How can I help curb anti-Semitism


"Anti-Semitism", the old master of critical theory, Theodor W. Adorno, once wrote in his book "Minima Moralia" in 1951, "is the rumor about the Jews". Although not a very practicable or even sufficient definition, Adorno referred to two central characteristics of anti-Semitism: On the one hand, it is about "the Jews". The anti-Semite, according to the British philosopher Brian Klug, makes "the Jews" out of Jews, so he constructs a homogeneous group that only exists as such in his imagination. [1] So far, so easy. But what's the deal with Adorno's "rumor"? According to the Duden, two components of anti-Semitism appear in this term, which concern us to this day: a difficult-to-grasp, semi-secret supposed "knowledge" and at the same time the passion with which one devotes oneself to it and spreads it.

The semi-secret in particular may seem a bit exaggerated at first glance, as it has recently become very loud and public above Talked about anti-Semitism. You could even say that anti-Semitism has become a popular public issue, a media star. Hardly a week goes by without a recent survey, study or statistic on anti-Semitism being published. Behind the large number of studies is not only the goal of increasing knowledge, but also the desire to make a complex, difficult to define social phenomenon comprehensible and thus also manageable, according to the motto: problem recognized, measured, fought. However, anti-Semitism cannot be measured like water temperature. Even more: the many surveys and statistics also serve to banish the discomfort and suggest a certainty about how things are going with us, but that cannot exist. Numbers can, however, help to perceive social tendencies and movements. This will be worked out in the following and placed in the context of the developments in anti-Semitism research.

Analysis categories and historical continuities

As a first step, I would like to take a look back in order to clarify the historical relevance of current preferences in anti-Semitism research. How did Jewish and non-Jewish authors deal with modern anti-Semitism before 1933? This was perceived by them as something new, something that could not be explained solely by the "medieval" religious hatred of Jews. [2] This is probably why the authors - almost exclusively men - were so little interested in surveys or figures in the German Empire and the Weimar Republic, because there was no doubt that anti-Semitism was a widespread phenomenon. Instead, they wanted to understand where he came from. Not how much, rather Why there was anti-Semitism - that was the big pre-war question. Therefore, sociological explanations were brought into play, terms such as "minority" and "majority" as well as group formation processes through inclusion and exclusion, or the importance of clear enemy images for the mobilizing power of nationalism was pointed out. At the same time, there was an impressive agreement that anti-Semitism could not be explained by the alleged character traits or actions of the Jews, but solely by the pathologies on the part of the anti-Semites.

Here, a category of analysis came into play that was only recently brought back to the center by anti-Semitism research: the role of emotions in explaining the power and persistence of anti-Jewish resentment. [3] Religion, on the other hand, played less of a role in the attempted explanations before 1933, too much of the self-portrayal of the allegedly irreligious "modern anti-Semites" being taken for granted. Overall, it can be said that not much new theoretical approaches about anti-Semitism have been added since 1945, apart from critical theory, whose interdependence of social and psychoanalysis has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. [4]

It was also the academics at the Frankfurt School who, together with a few remigrants and, above all, the US occupying power, made modern sociological research methods useful for dealing with anti-Semitism after the war. [5] To this day, this approach is shaped by our knowledge of the National Socialist genocide of European Jews: After the war, the main aim was to explain the rise of the NSDAP from its ethnic predecessors and to make anti-Semitism measurable and thus controllable in social science at the same time - in other words, a kind of early warning system, which is still valid today as evidence of the German population's capacity for democracy. [6]

In the first decades after the war, this ability was not all that good, if you look at the first studies on the subject: In a survey from 1946, 85 percent of those questioned were against the return of the surviving Jews to Germany for one year Later, the US military government's anti-Semitism report came to the conclusion that 18 percent of the German population were considered to be radical anti-Semites, 21 percent as anti-Semites, a further 22 percent as racists, 19 percent as nationalists and only 20 percent as largely free from this resentment. [7] From today's perspective, it is less the numbers that are surprising than the expectation that they would change quickly after war and genocide. The opposite was the case, and it was not just about attitudes to be researched, but about human behavior: with the loss of Allied supremacy after the establishment of the Federal Republic in 1949, the number of anti-Jewish incidents increased, and anti-Semitic attitudes were again expressed more openly, before this began to decrease very slowly. [8] There are no comparable figures for the GDR, but it can be assumed that they hardly differ, as there was a continuation of the anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 1940s in the form of personal continuities in both post-Nazi German societies, although the continuity of the elites in the West cannot be emphasized clearly enough as a striking difference. [9] Jewish vengeance, Jewish greed, Jewish immorality - all of these ancient antisemitism elements, updated and propagated by National Socialism, continued to be virulent after 1945 and now docked easily with the conditions of the post-genocidal societies of the perpetrators. The post-war Germans felt themselves to be victims of more or less everyone: "the Americans", "the Russians" - but above all "the Jews".

In this respect, a generation change was required in both German states to break this continuity. However, it was not until the late 1980s that this could become socially effective, that is, until "the 68ers" were able to teach the next generation of classes in schools. This becomes clear, for example, in the question: "Would you say it would be better not to have Jews in the country?", Which has been asked repeatedly in all surveys since the late 1940s: between 1950 and 1983 this sentence was in agreement Although it fell from almost 40 to 9 percent, what is particularly interesting is the number of those who were "undecided" or did not want to answer this question at all: This has increased continuously since the 1950s and reached almost 50 percent in 1983. [10] These figures show two examples: first the development under the term "communication latency" that public anti-Semitic statements in post-war Germany were increasingly taboo and relegated into the private sphere since the 1960s, while "don't know" was recorded in surveys; [11]Secondlythat there was a massive and stable shift in the polls only after German unification in 1990: eight years later, at least in the polls, the situation was clear, and 86 percent of the population affirmed the Jewish presence in Germany. [12]

The latter, in turn, proves an (exceptionally undisputed) finding of anti-Semitism research: The enormous importance attached to the attitude of the elites: After 1990, "coming to terms with the past" became a reason of state, not least for reasons of foreign policy. This change in the political field ultimately also results in the financing of what is being praised today as the exemplary German way of dealing with a murderous past: money for educational and memorial sites, museums and non-governmental organizations that are doing an excellent job overall. "The pronounced willingness to take responsibility for the crimes of previous generations", [13] is in turn a central prerequisite for raising awareness of anti-Semitism and reducing its attractiveness. But this, as anti-Semitic derailments such as Martin Walser's speech in the Frankfurt Paulskirche in 1998 or the classic anti-Semitic effusions of former AfD member of the state parliament Wolfgang Gedeons have shown time and again, does not just work that way. [14]

Measurement of anti-Semitism

The topic that will probably occupy anti-Semitism research the most in the future is anti-Semitism on the Internet. The first global attempt to measure the frequency of anti-Semitism in social media was launched back in 2016. For this purpose, the reported anti-Semitic posts on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter as well as the respective deletion rates were related to each other, with the overall rate being highest on Facebook at 37 percent and lowest on Youtube at 8 percent. A breakdown according to the form of anti-Semitism that was considered worthy of deletion is interesting: for example, ten months after the report on Facebook, 25 percent of the calls for violence and 42 percent of the Shoah denials were still available, while YouTube mainly seems to delete calls for violence , but leaves everything else - such as Israel-related anti-Semitism - where it is. [15] For Germany, the cognitive scientist Monika Schwarz-Friesel came to the conclusion that the rapid, uncontrolled and multiple dissemination in the everyday media of the Internet accelerates and intensifies the acceptance and normalization of anti-Semitism - which, however, also applies to all other forms of network-based hatred and to this extent to the urgency of a comparative and contextualising investigation of the network speaks. [16]

This is usually the case with survey research. Given what this means in terms of research effort, it is hardly surprising that there are hardly any global studies. The most well-known is the survey that the US Anti-Defamation League regularly commissions, which calls for consent to certain anti-Semitic stereotypes over the phone. In 2015, Denmark performed best with 8, the USA with 10, Great Britain with 12 and the Netherlands with 11 percent. Germany and France were in the middle with 16 and 17 percent, while countries such as Greece, Iran and Turkey were in the "bottom lights" with approval ratings of 67 to 70 percent. [17] The 2018 Pew study came to similar results, in which almost 25,000 Christians in 15 Western European countries were asked about their acceptance of Jews and Muslims as neighbors and family members: According to this, 88 percent of German Christians can imagine themselves as family members however, they only have 69 percent, which is below the European average of 76 percent. [18] At least for Western Europe, significantly stronger anti-Semitic resentment can be established in Catholic countries, although this may not necessarily have to do with the faith, but with a longer impact of Catholicism in the political culture of the Mediterranean countries in particular.

In Germany there are also a number of surveys, such as the General Population Survey of the Social Sciences (ALBUS) or the survey by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, which collect anti-Semitic and other attitudes in the context of developments in society as a whole. According to ALBUS, approval of anti-Semitic findings fell by around ten percentage points between 2006 and 2016; according to the Anti-Discrimination Agency, the rejection of Jews as neighbors or family members is almost as high as that of atheists, but far lower than that of Muslims or other people marked as "strangers".

As the most important, because continuous and therefore comparable, surveys of anti-Semitism research, the so-called Mitte studies come to a similar result: anti-Semitic attitudes fell significantly between 2002 and 2018, the proportion of those who have a "fully manifest anti-Semitic worldview" has even increased than halved: from 9.3 to 4.4 percent. [19] This finding applies both to stereotypes that are attributed to traditional anti-Semitism, [20] and so-called secondary anti-Semitism, which relates to Israel or the Holocaust. [21] However, the numbers of those who answered "I partially agree" in surveys are still very high: Depending on the question, the values ​​are always between 20 and 35 percent, whereby it is also noticeable that the difference is in this "latent area" between traditional and secondary anti-Semitism is clearly melting.

All of this clearly contradicts the general impression spread in the media of a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism in Germany and Europe. According to the 2018 Eurobarometer, the majority of Europeans think anti-Semitism is a problem in their country. Two thirds of all Germans believe that this has increased in the past five years. [22] Most attribute this to the Middle East conflict and less to a lack of education and memory about the Holocaust. This points to an assessment shared by Jews in Germany and Europe: According to an online survey in 13 EU countries from 2018, almost 90 percent of the Jews surveyed perceive an increase in anti-Semitism in their respective countries. 28 percent had been victims of anti-Semitic harassment online or offline, 2 percent were victims of a physical attack. [23]

A year earlier, a study commissioned by the Independent Expert Group on Antisemitism of the Bundestag had come to similar, not quite as high figures for Germany, but it spoke clearly about the perception of the perpetrators: both in the violent attacks and in Most Muslims named the perpetrators who had experienced insults. [24] This is explained in particular by the social structure, which, like most Jewish families, live in large cities: The meeting place in Berlin or Frankfurt am Main is much denser than, for example, in small towns in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania or in Lower Bavaria.

New influencing factors?

The fact that a shift in the accusation of anti-Semitism from "majority Germans" to a population group that is already unpopular with a large number of people is met with open ears in the media and with some downright enthusiasm is reflected in the large number of studies that have been carried out in recent years on the subject of Islamic anti-Semitism. In this context, a survey from 2015 and 2016 among Germans with a Turkish background is particularly interesting. [25] Of these, almost half were classified as "positive towards Jews" and about 21 percent as negative. 30 percent preferred not to give an answer at all, which can be interpreted as an echo of the German communication latency.

No fewer than four studies dealt with anti-Semitic attitudes among those who recently came to Germany, all of which were carried out shortly after the "refugee summer 2015". [26] The authors conducted individual and group interviews with refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and / or interviewed experts, multipliers and civil society actors from various origins. Despite the different approaches and samples, the results are astonishingly similar and also resemble the result of a comparative European study by the British historian David Feldman. [27] He came to the conclusion that the majority of those interviewed expressed anti-Semitic resentment, but mostly did so in fragments. In addition to a wide range of attitudes towards Jews, which ranged from positive curiosity to neutrality to manifest world conspiracy fantasies, a great lack of knowledge about Judaism and the Holocaust as well as the use of one-sided criticism of Israel could be ascertained. For the latter in particular, however, the Arabic origin seems to be much more important than the religious background.

Overall, there is so far no reliable evidence that immigration from Islamic countries has had a relevant influence on the development of anti-Semitism in Germany since 2015, especially since neither Muslims nor refugees and much less people with a migration background are homogeneous collectives.

Much more important seems to be the attitudes and norms newcomers encounter here, and present-day Germany by no means offers a homogeneous unit of values. The results of a Berlin survey published in 2019, in which people without German citizenship and in six languages ​​were interviewed, are similar to the German average, with people without a migration background having higher approval rates for anti-guilt anti-Semitism, i.e. anti-Semitism based on the motive of defending against memory of and responsibility for Holocaust, while migrants have a higher anti-Semitism related to Israel. In this study, a conservative and / or nationalistic canon of values, but also an authoritarian orientation, lower education, low tolerance for frustration and a tendency to conspiracy are named as important influencing factors for anti-Semitism among long-time residents and immigrants. [28]


In all studies on anti-Semitic attitudes it was quite clear that efforts to promote education and prevention have a measurable positive effect, but the past few years have also shown that, contrary to all belief in progress and education, anti-Semitism can definitely become virulent again. The number of anti-Semitic crimes is increasing: by 19 percent in 2018 and by 13 percent in 2019, [29] whereby the increase in violent acts is particularly worrying.

Around 90 percent of these crimes are assigned to the right-wing extremist milieu, and although there are some doubts about the exactness of the assignment in individual cases, one cannot ignore the fact that anti-Semitic hate crime in Germany predominantly comes from this camp. But how can this blatant contradiction between rising crime on the one hand and falling polls on anti-Semitic attitudes on the other hand be explained? Even if you take into account an increased sensitivity and willingness to report, there is still a disturbing remainder that requires explanation.

One possible answer to the question is a qualitative analysis by the cultural scientist Julijana Ranc, who conducted numerous group discussions with West and East German youths and adults from the countryside and from the city in the 2000s. [30] It dealt with general political problems, for example against the background of globalization or developments in the EU. So if it wasn't about anti-Semitism or Jews, anti-Jewish resentments were often expressed, fueled in the dynamic of speech and counter-speech and - much less often, however - disapproved or parried. In the "anti-Jewish communities of excitement" that Ranc found time and again, there were only a few "resentment-driven" people who had to keep addressing "the Jews" no matter what. They were seconded by the "occasional anti-Semites" who, if one was already on the subject, had to add their proverbial "mustard". It is frightening how often and easily these two groups succeeded in getting the vast majority, namely the ambivalent and indifferent, to their side, and how difficult it was for the few dedicated anti-anti-Semites to get away with their arguments. This throws "a glaring light on the resistance of anti-Jewish resentment among average German citizens to being educated". [31]

Assuming that this situation has not improved dramatically in the past ten years, Ranc's results may also explain some of what is worrying today: the size of the resentment-driven and casual anti-Semites in Ranc's groups roughly corresponds to that who are recorded in the survey research as people with a manifest anti-Semitic view of the world (around 10 percent) and as latently anti-Semitic attitudes (around 15 to 20 percent). As early as 2018, the Vice President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Abraham Lehrer, pointed out that perhaps too long people were staring at the ten percent of "real" anti-Semites and, given their consistently relatively small number, they were lulled into security instead of themselves to worry more about the up to 20 percent casual anti-Semites. [32] It seems that these are now "off the leash". The increasing numbers of anti-Semitic crimes primarily demonstrate an increasing structure of opportunity, be it through brutalization of manners, be it through the possibility of radicalization on the Internet, be it through the increasing salon ability of nationalist, folk and racist positions and actions - because anti-Semitism does not come alone . In Germany, not only are the numbers for anti-Semitic crimes, incidents and attitudes increasing, but also those for racist hatred, discrimination and violence overall. [33] Anti-Semitism is rather a syndrome of the need for a simple explanation of the world with strong feelings, for self-assurance through the construction of an outgroup on which one can concentrate one's resentment.

I am therefore particularly concerned about the results of Julijana Ranc's study because of the behavior of the ambivalent and indifferent that she dissected. If they encountered a "rumor about Jews", they had little to counter it, and even less so when it comes to "original German" issues such as politics of the past, defense against guilt, demands to put an end to it and national pride. In my opinion, this is the most dangerous gateway for anti-Semitic positions and policies to the famous center of society. This is why it is first and foremost important to look at them, to strengthen them and to commit them to the basic democratic consensus. I do not know whether it is good news that we are already sharing this insight with those intellectuals who, before 1933, dealt with anti-Semitism and the possibilities of combating it. Nevertheless, one of them, Constantin Brunner, should have the last word: It is simply a matter, he wrote in the early 1920s, of organizing society in such a way that it protects people in their diversity. [34] As you know, this task has remained with us.

A longer version of the article will be published in autumn 2020 in the anthology "'Du Jude' - Antisemitism Studies and their Pedagogical Consequences".