January 24, 2020
Is Germany anti-semitic and racist?
The role of German presidents is largely ceremonial. We can recall only a few instances where they actively intervened in politics. Walter Scheel refused to sign a couple of laws he disagreed with in the 1970s. More recently, Frank-Walter Steinmeier leaned on the SPD to enter into a grand coalition, a tragic mistake as it turned out.
If presidents are remembered for anything it is for their speeches. People are still talking about Richard von Weizsäcker’s address to the Bundestag in 1985 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the end of the second world war. Yesterday, Steinmeier gave a speech in Israel, in which he noted that crude anti-semitism was rampant in Germany. He said many Germans had failed to draw the right lessons from the Nazi period. Many Germans were shocked. We think anti-semitism is one of the most under-reported stories of German politics. There is anti-semitism in the UK and France, too, but the German variety is of a different quality. It is not confined to the hard left or the hard right, but runs deeper in society. Anti-semitism is often commingled with anti-Americanism and and anti-capitalism, neither of which are confined to the extremes of the political spectrum either.
We agree with an observation by the journalist Matthias Blumencron, who wrote yesterday that the truth in Steinmeier’s remarks can be ascertained by just reading the comments under the various video streams of his speech in the internet.
On a related note, we noted an interview by Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and dissident, who left in 2015 to live initially in Berlin and who later moved to Cambridge. He told the Guardian that the reason he left Berlin was recurring racism he and his children were exposed to in daily life in the German capital.