The topic of antisemitism has been widely discussed in Germany in the past weeks, in the press and social media. This latest debate was sparked by what was supposedly a music review about the Jewish pianist Igor Levit. This review in fact expressed wholesale criticism of his social engagement and his campaigning against right-wing extremism.
The author talked of an ideology of victimhood. As if Levit were responsible for the attacks against him because he defends himself against antisemitism.
As if he used the fact that he sometimes requires police protection to perform at concerts for his own publicity.
Apologies followed, as did yet more discussion of what you are still allowed to say nowadays. As if it were “just” a question of wounded vanity, rather than an immensely dangerous problem that affects society as a whole.
Author Carolin Emcke was once again spot on when she said: “racism and antisemitism are not just felt by the emotionally oversensitive, they constitute structural discrimination and are real threats”.
The terrible thing about debates like these is that sometimes even intellectuals engage in them as if day to day antisemitism did not exist, not in its blatant form or in the guise of anti-Israel comment or art reviews.
It’s almost as if the words “never again” were today only applied to the past.
However, what is important is taking responsibility here and now. Responsibility for recognising antisemitism, racism and all forms of intolerance, and nipping them in the bud.
The German Government has done a lot to respond to the problem. It has established a Cabinet Committee that deals with the fight against racism, right-wing extremism and antisemitism and will very soon present its very detailed findings.
We are tackling the issue as a political cross-cutting task. But let me also say that at core, combating racism and antisemitism is a task for culture and education, at national and international level.
That is why we founded the European Network – Countering Antisemitism through Education last year.
I am glad that you are meeting again today. I wish you a productive exchange of experience!
We too are working with our European partners to make the fight against antisemitism a cross-cutting task throughout the European Union.
A few weeks ago, we brought together European antisemitism commissioners and representatives from ministries, police forces and judicial authorities across the EU to better coordinate our instruments and strategies in the fight against antisemitism.
At the end of our EU Council Presidency, we would like to publish, with the European Commission, a handbook on the adoption and use of the definition of antisemitism put forward by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
To make it clear that antisemitism is not acceptable anywhere in Europe. And to put our actions to counter it on a common footing.
Ladies and gentlemen,that alone is not enough. We need a strong civil society that teaches children and teenagers by example what it means to show civic courage and stand up for Jews.
We need a strong civil society that loudly says “no” when people are subjected to antisemitic insults or attacks, be they Igor Levit or your neighbour wearing his kippah, a strong civil society, whose links and networks across Europe enable all involved to exchange views and learn from one another.
In a nutshell, we need more initiatives like yours and more people like you.
And therefore, let me thank you very much for your commitment!
I wish you strength and success in your vitally important work!
(Video recording on 27 October)