The man just walked down the street in Spandau, he didn’t think of anything bad. Little did he know that a fateful encounter was in store for him. Three teenagers suddenly crossed his path, they yelled at him to shout “Free Palestine”, “Free Palestine”. The man refused, the young people struck, their victim suffered life-threatening head injuries. It was a day in October 2021.
And it was one of the 1,052 anti-Semitic incidents in the past year that the Research and Information Center for Anti-Semitism Berlin (RIAS Berlin) documented. The assault was one of the worst events on this record. “For the first time since we started collecting data in 2015, there were two cases of anti-Semitic violence in one year that could have been fatal,” said Benjamin Steinitz, RIAS project manager, when his organization presented the 2021 balance sheet on Tuesday.
The second incident happened in August, when it was found during cleaning work in a Jewish community center in Mitte that a bullet had pierced a window in the hallway. Nobody got hurt.
In 2021, RIAS registered a total of 22 attacks, 28 threats, 43 cases of property damage, 895 cases of abusive behavior and 62 anti-Semitic mass letters. In 2020, 1019 anti-Semitic incidents were registered in Berlin, in 2019 there were 886.
“Anti-Semitism was and is a central problem in the federal capital,” said Julia Kopp, project officer at RIAS. “Jews are openly attacked on social media, up to and including death threats.” At the same time, the discussion about Covid-19 measures offers a pretext for anti-Semitic incidents. “Most attacks in public happen during random encounters,” she said. In addition, anti-Semitic justifications would be used when looking for those who profited from and caused the pandemic.
The problem of anti-Semitic incidents affects all of Berlin and all social classes, said Kopp, but most of the incidents last year were in Neukölln. RIAS registered 65 crimes there, 35 more than in the previous year. In Lichtenberg, too, the number of documented anti-Semitic incidents has risen sharply, from eleven in 2020 to 36 last year.
More than half of the cases recorded by RIAS happened on the internet and social media. The number of incidents related to specific political and socio-political events has also increased. RIAS registered 181 anti-Semitic incidents when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict flared up in spring 2021. And traditionally, the numbers increase in May every year, because then there are a particularly large number of anti-Israel demonstrations by Palestinian groups.
Project manager Steinitz complained that his organization was not receiving any information from law enforcement agencies about incidents recorded by the police for data protection reasons. It is therefore not possible to create an overall overview of the registered cases from 2021. Sigmount Königsberg, the anti-Semitism commissioner for the Jewish community in Berlin, described the blocking of information as a “step backwards”. In this case, “data protection offender protection”.
RIAS, founded in 2015 and funded by the Senate, collects data based on online reports, observations and works with victim advice centers. Until last year, RIAS had also received information from the police.
At least there is hope for the organization that data exchange with the police will work better again in the future. The factions of the SPD, Greens, CDU, Left and FDP in the House of Representatives said they should take care of solving the problem.