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German Jewish leaders meet in Hamburg as neo-Nazis march

JTA

June 4, 2012 | 10:16 am

One day after violent clashes erupted at a neo-Nazi march in Hamburg, Germany’s top Jewish leader urged Germans to declare their country “a fascist-free zone.”

Speaking in Hamburg Sunday, Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said everyone should follow the example of the 10,000 local residents who held a peaceful rally June 2 under the slogan “Hamburg shows its true colors.”

Graumann’s remarks capped a weekend-long gathering of 240 Jews from around the country, titled “One People, One Community,” which coincidentally occurred on the same weekend as the neo-Nazi march.

A selection of community leaders, rabbis and volunteers were gathered at the Hotel Atlantic, discussing issues ranging from the state of Jewish arts in Germany to the state of Jewish identity, and holding both Orthodox and liberal Sabbath services. Communal issues, such as conversion and acceptance of those with only a Jewish father, were debated over meals and in pauses between workshops at the weekend-long event.

Graumann said his aim was to “help build a completely new Jewish community, fresher, more modern, and more positive.” Holocaust remembrance will always play an essential role, he added. But what unites Jews is “not only sadness, but the enormous, positive aspects of Judaism.”

Still, the goal of achieving normalcy has not been reached “as long as the synagogues here still need police protection and video cameras,” Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz told attendees on Sunday. The mayor, who had joined the anti-Nazi protests over the weekend, said it was “a question of decency to stand up against the right-wing demons; there is simply no alternative in democratic Hamburg.”

Graumann said the federal courts should try again to ban the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany, which has an estimated 7,000 members nationwide but reaches far more through various forms of propaganda. In recent years, the party has gained enough votes to earn a few seats in local parliaments, which qualifies it for taxpayer funding.

In a scenario that often marks neo-Nazi demonstrations in Germany, fights broke out in Hamburg June 2 when about 4,000 left-wing protesters tried to block an estimated 700 neo-Nazis from marching. Of more than 4,000 police deployed to keep the groups apart, 38 reportedly were injured; 26 demonstrators (six neo-Nazis and 20 protesters) were arrested and 63 taken into custody.

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