Opening Speech at the Reading »Never Again Is Now – Texts Against Anti-Semitism«
Deutsches Theater, Berlin, November 10, 2023
Hatred of Jews is hatred of freedom, of tolerance and of plurality
By Joachim Helfer
Dear guests, dear colleagues,,
You are very welcome on behalf of PEN Berlin!
Never again since the end of the Second World War have so many Jews been murdered in a single day as on 7 October 2023. The attackers slaughtered civilians and soldiers, children and the elderly, secular and pious Jews. The attack was aimed at the State of Israel as a whole, which Hamas wants to destroy.
As to PEN Berlin, we invited, at short notice, German-Israeli intellectuals of different political opinions to discuss their shared concerns about Israel at the Frankfurt book fair. At the same time, we invited Jewish authors to read from a book the prize for which was postponed after the mass murder of Israelis simply because it depicts the historically documented murder of a Bedouin girl by Israeli soldiers.
The silence of all too many Muslim representatives on terror against Israel unfortunately encourages such blanket suspicions of all Palestinians as sympathizers. All the more so is the drivel of theoreticians who consider Islamist fanatics to be a liberation movement. Hamas also murders secular, feminist, queer Palestinians. We will discuss ways to a just peace in the Middle East at the PEN Berlin Congress in December. Our reading Tonight has a different purpose.
Jews no longer feel safe in Germany and abandoned by society. There are now even more police in front of the synagogues than ever to fend off the long-established anti-Semites. The attempted arson attack on a Jewish community center in Berlin shows how necessary this protection is. As a rule, churches and mosques do not need it. With one exception: The progressive Ibn Rushd – Goethe Mosque of our colleague Seyran Ates, who is with us and will also read tonight, was to be attacked by jihadists from abroad and will remain closed until further notice out of concern for the staff.
But Jewish life does not take place only, and not mainly, in synagogues. But on the streets, in public transport, in schoolyards. Houses where Jews live are marked with the Star of David. Kosher restaurants in Berlin remain empty these days for fear of violence. Hardly any Jew dares to go out on the street wearing a kippah. Jewish children face hostility at school. A colleague’s daughter was spat on in the subway when she switched from German to Hebrew during a phone call with her father.
Against all this we say tonight: Never again is now! Where Jews cannot live safely and free from fear, soon no one will be able to live safely and free from fear.
Hatred of Jews has always been and will always be hatred of freedom, of tolerance and of plurality. As democrats, we will not allow ourselves to be divided into tribes, but we stand together for the universal rights and freedoms of all people.