Jewish life in Germany must be protected Chancellor Angela Merkel told delegates after receiving the WJC Theodor Herzl Award in Munich on Monday.
Merkel’s award however came as far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) enjoyed an increase in support in state elections in Thuringia.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder presented the accolade to the Chancellor at an award ceremony at Munich’s Jewish community centre.
Dr Charlotte Knobloch, President of the Israeli Cultural Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria and WJC Commissioner for Holocaust Memory co-hosted the event that recognizes individuals who promote Herzl’s ideals for a tolerant world for Jewish people.
Chancellor Merkel said it was humbling to receive the award.
“Jewish life in Germany must be supported and protected,” she said.
Describing the attack on a synagogue in Halle over Yom Kippur as a “heinous crime” she noted, “These are deeply troubling developments, they are directed at Jews in our country, but by no means only them because they attack us all. Jews and non-Jews alike, everything that our country stands on, our values and our freedoms. They hit at the core of our shared existence, because they flow from a deep hatred of democracy.
“We must never accept the fact that people in Germany have to live in fear because of their religious convictions. We must do everything in our power to make sure they can live their lives free and safe. Antisemitism and racism do not begin with violent acts; it is much subtler. We must make sure not to wake up only after words have become deeds.”
The Chancellor added that the award was an obligation never to be content with what has been achieved but to continue striving toward a better future in unison with partners.
“I want to encourage all of you to continue working towards a diverse and secure Jewish life in Germany as I will continue to do myself,” she concluded.
Presenting the award, Lauder highlighted progress made in post-war Germany to rebuild its dark past.
“You (Chancellor Merkel) are the guardian of democracy, the guardian of civilisation and the guardian of Europe. You have always supported the Jewish community in this country and always stood by Israel.”
Lauder added that Chancellor Merkel stood against irrationality, extremism, hate, racism and antisemitism. But he had a stark warning against progress made.
“The ancient hate against the Jews is rearing its ugly head again all over Europe,” Lauder explained.
Referring to unprecedented violent levels since 1945 as demonstrated in Halle, he added, “The problem is not a Jewish problem. It is a German one.
“We must stand united against anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and homophobia. We must fight the haters of every people and of all people. And it’s up to all of us to take action now,”
Lauder called for increased police protection at synagogues in schools, substantial penalties for those committing anti-Semitic attacks, prohibition against hate speech on the Internet, a commitment by political parties to expel those engaging in anti-Semitism and outlawing political parties with a neo-Nazi ideology.
“The German democracy must defend itself, defend its citizens and defend its Jews from the dark forces now rising on the extreme right and the extreme left,” he explained.
Dr Knobloch praised the Chancellor in her remarks.
“This honour gives Jews “a reason for optimism” amid rising levels of anti-Semitism.
She added, “Against the ever-same, old-new hatred of anything Jewish, and against the enemies of democracy, freedom and tolerance, we must stand united, from ordinary citizens to the highest levels of government, Jews and non-Jews alike.
“The values of this prize must remain our guiding light in the future. Making the world a better place for Jewish people must remain our goal.”
Dr Knobloch though noted that AfD’s success in Thuringia demonstrated the political system was “coming apart at the seams”.
“Anywhere where a party like that celebrates success, is a place with real problems,” she added.
Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, rebuffed suggestions of a ‘protest vote’.
AfD voters unequivocally express “racist sentiment,” he said.
“Whoever votes for the AfD votes for an anti-democratic Germany,” Schuster added.
The Left party won most votes ahead of AfD, who more than doubled their vote share. Merkel’s CDU party came in third place.
Dr Knobloch noted, “Many of the electorate have used their votes to support a party who have for years downplayed the horrors of the Nazi era, who are openly nationalistic and have spread messages of hate against minorities, including the Jewish community, and who have prepared the breeding ground for exclusion and extreme right-wing violence.”
AfD leaders have suggested Germans are too apologetic over the Shoah.
Meantime, a worrying survey of 1,300 Germans saw 41% of respondents agree that Jews “talk about the Holocaust too much”, 40% felt that Jews were “more loyal to Israel than to Germany” while 20% thought Jews had “too much power” over the economy, international financial markets and media.
Some 22 % said “people hate Jews because of the way they behave”.
By Natalie Ash