Old clichés about Jews are becoming stronger again in Germany – as are anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews. FOCUS Online talks to Uwe Becker about this dangerous trend. Becker is a Catholic, President of the German-Israeli Society and former CDU mayor of Frankfurt am Main.

FOCUS Online: The Goethe University Frankfurt and Tel Aviv University are jointly founding the Center for the Studies of Religious and Interreligious Dynamics. What exactly is the goal of this joint research center?

Uwe Becker: We often only emphasize what separates us, but in particular the three major monotheistic religions, Christians, Jews and Muslims, have a long history in common. If you want to understand them, you have to do interdisciplinary research into how they influenced each other. This applies to the classic religious studies, but also to culture, politics and even the economy.

Master courses and workshops are planned. How are these projects implemented in practice?

Becker: The new center relies on exchange. It plans summer schools in Tel Aviv and Frankfurt and annual conferences with young researchers and scientists from all over the world. A real academic novelty will be the English-language master’s course, with graduates studying at Tel Aviv University and Frankfurt’s Goethe University at the same time. This binational model sets new international standards in research and teaching.

The research center is an academic bridge between Germany and Israel. Wouldn’t it make sense to also build bridges to other countries and other cultures?

Becker: The current step initially builds an important bridge between partner universities that know and appreciate each other. Both countries also share common values ​​and principles that are important for interreligious understanding and dialogue. Further points of contact are certainly possible for the future.

Uwe Becker is President of the German-Israeli Society as well as State Secretary for European Affairs and Commissioner for Jewish Life and the Fight against Anti-Semitism in Hesse’s state government. He was mayor of Frankfurt/Main until 2021. As president, the Catholic leads the association Friends of Tel Aviv University.

How can the work of the research center influence current religious conflicts and, if necessary, solve them?

Becker: We firmly believe that a contemporary exchange of knowledge and new research findings help to break down prejudices. Instead of looking for what separates you, it is important to find common ground and to present this. That’s why we want to address even more multipliers and go public in the future. We need the better arguments to successfully counter aggressive fundamentalism. Our center also promotes open dialogue on questions of faith.

To be precise: What are the main prejudices in the religious conflict, what are the typical anti-Semitic clichés?

Becker: Anyone who thinks about the increasing wave of hatred on the Internet quickly realizes that it’s not about religious content at all, but mostly about conspiracy theories and questions of power. The pandemic recently showed this. It is shocking that the image of the enemy has hardly changed since the Middle Ages, from the well poisoner to the pharmaceutical industry, which is in the hands of big business. Where do these stereotypes come from in our Christian society. What role does a lack of knowledge, for example about Judaism, play? There is much to do!

According to a survey by the World Jewish Congress, 40 percent of Germans are prone to anti-Semitic stereotypes. 25 percent are convinced that Jews have too much influence in politics and business. Are politics and the Church sufficiently counteracting this development? Who is responsible for this development?

Becker: It shows that anti-Semitism is not the only phenomenon on the extreme fringes, but rather creates a background noise of anti-Semitism with anti-Jewish stereotypes in the middle of our society. This is where knowledge transfer and education must start in order to enlighten, inform and show at an early stage the outstanding way in which Jewish life has contributed to the positive development of our country and Europe over the centuries and continues to do so today.

The authorities registered 2,351 anti-Semitic crimes in 2020 – around 16 percent more than in the previous year. Is this new high related to the 2015 wave of refugees?

Becker: That would be an oversimplification of the problem. The colorfulness and variety of anti-Semitism today ranges from the radical right-wing mob to the anti-Israeli left and thus the arc already spans from the ‘classic’ hatred of Jews to intellectually packaged anti-Zionism, which chooses the detour via the so-called ‘criticism of Israel’ and yet arrives at anti-Semitism. In addition, there is the anti-Semitism that radiates from the regions of the Middle East to Europe and stems from cultures in which children and young people are already taught the enemy image of the “bad Jew”, who is usually an Israeli. This anti-Semitism, which can also be classified as Islamist, is increasingly being specifically promoted or controlled by anti-Israel organizations or states.

Where do you experience anti-Semitism in everyday life?

Becker:  It starts with anti-Jewish statements in schoolyards, where “Jew” is used as a swear word, shows up as caricatures in newspapers or as swastika graffiti on Jewish buildings. It ranges from verbal to physical attacks on Jews and increasingly manifests itself as Israel-related anti-Semitism with extermination marches against the existence of the Jewish state. Social media act like a fire accelerator. The virtual murder of the Jews takes place there, which, like in Halle, has the danger of choosing doors from the digital to the real world. We must take action against this as a society as a whole, because anti-Semitism does not primarily affect the Jewish community, which is the target and victim of anti-Semitism, but is a social poison that destroys our togetherness as a whole.