Leonard Kaminski, the American Jewish Committee’s assistant director of government affairs in Berlin, told a gathering of its New Jersey members that his organization fears a rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. He said the hatred of Jews in his country takes three basic forms — one from the Right, one from the Left, and a third from an expanding immigrant population who are mostly Muslims front the Middle East.
Referring to “right wing populism as a new Nazi style,” he said much anti-Jewish hatred comes from what he called the “classical right wing Nazi anti-Semitism that has never gone away. It is still there and is currently on the rise all over Europe,” he said, speaking in a South Orange home on Dec. 12.
On the Left, Kaminski detects an anti-Semitic tone to some of the opposition to Israel and support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. “Anti-Semitism is one of the more important subjects right now in Europe and the U.S,” he said.
But the newest variety comes from immigrants to Germany, chiefly Muslims from the Middle East. “They brought a certain kind of anti-Semitism with them that is Israel-related,” said Kaminski, who maintains close relations with officials of the German government and serves as a member of the Berlin Jewish Community parliament.
In 2014, after the most recent war in Gaza, there were demonstrations against Israel in the streets of Berlin and other German services, mainly by members of immigrant communities. “They shouted things that were horrible, like ‘Jews to the gas,’” said Kaminski. Describing that rhetoric as “shocking,” he said it was the first time that “it wasn’t related to Israel anymore. It was pure anti-Semitism.”
Kaminski said that AJC is determined to instruct Germany immigrants that being anti-Semitic is not an option. His organization used one method of hands-on instruction four weeks ago, when Kaminski and several AJC colleagues escorted a group of young immigrant Muslim leaders to Israel. He called the trip a way of “trying to make sure we have our own Muslim ambassadors in our community who will be able to fight anti-Semitism because they understand the issue and know that Israel is not the ‘little devil’ and the U.S. is not the ‘big devil.’”
“While my life in Germany is great, even someone like me who lives in the center of Berlin surrounded by open-minded people experiences anti-Semitism,” he said.
One bitter example occurred in 2015, while he was playing for a Maccabi soccer team in Berlin. During a game against Turkish immigrants, he and his teammates heard catcalls of “dirty Jew,” followed by a massive brawl in which “a lot of anti-Semitic words were said, and we were threatened with knives.”
The increasing Muslim presence in Germany has triggered a violent right wing backlash, he said. “There were many refugee houses that were set on fire and refugees were attacked on a bus and tormented with racist and xenophobic words. I would not underestimate the potential of terrorizing by the right wing.”
However, he said that many other Germans’ reacted by welcoming the incoming Muslims, even volunteering in refugee camps to provide them with food and water. Even still, with some 850,000 migrants “from a culture that is not exactly European, people started worrying about their daily lives.”
Kaminski said AJC “really doesn’t know what is going to happen” to relations between the United States and Europe after Donald Trump becomes president next month, and that Jews are regarded as “canaries in the coal mine” by the governments of France and Germany. “Whenever the situation for Jews deteriorates, democracy deteriorates.”
Even as he noted that thousands of Jews from several parts of Europe have moved to Israel, Kaminski said “from AJC’s point of view it is very important to have European Jewry. It is important to have a strong diaspora. It is important to have Jews everywhere to fight against anti-Semitism.”