Even as the European Union has wavered on whether to let Turkey into its exclusive grouping, Ankara has flexed its muscles within the bloc. It has done so by using a shared tool and resource to fight crime: Interpol.
Last Saturday, Spanish authorities arrested author Dogan Akhanli after Turkey issued an Interpol arrest warrant — a so-called "red notice" — for the writer, a German citizen of Turkish origin. Ankara has not publicly stated its motive for the arrest but Akhanli, a critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has previously infuriated officials for his work on the Armenian genocide, a massacre that Turkey has sought to downplay.
Just weeks before Akhanli's arrest, Ankara had issued another "red notice" to Interpol, again in Spain, for Hamza Yalcin, a 59-year-old Swedish-Turkish journalist. Both writers are now being held in Spain, as the courts there decide whether they should grant Turkey's request for extradition.
Since the failed coup attempt on July 15 last year, Turkey has cracked down on officials, teachers, journalists and virtually anyone suspected of dissent in the country. But now it's also reaching far beyond its borders, emboldened by its status as a crucial player in the ongoing fight against terror group ISIS and amid an unprecedented migration crisis. In addition to the international Interpol warrants, Erdogan has been urging voters to boycott Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, among other groups, in upcoming elections in Germany, as video footage released by Turkish media outlet Cumhuriyet shows. "All of these parties are Turkey's enemy," he declared in the clip.
A condemnation with no action may reflect an implicit tolerance for his remarks.
His statements quickly drew Germany's ire. "We will not be dictated here by anyone, including President Erdogan," retorted Merkel, according to a report published in the German newspaper Die Welt. "We refuse to tolerate any kind of interference in the forming of our opinions."
Is her response enough? A condemnation with no action may reflect an implicit tolerance for his remarks. If Europe won't threaten Erdogan with sanctions and punitive measures, the Turkish president certainly won't stop using international organizations for his global witch hunt.
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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