Jewish Group Urges Anti-Semitism Classes for Muslim Migrants

Abraham Lehrer gives a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on January 13, 2015. Lehrer warned that anti-Semitic beliefs among Muslim migrants could present a long-term challenge to Germany. TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

Germany's most prominent Jewish group called on authorities to introduce anti-Semitism classes for Muslim migrants to combat the growing extremist sentiment in Europe.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany said on Sunday that more education was needed to root out anti-Semitism among newly arrived Muslim immigrants, Deutsche Welle reported.

Abraham Lehrer, the organization's vice president, told the Protestant Press Service that anti-Semitism among migrants posed a long-term problem and could become a more pressing concern as Muslim groups settled in Germany.

"The problem of immigrant Arab-Islamic anti-Semitism still lies ahead of us," Lehrer said. "Many of these people were influenced by regimes in which anti-Semitism is part of the rationale of the state and the Jewish state is denied the right to existence.

"When these people no longer think only of jobs and housing, this influence will have a greater bearing and people will express their opinions openly," he continued. "In order to prevent this scenario, we need to tailor integration courses more closely to these people, preferably by country of origin."

This means additional instruction on "fundamental values such as democracy and the treatment of women in our society," Lehrer suggested, adding the lessons should be "taught intensively."

Jewish groups have warned that anti-Semitism is on the rise across Europe, not only from within Muslim communities but also due to a surge in support for right-wing populists. In Germany, for example, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has become the third largest in the Bundestag and the official opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling moderate coalition.

The organization has been dogged by accusations of anti-Semitism, and a number of its members made comments appearing to downplay the Holocaust or dismiss the significance of the Nazis in German history.

Since the end of World War II, Germany has maintained strict laws against neo-Nazi organization or expression. But with right-wing extremism bleeding back into the mainstream, Lehrer noted his concern. "I still encounter old sentiments of resentment in line with the principle, 'the Jews dominate television and the banking and financial world,'" he said.

While Lehrer did not accuse the AfD of open anti-Semitism—though it has faced such allegations from other quarters—he warned that the party was contributing to a problematic political atmosphere.

"At the very least, [the AfD] creates a platform on which anti-Semitism can grow and manifest itself openly," he said. Lehrer noted the party's draft manifesto opposed both circumcision and shechita, a Jewish method of animal slaughter.

"The AfD is a kind of catalyst for various groups with anti-Semitic roots," said Lehrer. "It deliberately transgresses boundaries and thus contributes to anti-Semitic attitudes being regarded as normal."

The normalization of the far right in Germany is evidenced by events including the violent protests in the eastern city of Chemnitz at the end of August. For several days, right-wing crowds gathered in the city center singing neo-Nazi songs and throwing Nazi salutes. Protesting the murder of a German man in the city—reportedly by Syrian migrants—demonstrators clashed with police and were accused of attacking bystanders who looked foreign.

Lehrer said such extremism must be condemned and prosecuted wherever it occured, suggesting that the government introduce an anti-Semitism commissioner to prove it was serious about addressing the issue.

For its part, the AfD has repeatedly denied that it offers a haven to anti-Semitic ideology. Last month, the party even launched its own Jewish wing, with the move drawing criticism from German Jewish groups and other political parties.