In this episode, we go deeper into understanding anti-semitism within the context of racism in German society. COVID-19 gave rise to a range of conspiracy “theories” – which are often explicitly or implicitly anti-Semitic. A well known anti-semitic trope is the image of the Jew controlling the media or the finance world – and now this has been adapted and we see the image of the Jew as a likely “mastermind” behind the pandemic. This aside, what about the mainstream discourse in Germany that paints the Jews as eternal victims?

To challenge these narrow and racist representations, Sharon from IWS invited Chana Dischereit who is active with the Roma and Sinti Association Baden-Württemberg and the NSU Civil Tribunal, Iris Hefetz from Jewish Voice for Peace in the Middle East – Germany, and Inna Michaeli – a sociologist and feminist queer activist. We hear and discuss our experiences in Germany, on diverse Jewish identities, anti-semitism and political activism.

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Guests

Chana Dischereit studied at the universities in Heidelberg and FU Berlin. After her master degree in futurology she started working for regional association german Sinti and Roma in Baden-Württemberg (VDSR-BW) where she works as assistant in the fields of education, press, culture and science. Since years she is engaged in the work against racism, espacially in the context of the NSU murder cases. Since 2012 she is an observer of the first and second parliamentarian NSU investigation in Berlin, in Thuringia and in the NSU trial in Munich. She is the co-organizer of the civil tribunal „Dissolve the NSU-Complex“ 2017 in Cologne and 2018 in Mannheim. During a residency at the theater festival in Mannheim she developed with the artistic group „Our country.Point“ an audiowalk. She is also the editor of the book published this year: A look into the kitchen of romani people in Europe (Romno Chabpen).

Chana Dischereit studierte an den Universitäten in Heidelberg und FU Berlin. Nach ihrem Masterabschluss in Zukunftsforschung nahm sie ihre Arbeit beim Landesverband Deutscher Sinti und Roma in Baden-Württemberg (VDSR-BW) als Referentin auf, hier in den Bereichen Bildung, Presse, Kultur und Wissenschaft. Sie engagiert sich seit Jahren gegen Rassismus, insbesondere im Zusammenhang mit der Mordserie des NSU. Seit 2012 war sie unabhängige Beobachterin des ersten und zweiten NSU-Untersuchungsausschuss in Berlin, in Thüringen und im Münchner NSU Prozess. Sie ist Mitorganisatorin des Tribunals NSU-Komplex auflösen 2017 in Köln und 2018 in Mannheim. Mit der Kunstgruppe „Unser Land.Punkt.“ entwickelte sie während der Residenz auf dem Theaterfestival Schwindelfrei einen Audiowalk. Ausserdem ist sie Herausgeberin des diesjährig erschienen Buchs: Ein Blick in die Küche der Sinti und Roma Europas (Romno Chabpen).


Transcript & translation

SHARON
Hello, everyone, you’re listening to IWS RADIO. I’m Sharon from International Women Space. And our topic today is being Jewish in Germany, anti-semitism and anti Jewish racism, especially now in COVID times. Joining us today are Iris Hefez, a psychoanalyst and the chair of the Jewish voice for peace in the Middle East – Germany. Hello, Iris.

IRIS
Hello.

SHARON
…and Inna Michaeli, who is also active in Jewish left groups, a feminist lesbian activist sociologist. Hallo Inna.

INNA
Hi Sharon, Hi Iris.

SHARON
We are also pleased to have Chana Dischereit, who couldn’t be here today with us, but she sent us a recorded message to share with you.

On Saturday, the 29th of August, over 30,000 people marched in Berlin with absurd messages of conspiracy “theories”. QAnon flags, next to Reichburgers, anti-vaxxers and so called “Querdenker”, all of whom were very comfortable marching alongside Nazis. Many of those conspiracy “theories” are anti-semitic explicitly or implicitly. But anti-semitism is not limited to the far right. And to people like Stefan Balliet, who is now on trial for the attack on the synagogue in Halle last year and the killing of a bypassing woman and a man in a Döner shop. And in our program today, we want to go deeper into understanding anti-semitism within the broader context of racism in German society, and the German idea of “the Jew”.

So, on one hand, we have the far right image of the Jews as controlling the media, the finance and probably the masterminds behind COVID. And on the other hand, we have this mainstream idea in Germany that often views Jews as eternal victims. Now, to challenge those narrow and racist representations, I invite my guests in the studio to share their experience and discuss our identities and our activism on our own terms. Also, I would like to hear from our guests about their political work on themes of anti-semitism and more broadly anti racism and anti colonial struggles – like solidarity with Black Lives Matter, solidarity with other oppressed groups such as the Roma and Sinti, the Palestinian people, and others.

As our guests come from diverse Jewish backgrounds and cultures, I invite you to share about your experience and about what Jewish means to you. Iris, I would like to start with you. In Germany, many people don’t even know that not all Jews are of European origin, and that there are many Jews of color, Black Jews and Jewish communities and cultures from the Middle East, North Africa and other regions. Can you tell us about your background, your political activism as a Mizrachi Jew – tell us perhaps what Mizrachi means please – and I would also like to know if it still plays a role in your life and activism here in Berlin.

IRIS
Yes, I was born in Israel in Be’er Sheva, which is a city located in the south of Israel, to a Moroccan mother. So my mother was a migrant actually who came with her family to Israel when she was 11 years old. And my father is a Palestinian – I mean he’s a Jew, but he was born in Palestine to a family that lived there for.. the legend says seven generations – this is a magic number, seven – many Jews that lived in Israel for many generations say this number, but it’s probably true, because his family came also from Morocco after the reconquista – the conquering of Spain through the Christian forces, and then the Jews and the Muslims were expelled from Spain and Portugal and had to leave, and his family left to Morocco and came across the Maghreb to Palestine.

And in this was the narrative, also of the family, the Moroccan background was neglected to say the least – or denied. So, since my father gave us the wonderful name Hefetz, which is a Russian name actually, because his father was Russian, I grew up as an Ashkenazi, which means European Jew. And I was also socialized in this way. I was considered in the school to be Ashkenazi, which means also, I was [intended at] this time to go to school and to have an academic career, to have a different voice in the class where I was. And my mother cooperated with it. So actually, I didn’t know that I’m Mizrahi – let’s say – although now thinking about it from a psychoanalytic point of view, it is really crazy since.. I mean.. to be identified as a woman – and my mother is a woman – it is also to cut this connection. And this connection was restored when I was pregnant. And at that time, I realized suddenly that I’m actually Mizrachi. Mizrachi means.. it’s a social category, I would say, which puts together a cluster of Jews that came from non European countries. And this is not the same as Sephardim. Sephardim is the term that is used in a more religious way, which means Jews that are descending from Spain originally, and these include also Bulgarians or Romanian Jews. Mizrachi, these are the Jews, that are considered in Israel itself to be the other, I would say. It also means Georgian Jews or a Jews from Iran, Jews – of course – from the Maghreb, Arabic Jews – proper Arabic – like Jews from Yemen or Iraq or Egypt. And all these Jews are clustered in this category because they were repressed as such. And when I discovered that then I became more active in this issue, but it was in Berlin that I started to raise my voice.

SHARON
Would you like to tell us a little bit how your activism in Berlin is related to it?

IRIS
I was an editor of an Israeli website – at the time websites were much more popular than today – for a Mizrachi discourse that was really radical. And it was also under surveillance of Israeli intelligence forces, because Mizrachis – the radical Mizrachis – are talking about something which is very threatening for the Israeli Jewish society. We were talking about the attempt to split between Arabs according to the religion in their constructed nationality. So, separation between Muslim Arabs and Christian Arabs on one side and the Jewish Arabs on the other side – which are actually, if we put them together, are the majority in Israel. So if we look in Israel at the population, we see there is an Arab majority and actually an Ashkenazi minority, like in South Africa. But these Ashkenazi white – in Israel white, in Europe they are not white, Yeah?, – but this white minority is in the highest position of Israel. They are controlling the politics of Israel. To talk about that, that’s very threatening in the Israeli society.

SHARON
You wrote a wonderful article about being Mizrachi Jew in Berlin, and we will put a link on our website, however, if it’s in Hebrew, if any of the listeners speaks Hebrew, you can find the link on our website. Can you tell us also shortly what brought you to be active in the Jewish Voice [for Peace] in Germany? And by the way, congratulations on the Göttingen Friedenpreis [the Göttingen price for peace] that you got last year.

IRIS
Thank you. Yeah, that was an initiative of Jews that were living here and were active already before I came to Berlin on the issue of Israel and Palestine. And thenwe decided to be active, also as Jews, because in Germany, when you’re active in the Palestinian cause, on this issue, then you are automatically accused of being anti-semitic. So we thought, we have to raise our voice and to speak on that matter, so it won’t be that easy to accuse us as anti-semites – which is not always the case, of course. And also, one of the ideas was that Germans tend to identify with Israel and Jews automatically, and they have their own good Jews. And if we give them a different picture, then they have to choose and to think for themselves and not just to identify automatically with one picture of the Jew, so we can open a space to think and to decide for oneself.

SHARON
Thank you. Inna, you were born in Russia, back then it was still part of the Soviet Union. You came to Israel with your family in the 90s, and came to Germany 10 years ago. Can you tell us what being a Jew means for you and how it changed from one part of the world to another?

INNA
So yeah, as you say, I was born in Russia, in the Soviet Union at the time. So it was a communist society and connecting to your religion, your tradition was not really that much of an option, I think, for most Jews, including my family. And so, I grew up with Jewish identity as more of a cultural or even ethnic identity rather than religion or any kind of practice. And, of course, I was not supposed to tell in school that we are going to Israel, so people will not know that we are Jews and stuff like that. And I knew that there were cases of discrimination for my parents in their workplace, and so on. But I think also, the trauma of my grandparents from the war, the Holocaust and losing their family, was also part of cutting with the past and the tradition. And kind of, you know, people are trying to look forward and not to be reminded of their trauma as much as possible. So there was not much connection to religion and to history and heritage.

And then, coming to Israel, when I was nine years old, it was framed by the Israeli establishment as “coming home”. There were 1 million Jews coming from Russia and other Soviet Union countries under the law of return, and it took me years to understand that it never felt like coming home. It felt like migration, which had ups and downs and traumas that there was no place to recognize. And then years later, with developing my political awareness and identity, I realized, yeah, it felt like migration, but it was actually becoming part of a settler colonial project. And so figuring out what that means for my identity, and then coming to Germany. And yeah, I think like you mentioned Sharon, understanding that here, Judaism, is perceived as religion primarily, even though it’s very clearly racialized. I think a lot of Jews from Russia and Ukraine who came here in the 90s directly, were quite shocked to understand that it’s perceived as religion. It’s not how many of us perceived it. But also as sort of this eternal victimhood and being reduced to that, and not really being recognized in your full humanity. I think that this, in the last 10 years, also brings up an entirely different set of questions and experiences for me around our political agency and our own voice.

SHARON
Thank you for sharing. I will be happy to hear more about it soon. So thank you for sharing, and later on, we will also hear from Chana Dischereit about her experience growing up here. But let’s first take a break and listen to one song before moving on to talk about representation of Jews in German media and discourse. Inna would you like to tell us about the song we are going to hear?

INNA
Yeah, so we’re going to listen to a song by the Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan called “Beirut”, because Beirut is very much in my thoughts, and I know for many of us as well, also with the amazing social protests that have been going on there recently. But also the explosion and the horrible situation there. So basically, just sending a lot of thoughts and solidarity to Beirut. I grew up in Haifa, which is just a few hours drive to Beirut. But of course, I never could go there. I just want to thank my very, very dear friend, Nitzan who keeps educating me about music from Swana, which is the decolonial term for Southwest Asia and North Africa.

[SONG: YASMINE HAMDAN – BEIRUT]

[IWS JINGLE]

SHARON
Welcome back. Inna, you mentioned before the eternal victim and the way Jews are represented in the German discourse. I myself grew up in Israel in a secular Ashkenazi home with German roots. I never actually perceived myself as Jewish, simply as Israeli. It is only after I came to Germany and experienced pressure from the Germans to be something I never felt I am, that I had to speak up. Because I saw that when Germans speak about the Jews, it is something that was completely foreign to me. And I was like: this is not who I am. So this was the beginning of me developing my Jewish identity as a pure political identity. Because it’s often like this that a minority is forced to define themselves against or versus the distorted and racist ways in which the majority views them. Like Hannah Arendt said, “if one is attacked as a Jew, one must defend oneself as a Jew”.

INNA
I love that we are quoting Hannah Arendt on this show.

SHARON
Ok, let’s stay with this topic for a bit. Would you like to expand a bit on the topic of representation versus reality and share any experience with dealing with this?

IRIS
Yes, that’s an everyday experience actually for me too, because I also grew up in a secular family – in a special secular family, since both my parents came from actually religious families. But my mother understood very quickly what it means to be a good migrant in Israel. It means that you have to erase your experience, your biography, your past. So the moment she married my father, from one day to another, she stopped practicing all her Jewish practices. She still keeps Yom Kippur and she’s not eating on that day, and she will never eat pork, but other than that, she just assimilated into the Israeli idea and she became Israeli. That was the moment it was born, kind of, when she became also Hefetz and with the name of my father, and this is also how I grew up. I grew up like you. I was an Israeli, I was not a Jew. And that is the essence of being an Israeli – the negation of Judaism, actually, we are Israelis in that we are not Jews, we are non Jews.

So I also became a Jew when I came to Germany and was treated like a Jew – and like a specific Jew: the image of the Jew in the German idea, which means that I must be in love with Israel. All Jews are great and idealized, and maybe also I came to “reclaim my property” in Germany, “my lost property”. And it was clear that I’m also “coming back” to Germany, because the Jews are coming back. So I’m part of this coming back, although I had nothing with Germany in my own biography. So, this has to be with actually not being seen as the person I am, like Inna said before. It’s the projection of Germans, what a Jew is and what a Jew should be, that can release them from their guilt feelings. Mostly, I would say, fear from their own aggressiveness. Because the Jew is the one that was murdered, actually, and was expelled – so now it’s a big relief when Jews are coming, it means that we, Germans – and I talk of course in such categories because we are talking about sociological categories, and because the way I was treated also, in this category of Jews – so we Germans are now good Germans, we worked our past through, and now the Jews are coming back and that’s the proof. And these Jews are these victims, so it means also that it’s kind of dehumanization, of us as people that have many other stories which are not fitting to the story that the majority here needs in order to live with itself easier.

INNA
I would like to add to that even though I come from a different background than Iris, I can really identify and I always feel so alienated when I’m seeing, for example, the popular media representation of “the Jew”. You know, you have this picture of the man with the Kippah from the back. The Kippah is this little head cover that usually men wear in a religious context or just traditional.

IRIS
Usually also, it’s an Israeli flag on this Kippah – it’s white with a circle, a blue circle, and the blue star of David, of the flag.

INNA
Yeah, so completely mixing Israel and Jews – but that’s the reality of our life here – and then also the content around it. That it always comes in the context of victimhood was something that was very strange for me, also, you know, as a feminist, as queer, as a strongly opinionated person in general, who kind of likes to have her voice heard. And then coming across this very, very strong discourse in Germany that is willing to see me only as a victim, and to reduce me to experiences of trauma – some of them I have, some of them I don’t – and to see that whenever I don’t fit in this idea of what it means to be a Jew or a good Jew, then it is like, I’m seen as a bad Jew or not recognized as a Jew at all or canceled as a self hating Jew. For me, it’s not just denial of my Jewish identity, it’s also denial of my humanity, because it’s very human, that you find yourself as the oppressed or as the oppressor. In some contexts you are the victim, and in some contexts, you’re the oppressor. So, being reduced to just one part of the human condition is something that I experienced as very racist, and also in this context, it is anti Jewish racism that I think is really the main form of anti-semitism I come across in Germany.

SHARON
So, you mentioned the term anti-semitism – so are you ready? Let’s jump into deep water. Let’s talk about anti-semitism. Germany adopted the definition of anti-semitism from the “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance”, the IHRA, despite a lot of critique, also from Jewish scholars and scholars of the Holocaust, and including even one of the co-authors of the definition Kenneth Stern, so Iris, the Jewish Voice For Peace also objected this definition. Can you shortly explain to us why, and was this critique at all heard in Germany?

IRIS
Well, we objected, like many others, because first of all, it’s not a definition. Let’s start with it. It’s a very vague description of what anti-semitism can be. And it means that it opens a space to use anti-semitism in various – or abuse, I would say – in various ways, which also affects us and it leads also to the condition that for example, “RIAS” which is the organization who registrate anti-semitism attacks in Germany, reported last year that more than 50% of the attacks, anti-semitic attacks, were done by Jews to German non-Jews. So, this ridiculous result, I think it is a result of this definition, which means for example that Germans – Germans, non-Jews – that are being hurt when they see Israelis that protest against the Israeli government, they reported it as an anti-semitic attack. Which is a totally perversion of what anti-semitism is and of who’s perpetrator and who’s victim. So actually, this is one of the results of this definition. The critique was not heard in the beginning. Now when it’s more clear how disruptive it is and how problematic this definition is, and how much censorship it can cause, now we hear critique. In the last weeks, I would say, finally, also Germans – non-Jews Germans – are speaking. Intellectuals, for example, and people that are dealing with culture – in the culture film field, and they are criticizing that more and more. But there is a German conformism, which is something unique to Germany, that this definition was adopted. I think because of fear, it became kind of a label “if we adopt it, then we’re good Germans”. So it’s, of course, very tempting.

INNA
I really would like to jump in because I think for me, I’m also struggling with the question like, “who has the power in Germany to define what anti-semitism is?” And then if you look, for example, at the people of the anti-semitism research centers and universities, you see that this field of knowledge – and we know that knowledge is power – is really disconnected from Jewish life experiences, and taken sort of as, you know, an abstract discourse to master or in another way to theorize and politicize our life experiences. And when you say: “excuse me, what you are saying is actually completely unrelated to my experience” – and I think Iris gave very good examples – then you are told you just don’t understand enough. So, it almost becomes the field for this sort of white supremacist perspective, which is about moral superiority and abstract knowledge. And I can give just one example of an experience in a really negative way: It’s this idea that I’m hearing in Germany, how anti-semitism is completely unrelated to racism and is a completely different thing. And I really experience that as a very manipulative strategy to isolate Jews from other minorities politically. It is also something that is supported by the state, so they could have their “pet minority” and continue exercising racism towards all other minorities. So what it means for our ability to be in solidarity with other groups, but also this idea of how Jews are so special, you know, and what are the anti-semitic roots of that? As I said, what does that mean for our ability to be in solidarity with other minorities and how we perceive ourselves in this society?

IRIS
I think it’s a good point, you know, “how special we are”. Actually, I mean, Jews can be tempted or seduced to believe we are so special. This is the kind of a very problematic hug that we are getting from the German society. But actually, it’s about German speciality. It’s not about us, we are being used. We are the object of German speciality, because I would say, this is something very narcissistic and very destructive also, because Germans perceive and defend also the point of view that the Holocaust is something very special: Only Germans could do something so awful. This is also a kind of perversion, to take the evil and to make something special and kind of good out of it. Only “we Germans” could do something so murderous, so industrial, so that and that, and this justifies that we are going to treat the Jews like that. The moment we, for example Inna and me, do not behave according to this image, then we are destroying this German kind of “we” of “we are good”, because we did something so evil that we are now compensating for through Jews that are only the victims here. If we come and we say, “Sorry, but we are not your victims” – maybe in a secondary way because we are Israelis and you support Israel and we were brought to Israel in order to maintain this colonial state – then we are disturbing. And I can understand from this point of view that they want us out of this discourse. They don’t want to hear our voice.

SHARON
It’s interesting that it’s always like they talk about how important the Jews are – but actually they are the center of the discourse always. Inna, would you like to add anything?

INNA
I mean, I just want to say, you know, I didn’t grow up here and I know from Jewish friends who grew up in Germany that for many, it has been like, many moments of this really being a nightmare. It’s not easy for many to grow up here as Jews in the German society. I wonder if that also has something to do with this sort of bear hug of the German establishment that gives people the illusion of safety that everybody really needs. But I think for me, it’s important to say: I’m not buying this. And just to connect it to my point about isolation from other minorities: I think that’s really a divide and rule kind of strategy, and what you get in return from being isolated from other minorities is this illusion of safety. But I don’t think that’s true and I don’t think we can rely on this feeling of safety at all, and it’s really important for me to carry this feeling of vulnerability with me living here.

SHARON
We will talk about solidarity among Jews and other minorities after the short break. We are going to listen to a song by a band from Tel Aviv, the band is called Deaf Chonky. Inna, am I pronouncing this right?

INNA
Deaf Chonky

SHARON
What does it mean?

INNA
It’s slang for “girls” [in Russian].

SHARON
Girls. The song is called “Silence is violence”.

[SONG: SILENCE IS VIOLENCE BY DEAF CHONKY]

[IWS JINGLE]

SHARON
Okay, we’re back. We just listened to “Silence is Violence” by Deaf Chonky. You can find it on our website: the link to the album and bandcamp where you can listen to their really amazing album. It’s called “Harsh”. So you can listen to it, and you can also buy it. 🙂

SHARON
Now, to Chana Dischereit, who couldn’t be with us here today. She’s in Ulm, witnessing the last stages of a trial against five young adults who last year, in May 2019, attacked a Roma family throwing a burning torch at them, in Erbach bei Ulm. Now, Chana Dischereit studied in Heidelberg and in Berlin. She did a master in futurology and now she’s working for the Association of Sinti and Roma in Baden-Wüttemberg. For years she’s engaged in anti racist work, especially in the context of the NSU murders, and was part of the NSU civil tribunal in Köln and Mannheim. We asked Chana to share about her experience growing up Jewish in Germany and to work with Roma and Sinti communities and let’s listen to the interview.

CHANA
Hi. Sadly, I cannot be with you in the studio today. That’s because I’m visiting a trial in Ulm, against five young adults. There were Romani people working in a village and right after they arrived, the rumors started, people started talking and there were a lot of little steps of violence from these five adults [against the Romani people], and the last step was that they threw a torch against the caravan. Luckily it fell one meter away from the caravan – where a mother and a nine months old baby slept in. And the public prosecutors, they investigated nearly from the beginning – not right away, but it was very close – they started to investigate about attempted murder and attempted arson attack. Which is for us already the highest that we could have wanted in this case, and the young adults had to stay in prison while the investigation was going on, also in the beginning of the trial. Which is very interesting, because the village didn’t make any statements about what happened, and even now, when the adults came free, we had to push the mayor, and eventually the mayor did say something about it: that what they did was a bad thing.

We’re concentrating on the village because there’s a lot of parallels in how they talk about Jewish people and how they talk about this trial or this case. Because there was a Jewish Sammellager, a collection warehouse, where all Jewish people were brought in, and 17 people died. And since 1989, they are discussing if they can put a memory plaque on this collection warehouse. So we have now 2020, many years passed, and still until now they don’t have a memory plaque. Yeah, that’s an interesting conversation going on in the village and they really don’t want to talk so much about the Nazi history and also they don’t want to talk about this actual case where Romani people got attacked in their village.

I’m a German Jew, that’s how I would identify myself. For me, while growing up in Germany as a German Jew, I mostly thought of myself as a Jewish person because of the Shoah [Hebrew term for The Holocaust], because we have many survivors in our family who survived by hiding in Berlin. And there was always a talk in the family: if we came back – like when the family survived and came back to the synagogue – that the other Jews looked at them and said: it cannot be that you survived, if you survived, you must be a collaborator with the Nazis. So it was a little bit, I think, hanging around in my head still when I was a kid. And when my mother asked me if I wanted to do the bat-mitzvah [Jewish coming of age ritual for girls], I said “no”, because I didn’t identify myself so much through the religion, and when I looked at the other people, I said well… I don’t know if you really know what is a Jew, because I would mostly identify with the Shoah history.

But I was never afraid to tell my class that I’m Jewish. I always did it and took the consequences, and there were always interesting reactions. But so, actually I found out a couple years ago that there are more steps even to be more open with this identity, for example, in friendships. Because I got active in this NSU tribunal, which is an organization about.. we did a civil tribunal in 2017 in Köln about the NSU murder cases and about the murders from the 90s in Germany, or even before, and my perspective was valued, and then I learnt, well, okay, I don’t have to put it in the background of my identity, I can also put it sometimes at the foreground, and so this changed also friendships because they didn’t realize that as a Jewish person you grow up differently. But even being the only Jewish person in a political group, it’s always difficult to make your perspective heard, or not to let this typical discussion start about anti-semitism, where you think, well, okay, I don’t really know if I want to talk with you about it.

I see a lot of parallels working with the Romani community. There are so many key parallels, like the first thing that I experienced was that the people said, well, oh, we have the same history. When I say hi, I am Chana and I’m Jewish, then they say, oh, we have the same history. For me it was very interesting, because there was this trust and of course we have a history of persecution long before the Nazis and when Nazis were there, and also after the Nazis. And like the Jewish people were the ones in power and the Romani people were the criminals in the system, the not educated people or poor people. When I look in the history of Romani people, I see a lot of trust to Jewish people, there was always a kind of trust. You know, for example, who do you give your money to if you go on a journey, and Jewish people are the ones you trust.

And even in history here, in the current history, we have in Baden Württemberg this state contract. And while preparing this contract, we looked at the Jewish community and looked, okay, how are they organizing? So still, I think, there’s a lot of exchanging moments. But I think what’s really, really unique is that Romani people in Germany have a civil rights movement, I think this is even in German history, very unique, and it’s very different how they got where they are now. And this was mostly because they were not recognized as victims of the Shoah, and this is where I see a mirror- like what could have happened if the Jewish were not seen as officially victims of the Shoah. It’s hard to see, you know, nearly 90% of the Romani people in Germany got murdered. So there’s a lot of culture missing, there’s the language missing, Romanus, the ones who survived are mostly strong kids who have maybe never been to school, so there’s a really big lack of education. The institution didn’t recognize them as victims until the 80s. Even in ‘54, the Bundesgerichtshof [Federal Court of Justice] said: well, those people are criminals. So they repeated it constantly, and also the police was always investigating Romani people in Germany. So there is a mirror looking at, like what could have happened if, or what happens if you don’t get recognized as officially a victim of the Shoah, and they had to fight for everything, for every memorial. Even now. The big memorial in Berlin has been standing since 2012, that’s really recent history, and now we have the conflict that the politicians, or that the Bahn [the train company] wants to put a railway under this memorial, and there’s a big fight going on. So it’s until now – memory is still something we have to fight for in the Romani community.

SHARON
Thank you, Chana for sending us this message. I wish you were here, we have so many questions for you, maybe we’ll have to do it another time. But thank you for sharing about your experience growing up here and about your political work. For the listeners: you can find her biography on our internet page. You can also find the link for a fantastic comic that Chana recommended us to read, Die Katze des Rabbines, the cat of the Rabbi. Would you like to comment on what we just heard?

INNA
Yeah, very much, and I’m really really happy that I got to know Chana thanks to this show and us being here. I have to say that what she mentioned with the Roma and Sinti Memorial being threatened – when I saw that, it was so clear to me that we have to be there, and that we have to be there as Jews, also to be in solidarity, and also, recognizing my own privilege. I cannot imagine that the Jewish Holocaust Memorial would have been threatened that way, because it stands in the way of a rail project. So we just went there as a bunch of friends, and I found it so sad and upsetting that there was no – we were the only ones who were there as Jews – there was no formal statement of solidarity or any presence from the Central Council of Jews in Germany. And I think, we all felt also very welcomed in the demo and that our solidarity was really appreciated and accepted. And it’s really sad for me to feel alienated from the Jewish establishment in Germany, I think I would have loved to have more connection. But I’m really seeing that in many ways that the Central Council, for example, are really, in many ways complicit in this special treatment they are getting – not just passively complicit, but actively. I was really shocked when, a few years ago, Yosef Schuster, the head of the Central Council, said, well, the number of refugees from Muslim and Arab countries coming into Germany should be limited, because apparently, you know, if their government has anti Jewish or anti Israeli sentiments – as if it’s the same – but you know, we’ll leave that alone – then they deserve to die in the Mediterranean Sea. And for me as a Jew in Germany, also as a human being, as a feminist, to be here and to speak for refugee rights and for the ability for anyone to flee from danger and to get safe haven. Like, if that’s not your position, then what are we even talking about?

IRIS
I would like to go on from this point, because as far as I know, it was not all the time like that with the Central Council of the Jews. In the times of Heinz Galinsky, for example, it was clear that the Central Council was speaking also for Romani people. And I think it’s a big kind of “success”, unfortunately, of the German institution doing this complicity or going into this complicity with the Central Council of Jews. Because both sides have an inner interest to believe that we are now protected here as Jews, we’re getting this hug. It reminds me, I think it’s in one of the books on Franz Fanon, he’s talking about Aimé Césaire who’s passing by and he sees a group of Black young people and they’re talking about Jews, and kind of a bit, maybe unhappy that people talk about Jews like that – not in a good manner. And Aimé Césaire, I think he was there, that he told him, don’t laugh about it, remember, always when they’re talking about Jews, they’re talking about you. I think that we tend to forget it – as Jews in this hug – that always when they are talking about Muslims, or refugees or Black people, they are talking about us. In Halle, for example, it was all of a sudden kind of clear to many Jews: “oh, this hug covers something deeper, which is much more dangerous” – and it’s not by chance that in Halle the main target was a synagogue, but afterwards there was a woman who was shot, a man in a döner Imbiss and one refugee from Somalia. Nobody talks about him, but he was also hurt when the perpetrator, when he ran away with his car, he hit him on the way, and he’s also part of this trial. So Halle is kind of the end of the illusion. I hope that it will also be the end of the illusion for the Central Council of the Jews in Germany

INNA
You’re being very optimistic.

IRIS
Yeah, I’m very optimistic, but I think that it means that there are cracks.

SHARON
But this was already one year ago. Did you hear any statement from them about this topic?

IRIS
Not really. We have also to remember who were the Jews that were in Halle, and this is also one of the problems about the Jewish community in Germany: Some of them were – I mean, there are hardly Jews in Germany, we [the Jews] have a lot of meaning, but what we are talking about is 200,000 people, which is not even Mannheim, and these Jews are, many of them are Jews from the former Soviet Union, which are also rejected, or let’s say that the treatment to them in the Jewish communities is very ambivalent, because they are threatening the hegemony of the old kind of Jews here in Germany – and in Halle, there was a group of American Jews who came to strengthen this synagogue and they came from Berlin actually and from the USA. So it also shows us that we have hardly Jews here. But this group from the United States, they are much more political, but of course they are not – I’m not sure that they are – affiliated to the General Counsel of Jews.

INNA
Yeah, I want to connect that to the ways that we see who are really hurt in those attacks, we see that our fate is connected, our history is connected, our present, and still we see a lot this instrumentalisation of anti-semitism for spreading Islamophobia and for projecting German anti-semitism on Muslims and really strengthening anti-muslim racism and also anti-refugee – not just the sentiments, but actually, the politics that leads people to die. And I think that for me – I’m very suspicious when I hear this discourse about anti-semitism in Germany – and for me, it’s a question: Where does the opposition to anti-semitism come from your broader anti racist agenda, and where it actually serves to ignore or even strengthen other forms of racism?

And it’s also important for me to not just see myself as a victim in this situation, but also to see the many forms of privilege: of being white or white passing in this society – which is, of course, also the other side of the erasure of Jews of color – and we hear this narrative about anti-semitism is rising all the time. But let’s talk about what’s actually happening, which is that the right wing here is becoming stronger – and yes of course, even though I’m not visible as a Jew in the street and I’m seen as white, in the worst case, Russian – but, of course, I’m afraid, when the AfD are getting into the parliament and when thousands and thousands of neo nazis march through the streets, of course it’s frightening for us, as well. But there’s really complexity here, I think, when we speak about solidarity, of being very clear where you are oppressed and where you have your privileges.

IRIS
I think it’s also very threatening what we are saying now, for the German society – there are German individuals that really went through hard work concerning their families and the perpetrator parts in them – what I’m talking about is more about the institutions. In the institution, for example, we see how they try to split between Jews and other minorities. For example, when Sarazzin said: these Muslim children who are not willing to study, not like these ostjüdische Mädchen – these girls from East Jewish families from Eastern Europe. These were the people that were murdered many years ago, I mean eighty years ago in concentration camps, and now they become the good [ones], and they are played against the Muslims. So I was for example, attacked by the taz – it’s a liberal, left newspaper in Germany – for giving an interview to an internet site which is called Muslim-Markt, because I was talking with Muslims, which is something you shouldn’t do as a Jew in Germany. So after all, I was attacked as a Mizrahi Jew who was able to be in Israel – my mother was able to grow up in Israel because the Nazis were not active in North Africa, In Israel 40% of Jews are of Mizrahi origin and they were the minority for the Holocaust, actually, they can become as much as Ashkenazi Jews because they were not exterminated – so I was, as one who was saved by not being under German occupation, attacked for talking with Muslims, attacked by Christians who did this awful things.

SHARON
Totally a perversion of roles. So I mean, it feels like Germany is using anti-semitism to avoid dealing with questions of racism, and actually now, in times like this, we can see how it all erupts like this, with all this anti-Semitism in the conspiracy “theories” around COVID-19. But we are now arriving soon to the end of our program, so I would like to ask, is there anything last you would like to add?

IRIS
Yeah, I hope, I mean – first of all, thank you for inviting me. It’s always empowering also for me to be here among many women – and that I hope that we can help, through also talks like this, to overcome this splitting attempts that are coming from the institutions, and do many things together in order to go against it, together of course, with many white Germans who also can see this problem.

INNA
Yeah, and also, you know, when we mentioned Halle, and the recognition that it’s not only an anti-semitic attack, but also anti-women and anti-feminist, it’s also Islamophobic and also connecting it to other hate crimes, and what we have seen in Hanau for example – and I think, for whatever strange reasons life has led us, or we have brought ourselves to this place, and we are the people who live here now, and it’s in our hands together – with and hopefully in solidarity with other groups here – to be creating the kind of society in which we want to live and claiming our own voice and our political agency. I really think that it’s just by connecting with each other in this way and speaking out, that we expose those really narrow and ridiculous representations to be what they are, a kind of hegemonic way of silencing us or controlling our public image – and just taking those matters into our own hands.

SHARON
So I would, I would think that from what you say, talking about anti-semitism, it would make sense if we want to create a safer society, it would make sense to speak about it in a broader frame of anti-racism, like we said in the beginning.

INNA
Exactly, and if you tell me that anti-semitism is so different and it has nothing to do with racism, then excuse me, I am telling you, anti-semitism and anti-Jewish racism is a form of racism.

SHARON
And of course, in a racist society, no minority, also not the Jewish, will be safe. Actually, nobody will be safe in a racist society and this is probably the strongest message from our talk today. So I would like to thank you, the guests in the studio, and special thanks to Chana who recorded the message for us and best of luck in the trial, and thank you for the listeners.

We are on Wearebornfree! Empowerment Radio, it’s on 88.4 in Berlin and 90.7 in Potsdam, you can listen to Wearebornfree! Empowerment Radio every Friday and Saturday from 1 to 4pm and on Sunday from 1 to 5pm.

Now we will end the program with a last song by a band from Leipzig, a recommendation from Chana – so thank you Chana again – a band called Frau Sammer, and if I get it correctly with my German, the song is talking about mansplaining but here we would like to dedicate this song to all the Germans who like to explain to us what anti-semitism REALLY is, because of course they always know better.

[SONG: FRAU SAMMER – EXPLAIN]

[IWS RADIO OUTRO]

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