What is the work of... ArenDt?

January 2023


Film "Project ArenDt" | Duration 2"14' | Production Ute Seitz // Philipp Offermann | PRIF 2023


What do Jews experience regarding anti-Semitism in Germany, especially in relation to Islamist actors? This question is addressed by the research project "The Impact of Radical Islam on Jewish Life in Germany" (ArenDt). In an interview with RADIS, Prof. Dr. Heiko Beyer and Dr. Melanie Reddig describe how the respondents perceive anti-Semitism in Germany and the discourses about it, and what strategies they have found for dealing with it.



What is the ArenDt project about? What is the core of your research?

Heiko Beyer: The aim of the project is to capture experiences of anti-Semitism, related perceptions of threat, and potential consequences for action among Jews living in Germany. It is about the different positions regarding anti-Semitism in the Jewish community and which different groups of perpetrators are perceived. Our focus is on political Islamism, but we also deal with other perpetrator groups, since the phenomenon of anti-Semitism can only truly be depicted as a whole.

What is your approach to this project?

Melanie Reddig: We collect both quantitative and qualitative data on how Jews experience anti-Semitism in everyday life, how they process it, and where they see particular problem areas in society. To this end, we conduct both online surveys and problem-centered interviews.

Heiko Beyer: The quantitative sub-study is first concerned with the prevalence of the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. That is, how many and what forms of attacks are there, are they verbal attacks, physical attacks, vandalism or such. Then we investigate which groups of perpetrators exist and what the respective underlying mechanisms are. The second sub-project is of a qualitative nature and deals in particular with the interpretive patterns among Jews in Germany. In other words, how German society is perceived, what role anti-Semitism plays in this situation, and how Jews locate themselves in relation to mainstream society and other religious minorities.

How come this focus on Jewish perspectives?

Heiko Beyer: In previous research on anti-Semitism, the focus was primarily on the perpetrators. That is, it was about which factors are responsible for anti-Semitic attitudes and anti-Semitic actions. Only recently has there been a greater focus on how those affected actually perceive this issue and what consequences they draw. We are basically picking up where the first pioneering studies left off and try to shed some more light on the field. We want to get valid numbers, further investigate causes and attribution mechanisms, and find out why certain groups of perpetrators are recognized, what this is based on, and generally what the patterns of interpretation of affected persons look like.

Are there any initial results?

Melanie Reddig: One of the main findings of the project is that there is not one specific population group that Jews see as the problem. For them, it is anti-Semitism from all directions - a social climate in which they have to live and to which very different groups contribute. It is anti-Semitism from the right, from the left, from Muslims, but above all also the more or less subtle anti-Semitism of the center that creates this social climate for them.

What examples do you have of anti-Semitic incidents?

Heiko Beyer: The most common offense type we have observed is anti-Semitic jokes, which are heard and experienced especially in the school context. Many respondents also report that they have experienced verbal and sometimes physical assaults when it came to the topic of the 'Middle East conflict'.

Melanie Reddig: For Jews, it is constantly present that anti-Semitism can come into their everyday life without any preparation and that they are confronted with anti-Semitic jokes or with anti-Semitic prejudices. It can happen in the work environment, in the university setting, or in schools. This is something that is very clear to Jews and also leads them to ask themselves whether they can dare to live openly as Jews in Germany.

How do Jews deal with this?

Melanie Reddig: The approaches are very different. Some are active, get involved in organizations, go to schools and engage in dialog with students and teachers. Others suppress the problem in their everyday lives because it is too much of a burden for them. And still others are torn.

What are the respondents' views on anti-Semitism from the Islamist side?

Heiko Beyer: One striking finding is that our respondents distinguish very precisely between radical Islamism and the broad Muslim community. This means that on the one hand, political Islamist anti-Semitism is perceived as a major problem, and much less an alleged anti-Semitism among Muslims in general.

Melanie Reddig: Although the respondents perceive anti-Semitism as a social climate, some say that this problem could be exacerbated by people who come to Germany and have been socialized in an anti-Semitic environment and have anti-Semitic ideas. The problem is said to manifest itself primarily in anti-Israel demonstrations or acts of violence in public spaces. This is where people look to the future with concern.

How do Jews feel they are perceived? What do they wish for the future?

Melanie Reddig: Jews feel that they are not perceived as active participants in the debate about anti-Semitism. They have the feeling that they are spoken about much more than they are spoken with, that they are addressed in the discussion about anti-Semitism as victims and not as equal partners. One concern of the respondents is to be able to have their say at eye level, without being assigned the responsibility of naming and fighting the problem. They would also like to see the political right not use this topic to deflect blame for themselves. Respondents also see a need for a self-reflexive exchange in German society about mainstream anti-Semitism. And leftists should also not relativize anti-Semitism in their own ranks and among Muslims.

For all respondents, dialogue between different population groups is particularly important. Contact and relations with Muslims are considered to be good. The respondents hope that radical Muslims can be better reached in the future through educational work and political awareness-raising. They would like to see a space for dialog, where members of different religions can meet as humans and exchange different perspectives together. In the view of the respondents, anti-Semitism can only be overcome through encounters, but on the other hand they also believe that tough action is necessary against acts of violence or demonstrations with anti-Semitic statements.

More about the project ArenDt