German Muslim leader proposes sending imams and rabbis together into schools to combat anti-Semitism


(JTA) —  After a public outcry over the bullying of a Jewish schoolgirl in Berlin by Muslim classmates, the head of Germany’s main Muslim association has proposed sending imams and rabbis together into public schools to combat anti-Semitism.

Aiman Mazyek, head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, used Twitter to propose his idea, shortly after Germany’s main Jewish leader remarked that Muslim organizations must do more to monitor what imams are preaching in German mosques.

Triggering the latest call to action is a case of anti-Semitic bullying at the Paul-Simmel Elementary School in Berlin. The victim’s father told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper last weekend that his daughter was harassed because she “does not believe in Allah.” Classmates have chanted “Jew” and threatened to beat and kill her, he said, adding that one pupil even threatened him and his wife for not teaching their child to believe in Allah. The family – in which only one parent is Jewish –  has chosen to remain anonymous.

The case has inflamed an existing debate about how best to deal with the problem of anti-Semitism among Muslim youth, and is pressing lawmakers, religious leaders and police to take action.

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In an interview with ZDF television on Tuesday, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said that while there has been cooperation between Jewish and Muslim groups on some shared concerns, there have been few joint efforts regarding anti-Semitism.

It was shortly after the Schuster interview that Mazyek announced his plan to send ten imams  – preferably together with rabbis – to visit classrooms, “promoting dialogue, enlightenment and mutual respect.”

Mazyek told the news agency AFP that he hoped Jewish communities would join the project. There has as yet been no public response.

The Berlin-based Research and Information Center on Anti-Semitism registered 18 anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin schools in 2017,  twice as many in the previous year. But Benjamin Steinitz, director of the center, told AFP he believes the real numbers are much higher.

Many pupils fear to report such cases, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, president of Germany’s teachers’ association, told AFP, adding that the problem is not limited to Berlin.

Schuster has supported the establishment of a federal register for cases of anti-Semitic bullying in schools. He also backs the German police union in their call for a nationwide study of violence in schools.

Meanwhile, the Union for Education and Science has called for more support and training for teachers in how to deal with anti-Semitic incidents.

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