Among the world's many gloomy corners, it is hard to get any gloomier than Brazil. After a drug war broke out among several criminal groups, leading to huge prison riots and the death of close to 100 inmates, what looks like a worrying yellow fever outbreak and the death of the Supreme Court judge leading the ongoing Lava Jato ("Car Wash") anti-corruption probe, the northern city of Belém set a new 24-hour record for the number of homicides in a locality, with 30 deaths.
As Folha de S. Paulo reports, the wave of killing started on Friday morning, after a 29-year-old military police officer, Rafael da Silva Costa, was killed during a shootout with criminals he was chasing. By Saturday morning, 30 more people had been killed around the city, with at least 25 of them showing signs of having been executed, local security officials said. "We are considering the possibility that these crimes were committed in reaction to the policeman's death, but we can't say this with certainty yet," the Pará state's security secretary Hilton Benigno told reporters. Witness reports would seem to confirm this, pointing out that many of the killings looked like they had been the work of militia gunmen, driving around in black cars.
Some of the victims just seem to have found themselves at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Among them, a 23-year-old cab driver, whose family say he was not a criminal and "just minding his own business." "Nobody knows why they've killed him," a cousin of the driver told another Folha de S. Paulo reporter.
As a result of the wave of bloodshed, many people decided to keep their shops closed over the weekend. "We're scared because anybody could be next," mechanic José Henrique Nunes said. "On the one hand, you have the local criminals we all know. On the other, you have the militiamen driving around and killing people."
In one neighborhood where a man was killed with 13 bullets on Friday afternoon, some people locked themselves up at home. "We avoid leaving the house out of fear. We're surrounded by violence on all sides," a 21-year-old student and neighbor of the victim said.
The authorities, however, consider that the situation was brought under control before noon on Saturday. Between 12 p.m. on Saturday and the same time on Sunday, "only" six people were killed. That would be seen as an awful and utterly unacceptable lot in some places — but in Belém, it's just an average weekend.
The explosion of crime is hardly limited to Belém. In the coastal city of Natal, in the Rio Grande do Norte state, public transport was interrupted on Thursday after a wave of criminal attacks in which 26 buses, as well as five government cars and three public buildings, were torched. This happened despite — or perhaps because of — the presence of military police at the city's Alcacuz prison, where at least 26 inmates were killed over the past 10 days. In Natal too, the situation eventually returned to normal and public transport services resumed on Monday. But how long it will last is anybody's guess.
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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