Germany to make anti-Semitism a specific hate crime as Jews 'no longer feel safe'

Justin Huggler
The new law is being introduced following a failed attack on a packed synagogue by a lone far-Right gunman - AFP

Germany is to tighten its laws against anti-Semitic hate crimes in the wake of last month's failed attack on a synagogue by a far-Right gunman.

“I am ashamed that Jews no longer feel safe in Germany and that so many are even thinking of leaving the country,” Christine Lambrecht, the justice minister, told German MPs. “We have to send a clear signal against anti-Semitism.”

Under the planned changes, crimes with an anti-Semitic motive will attract heavier sentences.

The move comes after a synagogue in east Germany narrowly escaped becoming the scene of a massacre last month. Stephan Balliet, a German national who released a far-Right "manifesto" before the attack, failed in his attempts to break into the synagogue which was packed with 51  people marking Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. He later turned his gun on bystanders, killing two people.

While the Halle attack was the highest profile incident, it was by no means an isolated case. Just days before, a Syrian man was stopped by security guards as he tried to enter Berlin’s best known synagogue armed with a knife and shouting “Allahu akbar” and “F*** Israel”.

Anti-Semitic crimes across Germany rose by 10 per cent to a total of 1,646 last year, but it is the figures for violence that are most alarming.

Violent anti-Semitic crimes rose by 60 per cent, with 62 offences leaving 43 people injured.

More than 50 people were trapped inside the synagogue while the gunman tried to gain entry Credit: Craig Stennett for the Telegraph

They include the case of an Israeli man who was attacked and whipped with a belt while wearing a Jewish kippah skullcap in central Berlin in April last year.

Adam Armoush, an Israeli Arab who lives in Berlin, is not Jewish but was wearing the kippah in an attempt to prove Berlin was safe for Jewish people.

In the wake of that incident felix Klein, the German government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, issued a warning to Jewish men not to wear skullcaps in public for their own safety. Mr Klein later retracted his warning after a public outcry.

In another case in July last year, a Jewish Syrian man wearing a Star of David pendant was attacked and beaten by a group of people when he stopped to ask for a light for his cigarette in central Berlin.

Anti-Semitic incidents last year also include one an attack on a Jewish restaurant in the east German city of Chemnitz. Masked men broke surrounded the entrance to the restaurant and broke the windows with stones while the owner was trapped inside.

Current German laws recognise discrimination against a particular group of people as an aggravating factor in any crime that can lead to a heavier sentence. But the planned changes will explicitly name anti-Semitism for the first time.

The change is part of a package introduced after the Halle synagogue attack. Other measures include laws obliging social media networks to inform the authorities of online threats and incitement to hatred.

“This is an important step towards consistent punishment of anti-Semitic crimes,” said Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

“With the planned amendment to the law, the federal government is living up to its commitment to fight anti-Semitism resolutely and protect Jewish life.”

“Anti-Semitic offences are not just attacks on individual people of the Jewish faith, they always an attack on our values, on our constitutional state, and on our democracy as a whole,” said Georg Eisenreich, the regional justice minister for Bavaria, where prosecutors recently announced they will prioritise anti-Semitic crimes.