Iranian officials have spent plenty of time recently in Geneva to negotiate a deal with the West on its nuclear program. The next pressing question is whether Iran will be back in the Swiss city for the so-called Geneva 2 conference to discuss ways to try to end to Syria's civil war.
Officials in Tehran stated Monday that they'd accepted the invitation to attend that had been extended by the UN Secretary-General. But doubts still linger in many Western capitals whether Iran should participate at the conference, given its support for the regime of President Bashar al-Asad whose three-year war against opponents has provoked thousands of civilian deaths.
Indeed, the Iranian Foreign Ministry has rejected several preconditions for attending. Western states want Iran to support a regime transition in Syria, while Reuters cited Syrian opponents as saying they would not attend if Iran did.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said Iran was "one of the first countries" to propose "dialogue and peaceful means" to help end the civil war, but "we had said before...we would not accept any precondition to our presence" at Geneva 2, the semi-official ISNA agency reported.
An editorial Monday in the reformist daily Arman said that war in Syria was symptomatic of the spread of "Salafist" terrorism across the Middle East that it says is aided by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and several conservative Middle Eastern states. Commentator Ali Khorram wrote that these states must "wake up" from the delusion that Al-Qaeda or similar groups would do their foreign-policy bidding. Iran, he wrote, must begin "some kind of coordination and cooperation" with Turkey and "the West" to "save Iraq, Syria and other unstable Arab states from the terrorists' control."
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani echoed the idea, describing the "policies of world powers in Iraq and Afghanistan and their response to the Syrian crisis" as having "paved the way for the spread of extremist movements" in the region, the official IRNA agency reported.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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