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Germany Synagogue Attack Brings Home Europe’s Antisemitism Threat

Need Better Protection for Holy Sites and Comprehensive Efforts to Combat Rising Hate

A heavily armed assailant ranting about Jews tried to force his way into a synagogue in Germany on Yom Kippur then shot two people to death nearby © AP Photo/Jens Meyer

The attack on a synagogue in Halle, Germany on Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day of the year, is a terrifying reminder that the scourge of anti-Semitism persists in Europe today. A woman and a man were killed by the assailant on the street, while even greater loss of life was averted, it seems, by the strong lock on the synagogue’s door.

Condemnation of the attack was swift. At a vigil the night of the attack, Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “My goal and that of the government is to do everything possible to ensure that you can live in safety, but this day shows us that this is not so simple and that we must do even more.”

What more should be done to counter intolerance and violent extremism will be a key debate in Germany for days to come. It should also take place across the European Union.

There are questions about why the Halle synagogue did not have police protection, as do many synagogues especially in larger cities and despite repeated requests from the Halle Jewish community. Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called the lack of police protection “scandalous,” while Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said the German state should provide “enhanced round-the-clock security” for all Jewish places of worship.

Violent political extremism, and violent anti-Semitism in particular, is on the rise in Germany. Germany’s domestic intelligence service BfV said that violent crimes committed by political extremists increased by 3.2 percent in 2018 over the previous year, while violent crimes against Jews increased by more than 70 percent in the same year. The BfV recently announced it is creating 300 new jobs to counter “right-wing extremism,” an acknowledgement of not only the threat but also of criticisms the agency has failed to prioritize the issue.

Intelligence and police work are key to protecting people in the most direct, physical sense. But tackling the hateful beliefs that divide societies requires so much more. Authorities at the local, regional, and national level should invest substantially in efforts to counter dangerous speech, and to promote inclusiveness and respect. “Never again”: this was Germany’s promise to Jews after the Second World War. This pledge will ring hollow if it is not followed by meaningful action today.

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