Syrian Demolition, Iraq Hostages, My Grand-Pere's World

The Mezzeh area of Damascus in July 2013
The Mezzeh area of Damascus in July 2013

The Syrian government is alleged to have unlawfully demolished entire neighborhoods in parts of Damascus and Hama to punish civilians in areas where the regular army had been fighting with the opposition, NGO Human Rights Watch said in a report published this morning. The study is based on satellite pictures that show the destruction of residential and commercial buildings.

A group of eight gunmen stormed a government building in northeast Baghdad and took civil servants hostage, AFP reports, quoting official sources. Although nobody has yet claimed responsibility, al-Qaeda-linked group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are thought to be behind the attack, which was preceded by several explosions in the Iraqi capital. Since the beginning of the month, at least 909 people have been killed in Iraq.

The United States notified NATO earlier this month that it believes Russia has been testing a new missile, in violation of a 1987 agreement signed by then-presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, The New York Times reports officials as saying.

Russia’s counter-terrorism agency announced this morning it had identified the suicide bombers responsible for the terrorist attacks that killed 34 people in Volgograd in late December. Suspected accomplices have also been arrested, news agency ITAR-TASS reports. Earlier this month, Russia’s main security agency said Saudi Arabia was directly involved in the attack.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has taken a sick leave, due to “acute respiratory illness combined with a high fever,” Interfax reports. Yanukovych has been under pressure from the opposition to resign since the Kiev protests started two months ago. This comes after the opposition rejected a proposed amnesty bill for the protesters on condition that they leave the occupied government buildings.

Writing in The Guardian, columnist Seumas Milne sheds new light on the protesters, explaining that contrary to what Western media report, “far-right nationalists and fascists have been at the heart of the protests,” including “hard-right antisemitic Svoboda” party.

Denmark’s government is on the brink of losing power after one of the parties that formed the minority coalition, the Socialist People's Party, announced it was leaving government over its refusal of sale of a state-controlled energy group Dong to Goldman Sachs. Read the full story from the Financial Times.

British historian Niall Ferguson says Britain should have stayed out of World War I.

A recent study shows that at least 20% of the Neanderthal genome can be found in modern-day humans.

A Dutch drug trafficker arrested with a kilogram of meth and other drugs walked free because the Belgian police wrote the warrant in French instead of Dutch.


We bring you 50 years of travel, 80 countries, and the spoils of 20,000 slides in a new Worldcrunch feature, My Grand-Père's World. Above, The building in the background is Copenhagen's 17th century Borsen, the oldest stock exchange in Denmark. With its intriguing spire made of four dragon tails twined together, I wondered if Danish bankers appreciated the architect's twisted sense of humor...

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

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.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


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.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

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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