Imported hatred or indigenous scaremongering?

About the construction of the anti-Semitic Arab

Statement by the Salaam-Shalom Initiative. English translation by Phil Butland and Deborah S. Phillips.

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In recent months, various parties have expressed concern about refugees from Syria and Iraq bringing problematic attitudes into the country. It is assumed that refugees hail from countries in which an anti-zionist stance is part and parcel of government policy. This would require the implementation of “upper limits” for refugees, as well as their committing themselves to Israel’s right to exist, while also giving priority “integrating” refugees to familiarise them with so-called German values.

The paternalistic tone of such arguments against newcomers shows one thing above all: social inclusion is not aimed at. The picture being painted is one of a threat which can only be answered with education enforced from above.

Moreover, the sweeping presumption of an “anti-Semitic culture”, which Arab and/or Muslim refugees allegedly “import”, is exceedingly cynical: these people are fleeing from violence and misery in their own countries. In Germany, they are not only confronted with daunting bureaucracy; they also experience assaults on their accommodations and hostile attacks from the local population nearly every day. In 2015, the police reported 880 racist-motivated assaults on refugees and migrants; in 2016 this figure is expected to rise. At the same time, the vast majority of anti-Semitic violence and criminal offences reported to the police are, and always have been, carried out by right-wing extremists. Attributing anti-Semitism to refugees thus says more about the people leading this discourse than about the refugees themselves: While refugees are fighting for survival and have little time to think about the Jews living in Germany, it seems that for some people the “fight against anti-Semitism” focusses on legitimizing their political influence: they are not interested in getting to know refugees, who are both socially and religiously a very diverse group. Instead, they want to justify rigid asylum policies by making ample mention of  “anti-Semitism of Others”. As if an upper limit for refugees, which is already legally dubious, were essential for dealing with “imported anti-Semitism.”

This reasoning is all the more absurd, as anti-Semitism itself, discourse and Stigmata are central components of the “Occident” developed by “enlightened” Christianity. People who attribute an “anti-Semitic” culture to all those from “Muslim” countries who have migrated to Germany, lack a certain cultural self-enlightenment: Germans with Christian backgrounds must also be aware of and account for their own heritage.

Furthermore, the definition of anti-Semitism on which these arguments are based is questionable. The premise, which is rarely explicitly formulated, is that refugees are anti-Semitic because any criticism of the State of Israel is seen as such. We should remember that rejection of Zionist movements had been a central component of Jewish discourse until much of European Jewry was decimated by the Nazis. Although this is largely overlooked, a genuine Jewish anti-Zionist tradition is a historical fact.

Additionally, equating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism inevitably leads to a de-legitimization of the history of the Palestinian people and their aspirations in light of this history. It is understandable that many Palestinian refugees (especially those who lost their homes in wars in and around Israel) have a completely different perspective of Israel than Germans who feel, per se, bound to the state by historic responsibility. Some refugees’ rejection of the Jewish state is thus not necessarily motivated by hatred of Jews: it is, on the contrary, an expression and a consequence of a political conflict in which a non-Jewish indigenous population lost a great deal of land and property. This is a matter of historic rights. The occupation is still going on and those who live in the occupied Palestinian territories have no semblance of legal security. They are subjected to reprisals, and lack control of and access to resources.

Anti-Semitism in the mainstream of German society is politically and sociologically different to the anti-Zionist sentiments of some refugees. Clearly, such opinions canpotentially be accompanied by anti-Semitism. This does not mean, however, that every criticism of the Jewish nation state is motivated by anti-Semitism. German civil society, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or religiously unaffiliated must find ways of dealing with historic and present day anti-Semitism, while simultaneously acknowledging that the Palestinian people have paid and are continuing to pay a huge price for the safety of the Jewish state.

We need to fight and will fight anti-Semitism – whenever and wherever. It appears. We cannot, however, fight anti-Semitism by automatically branding anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, belittling the historic narrative of the Palestinians and denying their historical suffering in the name of a Jewish historic narrative. Quite the opposite: we must listen to each other and accept the existence of more than just one single perspective of the Middle East.

You can read the original German version of this statement here.

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