German intelligence agency publishes new report on ‘Islamist anti-Semitism’

The German domestic intelligence agency, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz – which roughly translates as Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution – has published a new report titled “Anti-Semitism in Islamism”. In it, the Office professes to shed light on Muslim and Islamist anti-Semitism – a phenomenon it deems to “gain in importance particularly against the backdrop of the arrival of more than 1,000,000 Muslims in the Federal Republic between 2014 and 2017.”1

This sets the tone for the report, as its raison-d’être are the real or supposed dangers brought about by the recent arrival of Muslim immigrants: “Should integration fail, the anti-Semitic character traits of many refugees could […] represent a starting point for an Islamist radicalisation”2, or so the Verfassungsschutz opines. Here, the Verfassungsschutz follows a widespread trend in recent German public debates to perceive anti-Semitic attitudes as ‘imported’ from Muslim countries.

‘Imported’ Muslim anti-Semitism

In order to address this danger, the report is intended as a guideline for all those dealing with Muslim immigrants and their families. “Particularly people who have professional contact with Muslim individuals with a migration background and/or refugees need to be prepared for the possible presence of an anti-Semitic mindset.”3

This means that teachers, social workers, police forces, civil society volunteers, and administration officials need to be made aware of the anti-Semitism reigning in many Muslim contexts: “A very large number of [recent Muslim immigrants] come from countries where anti-Semitic attitudes have been so common for decades that even children grow up with them as a matter of course.”4

This claim is backed up by figures from the Anti-Defamation League that profess to showcase ‘assent to anti-Semitic statements’ among a select group of Middle Eastern and North African countries.

‘Religious’ and ‘secondary’ anti-Semitism among Muslims

The report subsequently cycles through various forms of anti-Semitism, including “religious anti-Semitism” (based on Biblical or Qur’anic texts), “social anti-Semitism” (building on Jews’ outsider role in many societies, linked to their association with money and finance), and “political anti-Semitism” (the conspiratorial view of Jews as controlling world politics).

Muslims and/or Islamist actors are identified as being particularly prone not only to “religious anti-Semitism” but also to “secondary anti-Semitism”, centred on the denial of the Holocaust. By negating the historical fact of the anti-Jewish genocide, secondary anti-Semitists manage to dismiss Israel’s right to exist qua Jewish state created for the protection of the genocide’s victims. Thereby, Israel’s rightful claims to land in the Middle East are rejected.

‘Anti-Zionism’ as a form of anti-Semitism

Yet the most consequential form of anti-Semitism among Islamist actors is, according to the report, “anti-Zionism”. By way of definition, the intelligence agency asserts that “[s]ince the official founding of the state of Israel in 1948, Zionism is understood as including all endeavours to preserve and expand this state. ‘Anti-Zionist’ are, therefore, each and all utterances and actions that reject or endanger the existence of the state of Israel.”5 “Anti-Zionism”, the text explains, “aims for the complete abolition of the state of Israel. Its existence is declared to be a foundational problem of world politics and a danger to peace.”6

In the Verfassungsschutz’s view, all anti-Zionist thought and activism is per definitionem illegitimate, since anti-Zionism is merely a sub-form of anti-Semitism. To be sure, the report notes that many anti-Zionist actors claim to distinguish between the state of Israel and the Jewish people, and assert that their criticism is directed uniquely or primarily at the former.

Yet this distinction is nothing but a ruse, according to the agency: “Since Israel is the sole Jewish state in the world, and since its annihilation would inevitably lead to the death and the displacement of millions of Jews, this reasoning reveals itself to be a stratagem, with which the true thrust of anti-Zionism is supposed to be concealed.”7

Islam’s and Islamists’ anti-Semitism

Subsequently, the report runs through a number of organisations and groups the Office for the Protection of the Constitution deems to be ‘Islamist’ and hence anti-Semitic in nature. It begins by distinguishing, somewhat clumsily, between Islam and Islamism, stressing that only the latter is under surveillance by the Office and that virulent anti-Semitism is, presumably, a hallmark of Islamists and not of Muslims.

This distinction subsequently collapses, however, when the report stresses the Qur’anic roots of anti-Semitism: Muhammad’s altercations with the Jews in Medina form “the basis in Islam for a hostility to Jews that represents ‘an integral component part of [Islam’s] religious self-understanding’.”8

According to the agency, Islam’s innate anti-Semitism was updated and given an Islamist bent by Sayyid Qutb. Particularly his Our Struggle Against the Jews, published in 1950, fused Islamic and European-derived notions of anti-Semitism into a novel, powerful form. Building on Qutb’s work, the core of Islamist anti-Semitism rests on the view of Jews as striving for – or as having already obtained – secret world domination.9

Anti-Semitism in Islamist organisations

Qutb’s views diffused not only in his Muslim Brotherhood – and its German representative, the German Muslim Community (DMG) – but also in other groups active in Germany. These include Hamas and Hizb Allah, as well as Hizb ut-Tahrir, Salafi groups, the so-called Islamic State, and the Millî Görüş movement.

For the Salafi and jihadi groups, the report includes some examples of anti-Semitic agitation, mostly by referencing statements of Imams or preachers. Yet the report does not deliver much by way of examples clearly elucidating, for instance, Millî Görüş’ anti-Semitism.

Similarly, there are no concrete figures describing the scale of the phenomenon under study – the one exception being the observation that the Office “registered more than 100 incidents between January and December 2017, ranging from anti-Zionist sermons to anti-Semitic graffiti to verbal and physical attacks against individuals.” The report ominously avers that this constitutes “probably only the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’”10 but cannot provide an actual or realistic threat assessment.

Anecdotal evidence

On the basis of these rather anecdotal musings, the Office asserts that it seems “reasonable to conclude that the anti-Semitic mindset spread by Islamists can be found increasingly also in Muslim groups outside of Islamist organisations.”11

The report thus confines itself to painting a rather general picture and provides comparatively little by way of concrete – let alone novel – information. It might have some utility to persons completely unfamiliar with any of the topics at hand; yet it remains unclear how the brochure could fulfil its self-declared aim of providing meaningful guidance to practitioners in social services, administration, or law enforcement.

Political stakes involved

What is more, while presenting itself as a neutral and dispassionate analysis of the topic at hand, the Office’s positioning in fact reveals itself to be resolutely political. This becomes clear above all in the ways in which it addresses the question of anti-Zionism: the report does not even contemplate the fact that, in equating all anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, it might be engaged in a controversial political debate.

That the Verfassungsschutz should take such a stance is perhaps unsurprising, given the general political climate in the Federal Republic: In May 2019, the German Parliament passed a resolution that declared the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as inherently anti-Semitic, and strove to forbid all official communication or cooperation with the movement and everyone affiliated with it. In phraseology that mirrors the view of the Verfassungsschutz, all anti-Zionism is defined as a form of anti-Semitism.

Leading German academics subsequently criticised the Bundestag’s decision in an open letter published in Die Zeit newspaper. While refraining from endorsing the BDS movement, the signatories castigate parliamentarians for tarring a diverse movement with the same anti-Semitic brush. They also denounce deputies’ failure to stand up to what they describe as virulent Israeli attempts to undermine freedom of speech in German universities by delegitimising all voices critical of the current government as anti-Semitic. Finally, they note that parliament failed to distinguish between a general boycott of Israel on the one hand and steps aiming to curtail Israeli occupation and settlement policies illegal under international law on the other hand.12

Praise for the report

Yet the Bundestag’s decision and the report published by the Verfassungsschutz have also drawn positive comments from certain quarters. German far-right outlet Tichy’s Einblick gushed praise for the report, asserting that the Office had finally woken up to the true dangers of Muslim immigration.13

Swiss far-right website Audiatur picked up on the report and lauded it as willing to “dig deeper than state authorities in German-speaking areas are usually willing to do”. Yet it proceeded to criticise the authors for being still too bashful about Muslims’ inherent anti-Semitism: “The more pious Muslims are, the more anti-Semitic they are.”14

The report has also been noted internationally: the German branch of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) shared it on its Twitter feed, and conservative Hudson Institute from the US provided an abridged translation on its website.15

Notion of ‘imported’ anti-Semitism ‘disconcerting’

Other voices have expressed considerable reservations. Patrick Siegele, director of the Jewish Anne Frank memorial centre in Berlin, did not address the Verfassungsschutz’s report directly but commented on its underlying premise – the idea that Muslim immigration was responsible for a rise in anti-Semitic incidents.

“This talk of an imported anti-Semitism is very disconcerting in the German context”, Siegele noted. “It is being used to play off minorities against one another. One is only championed in order to discredit the other.”16

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  1., pp. 5 f. 

  2. p. 7 

  3. p. 8 

  4. p. 6 

  5. p. 5 

  6. p. 12 

  7. p. 12 

  8. p. 16 

  9. p. 20 

  10. p. 38 

  11. p. 39