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“Stop Thief!” The German State Attacks Migrants to Distract from Its Own Antisemitism

German politicians claim that antisemitism is an “imported problem.” Even a cursory look at the facts, however, shows that anti-Jewish hatred is not caused by pro-Palestinian protests. No, the source is German capitalism.

Nathaniel Flakin

November 21, 2023
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Tombstones in Germany defaced with Swasticas.

There’s an idiom in German, “Haltet den Dieb!” which literally translates as “Stop thief!” But while the expression in English is straightforward — someone is getting robbed and needs help — in German, there is a second layer of meaning: “Haltet den Dieb!” is what a thief yells out when they are about to get caught, and they are hoping to sow chaos and confusion. It refers to a criminal falsely accusing others of their own criminality. (Apparently this idiom originates from a Chinese proverb. Fascinating!)

I thought of this idiom when I read that Germany’s Bundestag (parliament) is debating a law that would require immigrants defend “Israel’s right to exist.” Otherwise, they would be subject to deportation or even revocation of their German citizenship. (Such measures, of course, have an extremely disturbing history in Germany.) German politicians argue that this is justified because migrants are “importing” antisemitism into Germany.

“Stop thief!” There is so much discussion about the supposed antisemitism of immigrants that it’s easy to overlook how the German regime drips antisemitism from every pore. I have compiled a dozen examples:

  1. The far-right party AfD, which is over 20 percent in national polls, defends the Nazi Wehrmacht and calls on Germany to cease its remembrance of the Holocaust.
  2. The conservative party CDU has just decided to keep Hans-Georg Maaßen as a member in good standing. The former head of the domestic secret service spreads antisemitic conspiracy theories about “globalists” being responsible for the “hoax” of climate change.
  3. The CDU’s Bavarian branch, the CSU, just renewed its coalition government with Hubertus Aiwanger, after it was revealed that as a student, he wrote and distributed fliers calling for a new Auschwitz.
  4. The social democratic party SPD kept the former Berlin financial senator Thilo Sarrazin as a member for over a decade, after he had written books promoting eugenicist theories, including remarks about “Jewish genes.”
  5. The Green Party was full of praise for Andrij Melnyk, the former Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, despite the fact that he is a fanatical supporter of Ukrainian fascists who fought alongside Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Melnyk denied the historical facts of the Holocaust, which didn’t prevent Green leaders from supporting him.
  6. The German police produce scandals on a more or less weekly basis, when internal chats full of racist and antisemitic posts come to light. The only police chat that has been published is full of memes praising Hitler and the extermination camps.
  7. In the last month, these same police have censored, detained, and arrested a number of Jews for speaking out in favor of Palestine.
  8. In the foreign secret service BND, a court just decided that an official could keep his job despite making remarks justifying genocide against Jews.
  9. Numerous German billionaires, including the wealthiest dynasty in the country, the Quandts, inherited their wealth from Nazi war criminals
  10. The billionaire Elon Musk is getting enormous subsidies to build a Tesla near Berlin, despite a long record of spreading ever more vile antisemitic conspiracy theories.
  11. The German company Adidas continued selling merchandise from Kanye West long after he attacked Jews and praised Hitler.
  12. The entire state apparatus of the Federal Republic of Germany was built up by former Nazis, most of whom never faced any accountability for their terrible crimes.

These examples are confirmed by government statistics, according to which 84 percent of antisemitic crimes in Germany are committed by right-wing white Germans. 

Yet if you listen to the German government’s Antisemitism Czars — yes, that’s the actual name for this strange bureaucracy — they refuse to look at German antisemitism. They focus entirely on immigrants. It would seem the German state only has a problem with antisemitism if they can claim it is “imported,” and can thus be instrumentalized to justify racist policies.

Antisemitism Czar

Let’s start with the Federal Antisemitism Czar, Felix Klein. As numerous critics have pointed out, Klein has neither a personal connection to Judaism nor any political experience dealing with antisemitism — before getting his current job, he was a career bureaucrat from Germany’s Foreign Office.

Now, if one were genuinely interested in antisemitism, this would be an obvious place to start: Germany’s Foreign Office played a very active role in the genocide against Jews. After 1945, most of the Nazi officials were left at their posts. It was only in 2010 (!), long after the mass murderers had passed away without facing any consequences, that the ministry began to slowly admit the vast scale of its crimes. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Klein was trained by people who were trained by Nazi mass murderers. Has he ever dealt with this fact? No, he is too busy denouncing the antisemitism of Palestinian youths who wear keffiyehs. 

This isn’t a purely historical problem. As the magazine Der Spiegel reported, just last year Germany’s Foreign Office abused the Stolpersteine project that commemorates victims of the Holocaust: They had symbolic cobblestones placed for “victims of fascism” from their apparatus who, on closer inspection, turned out to be active Nazis who suffered fairly minor inconveniences due to office politics. This is typical far-right historical revisionism, intended to portray German Nazis as the “real” victims of the Second World War. Klein has, as far as I can tell, never spoken out about his employer’s long legacy of antisemitism.

With amazing cynicism, Klein has argued that antisemitism is not just a problem caused by recent immigrants, but also by the 24 million people in Germany with a “migration background.” In other words, literally everyone is responsible for antisemitism — except the German state. Stop thief!

Attacks Against Jews

The most disturbing thing about the German Antisemitism Czars, as explained by the magazine Jewish Currents, is their ongoing willingness to attack Jews who do not support the state of Israel. When non-Jewish German bureaucrats accuse Jews of antisemitism, this actually combines multiple antisemitic tropes, firstly by assuming that Jews are a more or less homogenous collective, meaning that every “real” Jew must support Israel, and secondly by blaming Jews themselves for antisemitism.

Klein has explained in interviews that Berlin’s Israeli community simply doesn’t understand antisemitism — the implication being that, as a scion of an apparatus that helped organize the Shoah, he “gets” antisemitism in a way that Jews will never manage.

As all parties in the Bundestag call for the deportation of “antisemitic immigrants,” it is worth noting that there is actually no provision in the draft law that would exempt Jewish people. For years, we have seen German police arresting Jews for antisemitism. Will Jews now be deported as well? In a radio interview, Klein was confronted with the question whether Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, two very vocal Jewish opponents of Zionism, would under his definitions be banned from German universities. He refused to answer.

Fighting against antisemitism is the duty of every democrat. Yet Klein and his colleagues are not actually fighting against antisemitism. Klein actually defended the conservative antisemite Maaßen, arguing that accusations of antisemitism shouldn’t be made lightly (!). Klein’s job is actually to give a “Persilschein,” a bill of clean health, to antisemites as long as they are German and right-wing. The “Persilschein” was a document that Nazi officials gave to each other in post-war West Germany, testifying to the fact that they were innocent of any responsibility for crimes against humanity.

A Socialist Perspective

How can antisemitism be eliminated? How can we build a society without racism or oppression of any kind? Notably, Klein thinks this is impossible, describing the fight against antisemitism as an “an ongoing, continuous task.” Bourgeois ideology treats anti-Jewish hatred as something eternal and mythical — which in itself reveals a low opinion of Jews. They desperately want to avoid a historical and materialist explanation for antisemitism, because that would mean naming names of those who are responsible.

As Jewish socialists such as Abraham Leon explained, the root of antisemitism can be found in class society, and today in capitalism. In order to end all prejudice and discrimination against Jews, as well as all forms of racism and oppression, we need to get rid of capitalism. Yet the German state and its Antisemitism Czars are all about protecting capitalism. This is why they start these racist campaigns that protect actual antisemites while providing a “respectable” cover for racist policies. It is the German state that continuously propagates anti-Jewish hatred. Yet it keeps calling out: “Stop thief!”

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Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French, and in Spanish. He has also written an anticapitalist guide book called Revolutionary Berlin. He is on the autism spectrum.

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