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Israeli President Warns of Mounting Anti-Semitism in Europe

Israeli President Warns of Mounting Anti-Semitism in Europe

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, right, and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, left, both said hate and nationalism were spreading again in Germany. PHOTO: MICHELE TANTUSSI/REUTERS


Bojan Pancevski

Jan. 29, 2020 7:53 am ET

BERLIN—Anti-Semitism and nationalist hatred are rising again around Europe, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin warned in an address to Germany’s parliament on Wednesday to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

“In today’s Europe, the specter of the past is rising once again,“ said Mr. Rivlin, speaking after a visit to the Nazi death camp with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier. ”Racism, hatred of foreigners, ugly and extreme anti-Semitism are rearing its head across Europe, from the extreme left to the extreme right.”

Addressing lawmakers, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government, Mr. Rivlin commended Germany for having become a beacon of democracy in the struggle against anti-Semitism.

But he warned of a growing gap between Germany’s efforts to rebuild Jewish communities at home and abroad and mounting hostility toward Jews, pointing to a spate of attacks, including in the eastern town of Halle, where a far-Right gunman attacked the local synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays, last year.

Anti-Semitic offenses, ranging from verbal abuse to physical assaults, have risen in Germany in recent years. Mr. Rivlin paired his criticism about such incidents with a warning about the rise of nativist forces in the country.

“Germany, the country where the final solution was thought out, has now taken responsibility for the protection of international liberal values that are under attack from populism.” Mr. Rivlin said.

“Germany must not fail. If Jews cannot live freely here, they will not be able to live in freedom anywhere. The key lesson of the Shoah, is that the Shoah can happen,” Mr. Rivlin said, using the Hebrew term for the holocaust.


Mr. Rivlin’s words were echoed by Mr. Steinmeier, who said hate and nationalism were spreading again in Germany. Wearing a yarmulke—the skullcap worn by Jewish men—he said, had again become a risk in Germany.

“Evil spirits of the past are now resurrecting in new clothes. Therefore we don’t forget what has happened, and we don’t forget what can still happen,” Mr. Steinmeier said.

Between the speeches, music was played by Szymon Laks, the Polish-French composer and holocaust survivor who was head of the Auschwitz inmates’ orchestra set up by the SS to entertain the camp’s wardens.

Wednesday’s event was attended by Holocaust survivors as well as two rabbis who had been present during the attack on the Halle synagogue.

Mr. Rivlin welcomed the Trump administration’s blueprint for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians that was presented on Tuesday and said both sides would now need to study it carefully.

Berlin has yet to take a detailed position on Mr. Trump’s plan.

Mr. Rivlin also spoke up against the German government’s support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, saying the objective of the Tehran regime was the destruction of Israel. Berlin has resisted calls from Israel and the U.S. to leave the agreement.

“The regime is a threat for world peace. There is only one option: we must isolate this regime until its murderous aspirations are gone,” Mr. Rivlin said.

Write to Bojan Pancevski at