Germany has formally accepted an international definition of anti-Semitism in a move designed to provide clarity for the prosecution of related crimes.
The German Cabinet announced Wednesday that it unanimously adopted the working definition promoted by the International Alliance for Holocaust Remembrance, a body with 31 member states.
In addition to classic forms of anti-Semitism, the definition offers examples of modern manifestations, such as targeting all Jews as a proxy for Israel, denying Jews the right to a homeland and using historical anti-Semitic images to tarnish all Israelis.
“We Germans are particularly vigilant when our country is threatened by an increase in anti-Semitism,” Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière said following the Wednesday morning meeting. “History made clear to us, in the most terrible way, the horrors to which anti-Semitism can lead.”
Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, welcomed the announcement “as a clear signal” that anti-Semitism is not tolerated in Germany. Schuster said he hoped the definition would be “heeded in schools, in the training of public servants and in the courts,” and that it would help police to categorise crimes effectively.
“Cases of anti-Semitism are all too often overlooked or even ignored by authorities due to the lack of a uniform definition of anti-Semitism,” said Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations in Berlin. “This will change dramatically with the adoption of the Working Definition, which will make it more apparent when anti-Semitism rears its ugly head.
“This decision, coming at the beginning of the Jewish New Year, sends an important and reassuring message to the Jewish community in Germany.”
Its adoption was recommended by the independent Bundestag Commission on Anti-Semitism. The commission also has urged the appointment of a federal commissioner for anti-Semitism affairs — a move the AJC and other Jewish organisations have promoted as essential to “fight[ing] anti-Semitism as well as respond[ing] to current manifestations,” Berger said.
According to the IHRA definition, anti-Semitism “is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
In Germany, recent court decisions reveal the difficulty of finding unanimity on the issue. For example, while some courts have found anti-Zionist-motivated crimes to be tantamount to anti-Semitism, since perpetrators blame Jews in Germany for Israel’s policies, other courts have accepted political motivation as a mitigating factor in sentencing.