German Jews call anti-foreigner riots a threat to democracy

Toby Axelrod

(JTA) — Anti-foreigner riots in the former East German city of Chemnitz have Jewish leaders and activists worried about the stability of German democracy.

The riots occurred during anti-migrant demonstrations after two men of Arab background were arrested for the Aug. 26 murder of a German man in Chemnitz, in the state of Saxony.

Far-right activists rallied supporters within hours, and over two days some extremists within the crowds chased and beat people whom they considered to be foreigners. Journalists reportedly were attacked as well. In addition, some right-wing demonstrators also reportedly attacked police, who ended up using water cannons and clubs to control the crowds.

Both the excesses of the demonstrators and the apparent helplessness of police prompted Jewish leaders to join with politicians across the mainstream political spectrum to express grave concerns.

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Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement Aug. 28 that it was extremely worrying that that right-wing extremists have become more radical and more professional in their activities. He accused the far-right political party, Alternative for Germany, of trying to benefit from the tragedy of a murder. Last September, the AfD became the first far-right party in postwar Germany to earn seats in the Bundestag.

Schuster said it was alarming that so many people had no hesitation “to hunt down certain groups of people based on rumors and call for vigilante justice.”

Nora Goldenbogen, head of the Dresden Jewish community and of the regional association of Jewish communities in Saxony, said she was “very frightened” by the apparent “escalation and radicalization” of the far right. In an essay for Germany’s Jewish weekly, the Juedische Allgemeine, she noted “how quickly right-wing radicals can organize” and urged civil society to join with the government to defend democratic values.

“The longer the demonstrations continue, attracting members of the far right from throughout Germany, the greater the sense of unease that anti-Semitism can erupt at any moment,” said Deidre Berger, head of the American Jewish Committee office in Berlin. “This is a difficult moment for Jews living in Germany.”

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators showed up on Monday for a concert under the slogan “there are more of us.”

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