviet Union. The main reason for the move was their inability to practice their religion freely in their country. The current events make Delberg feel uneasy. The 24-year-old was born in Germany and he would like to stay here - it is his home. He is very active in local politics and involved in different initiatives, including the Jewish student center in Berlin, which he heads. A few days ago he was invited to speak in the Israeli parliament about the effects of the current Middle East conflict on Germany.

What particularly interests Delberg is the way the issue is being dealt with in German media. He believes that when certain stories are presented in a one-sided way or when certain facts are omitted, this influences public opinion.

Mike Delberg
(Photo: Mike Delberg)

Delberg is shocked at the amount of harassment and attacks Jews are currently experiencing in Germany

He was shocked when some of his friends personally experienced anti-Semitic violence. "Two female friends of mine were harassed and jostled in Berlin by Arab youths because they were wearing the Star of David," he said, adding that many people observed the incident and didn't act until finally one man intervened.

This type of aggression is unsettling to many Jewish people in Germany. Some of Delberg's friends now think twice before leaving the house wearing a Star of David necklace. Delberg wonders if physical violence needs to occur before the police and politicians start doing more to protect people. "As a German citizen of Jewish faith, I don't feel 100 percent safe in Germany anymore," he said.

Anti-Semitism on the rise

Many German Jews have been feeling limited in their freedom to practice their faith freely, which is something normally taken for granted in the Western world. Aileen, 21, from Hamburg, didn't want her surname disclosed in this article. She, too, is a German-born Jew, and she is concerned about the current situation. Aileen resides in a city that has become one of the hotspots of European anti-Semitism: Paris. She recently completed a study semester there and enjoyed it so much that she decided to stay for another two months and do and internship.

"In Paris there is a relatively large Jewish community," said Aileen. "This really appealed to me because I didn't have something like that in Hamburg."

But the current circumstances have made her feel more unsafe. "The acts of aggression that you see here are extreme," she said. "Burning cars and attacks on synagogues are a frightening sight."

Going out wearing the Star of David is no longer something she would do without thinking twice. In her opinion, Germany must not allow the situation to escalate to the same level as in Paris.

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