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Never again is now

by Simone Zoppellaro

From STUTTGART – That borders are getting thicker and thicker is an idea – almost a tangible one – that has haunted me in the last years. I do not just mean the borders between countries, which are increasingly impermeable or militarized, but also something deeper: it is as if we have internalized a distance between us. By now, identity, the new obsession of the millennium (not only for the right, it is good to remember), is a weapon we all keep pointed at each other all the time. For those, like me, who change countries more often than shoes, these are unpleasant times. For the minorities toward whom hatred is most inveterate and ancient – Jews, Armenians, and Yazidis – these, often amid a widespread indifference, are dangerous and terrible times.

Antisemitism: never in my first twenty years, coinciding with the Eighties and Nineties, would I have thought to see the issue re-emerge at the center of cultural and political debate. It seemed – and was not – a thing of the past, surviving just in some kitchen, sacristy, or on the fringes of a classroom. “I would have imagined many things,” writes the German poet Durs Grünbein in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, “but that naked hatred for Jews, the grimace of antisemitism, should once again show itself so blatantly, in Germany, in Western Europe, in American universities and elsewhere, this is an experience that calls into question everything I thought was guaranteed and certain.” For my part, I never thought I would walk out of my house and see hate writings against Jews, monuments I know vandalized – and yet, here we are.

The situation, in many ways similar, is experienced quite differently in Italy and Germany. This is nothing new, of course – but there is no doubt that the gap is widening. It is enough to analyze the positions of German and Italian left parties and intellectuals to see how deep the divide is. Social Democrat Michael Roth, chairman of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee, writes: “It is crazy how self-proclaimed leftists legitimize terror and hide their antisemitism and hatred of Israel behind clumsy post-colonialist and racist theories. You do not celebrate freedom and human rights, but violence, oppression of women and sexual minorities. This is not leftist.” The Stuttgart municipality, like many others and the Bundestag itself, display the flag of Israel – often alongside the Ukrainian one – In the wake of the October 7 pogrom. Posters in solidarity with Israel can be found at bus and subway stops. But it is also and especially ordinary people who think more empathetically, in different social circles. This is a deeply felt issue from a moral point of view, rooted in the thought of Karl Jaspers, of Hannah Arendt, in the historic gesture of Willy Brandt, the Chancellor who knelt at the Holocaust Memorial in Warsaw. In Italy all this has been missing, and the Catholic and Communist fairy tale of an innocent nation, of a good people incapable of evil, has led straight to the political and moral meltdown in which we find ourselves – and, even more seriously, in which no one even seems to notice we live anymore.

October 7 came as a shock to many of us, as did what happened afterwards: the number of anti-Jewish attacks in Germany has tripled since October 7, as reported by the Jüdische Allgemeine. Since the Hamas pogrom until the end of the month, 1,800 antisemitic crimes have occurred. In the background, in terms perhaps not so much political as structural, is the widespread awareness that it is not only the safety of our fellow Jewish citizens that is at risk, but also, as a whole, the multicultural society in which we believe.

Many commentators pretend to forget this, but the migrant crisis of 2015 saw Germany as the protagonist of an extraordinary welcoming policy that radically changed the society in which we live. It was a challenge made even more difficult by the pandemic that followed a few years later, which emptied the federal treasuries and those of many Länder, as well as making the integration process more difficult from all points of view (educational, labor, even linguistic). Hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis fleeing wars and genocide (I am referring to the Yazidis), were welcomed and supported while no one in Europe wanted them. Among them, as is inevitable, were also many traumatized or radicalized people, who grafted themselves onto pre-existing circles of Islamic extremist groups, for years underestimated by German authorities. One only has to think of Mohamed Atta’s Hamburg cell, which took the lead in 9/11.

Now, it may be difficult to understand for those who do not live here, but this has triggered a series of crises and conflicts that have marked – even with striking episodes, such as terrorist attacks – German society. And above all: constant politically motivated threats and aggression, toward minorities and the more emancipated component of the different communities. I am not just talking about things you read about in the papers, but about what I have seen repeatedly with my own eyes – and like me, I guess, every German. Fomenting hatred against minorities and trying to exploit it, since 2015, has been a holy alliance between Moscow, the German far right and the red-browns, who are forming themselves as a party – starting from a rib of the Linke. These sowers of hatred, for a decade now, have been trying to promote an aberrant theory, but one that unfortunately finds unavoidable nourishment in the current situation: the only problem in Germany today is migration antisemitism (migrantischer Antisemitismus), not the right-wing and autochthonous one, which, they preach, would not exist.

A page of hybrid warfare (how else to call it?) is being played out on this, involving social media, politics, and so many shady figures who are investing everything – unfortunately, reaping some successes at present – in the failure of German multiculturalism. The October 7 pogrom served on a silver platter to these enemies of democracy an opportunity that, we know well, threatens to benefit them decisively. If you do not understand this, I strongly advise you to avoid empty discussion of the issue, if only to avoid embarrassing yourself. Because the cultural and political battle we are fighting in Germany for the safety of our fellow Jewish citizens is the same that is opposing islamophobia and racism. It is a major challenge for mutual respect and civil coexistence. The same people (myself included) who for years invaded crowded squares against racism, today are fighting against this specific form of it, antisemitism – the mother of all forms of hatred in Europe.

For this, everyone’s commitment is needed. For this, those words projected on the Brandenburg Gate on November 9 – eighty-five years after the Night of Broken Glass – are nothing but the thin line separating German democracy from its failure: “Never again is now” (Nie wieder ist jetzt). Now, it is time to choose your side.

Simone Zoppellaro

Analysis by Simone Zoppellaro, journalist

14 November 2023

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