Corona demonstrations that twist Germany’s memory
MATI SHEMOELOF: The growing protests against any mass vaccination by a centralised regime have given oxygen to disturbing anti-Semitic undercurrents
THERE HAS BEEN A BACKLASH in Berlin to the German government’s measures against the coronavirus. Small protests that began in April have steadily grown and more than 1000 people took part in a demonstration on May 9.
The protesters wore face masks and T-shirts with Jewish yellow badges on them. Their movement is called #Hygienedemo and its target is the government’s social and hygiene restrictions to fight the coronavirus. Many are worried that vaccinations against it may be made compulsory — even though there is no vaccine.
Protesters also connected yellow badge signs to a shirt or jacket with a chain or glue. The Star of David was printed on face masks and the word “Jew” replaced by “unvaccinated”. In Munich, the writer Jutta Ditfurt recently tweeted a picture of a sign from a local #Hygienedemo protest which said, “No again, Auschwitz and Dr Mengele” and there is an illustration on the sign of a syringe inside a ‘no’ sign. That means they do not want any vaccination.
After Germany’s experience of two dictatorships and two worlds wars the protesters are afraid. They fear any mass experiment by a centralised regime. Their political and social message is that those who do not protest today will wake up tomorrow with a Nazi-like regime.
I already feared this pandemic would reveal anti-Semitic undercurrents. But I did not think Germans would present themselves as Jews to demonstrate against their own state. This trivialisation of the Jewish narrative comes as some Germans suggest that Germany change its culture of remembering the Holocaust.
Using the Jewish yellow badge, with its reference to Nazi identification, is a way to diminish that history and remove it as a pivotal element of German remembrance and responsibility. It’s scary. I decided to consult a German who knows more about the subject.
“I’m not sure how much ‘classic’ anti-Semitism you’ll encounter there (as in people openly denouncing Jews or Israel as a placeholder for what they regard as Jewish)”, said Hanno Hauenstein a freelance journalist and editor of the bilingual (German/Hebrew) magazine Aviv. “However, there’s a lot of ‘structural’ anti-Semitism, referring to the idea that there is a hidden truth/conspiracy supported by some overarchingly powerful elite (in this case Bill Gates).
“Historically this type of anti-Semitic thinking is mostly the entry to open anti-Semitism. I think it is extremely dangerous and needs to be addressed,” said Hauenstein, who chose not to watch the protests.
What am I afraid of when I see the abuse of Jewish badges? Not so much my Jewishness. I am afraid they will undermine the German administration or safety measures and change the development of the corona curve. What if they do refuse vaccination? Will we ever get out of this situation? Like Hauenstein, I believe in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s approach to the pandemic, based on high rates of testing, based on empirically-based advice from the government health advisers.
Reports say that at these “hygiene demonstrations” you can find left-wing and right-wing demonstrators. “It seems to me that Right and Left merge in these protests in a mutual sentiment directed against the German government and supposed higher forces,” Hauenstein says. “But the way in which it reproduces conspiracies and plays with prejudice, I would categorise it more towards the Right.”
In addition, I have seen that supporters of the right-wing party AFD are using Israel flags in their demonstration as a way of camouflaging their anti-Semitism. By pretending to show support for Israel, they make it hard for their critics to accuse them of hostility to Jews.
Recently the New York Times reported that the Anti-Defamation League reported more than 2100 anti-Semitic incidents in the US over the past year, a 12 per cent jump and the most in any year since it began tracking them four decades ago. And after accusations of anti-Semitism, police in Ukraine are investigating a senior official’s request for a list of Jewish residents in the western city of Kolomyya.
Every year, the Kantor Centre at Tel Aviv University publishes a report on anti-Semitic incidents around the world. “In the first few months of 2020, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic expressions and ‘Jew-hatred’, mainly originating from activists on the extreme Right. The hateful rhetoric mimics age-old anti-Semitic conspiracy theories: blaming Jewish people for economic unrest and global disasters,” wrote Professor Dina Porat, head of the centre.
Are the Jews being blamed for coronavirus? The Jewish Centre in Germany tweeted: “The measures around corona are increasingly being used by conspiracy theorists and right-wing populists for anti-Semitic agitation and Shoah relativisation. Here too – and just 75 years after the end of the WW2 – the ‘never again’ must be taken seriously!”
In one of the photos shared by the centre, we can see a meme of the entrance to Auschwitz. It has replaced the sign Arbeit macht frei (works sets you free) with impfen macht frei (vaccination sets you free). Inside the camp are Angela Merkel and Bill Gates.
It makes me think I should take the hygiene badge and put it on my mouth and say: “Yes, I am afraid, I will wake up soon under a new Nazi regime.”
Photo: Far-right activist Sven Liebich, speaking in Berlin, May 13 (Twitter)