The German federal government has appointed career diplomat Felix Klein as its inaugural commissioner in a newly-created, high-profile post dedicated to combating antisemitism in the country.
Klein’s appointment on Sunday was welcomed by international Jewish organizations, who are familiar with him from his previous post as the head of the German delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and its special envoy for relations with Jewish organizations.
“Over the last four years, Dr Klein played a pivotal role in Germany’s efforts to combat antisemitism, drawing wide attention to the very real threats experienced by Jewish communities across Europe, to the dangers of far-right extremism, and to the importance of preserving the memory of the Holocaust,” World Jewish Congress Executive Vice President Robert Singer said in statement on Monday.
The statement pointed out that Klein had played a pivotal role in Germany’s adoption in November 2017 of the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism — which explicitly addresses the demonization of Israel and Zionism — setting an example for other European countries.
The creation of the commissioner post was initially called for by the German Parliament in January, following a spate of antisemitic incidents in the wake of President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. At one demonstration organized by Muslim groups in Berlin, chants of “Death to the Jews” were reported, along with the spectacle of burning Israeli flags. New legislation targeting antisemitism both within the Muslim community and on Germany’s growing far right included the provision for an antisemitism commissioner.
In an interview last month with the German Jewish newspaper Die Jüdische Allgemeine, Klein said his most pressing concern was the “progressive spread of antisemitic attitudes” into the mainstream of German society.
German Jews were increasingly fearful of wearing outwardly Jewish symbols, such as kippot or Star of David necklaces, Klein said.
“This state of affairs is unacceptable and must stop,” Klein stated.
Addressing the issue of antisemitism among German Muslims, Klein argued that many of them “have been given a picture of Jews and Israel in their original homelands — and that unfortunately also applies to refugees — which has led to antisemitic attitudes.”
“For second or third-generation immigrants, this picture has partly been handed down,” he continued. “We cannot tolerate hatred of Jews in any case.”
Germany’s Jewish community has also advocated forcefully for the creation of the new post. In an interview with The Algemeiner in January, Josef Schuster — the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany — said he hoped its first incumbent would be chosen for their “practical” rather than “symbolic” effect in countering antisemitic activity.
“Germany has an everlasting responsibility to fight antisemitism in every possible manner and since this should be a priority, I regard the commissioner’s office as a permanent post,” Schuster said at the time.
According to data collected by the federal government, a total of 1,453 antisemitic hate crimes were recorded in Germany in 2017 — an average of four per day.
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