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Anti-Semitism and racism: The war in the Middle East reveals cracks in German society

Against the background of the escalating conflict in the Middle East, our new factsheet provides initial insights into findings from a study on anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attitudes in Germany.


Foto Yasemin El-Menouar
Dr. Yasemin El-Menouar
Senior Expert
Foto Stephan Vopel
Stephan Vopel


The current war in the Middle East following the terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7 is having an impact in Germany – and revealing cracks in German society. One cause of concern is the anti-Semitism which is being expressed more and more openly and which has been accompanied by an increase in anti-Semitic attacks. In addition to left-wing and right-wing anti-Semitism, public debate has focused on anti-Semitism among the Muslim population in particular. At the same time, however, Muslims are also experiencing a high degree of hostility.

How can we prevent anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim prejudices and hate speech from intensifying during the current political crisis? How can we ensure social cohesion in the present situation? And how can we successfully counter all types of inhumane attitudes, including anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim beliefs?

Against the background of these pressing questions, our factsheet on “Anti-Semitism, Racism and Social Cohesion” offers initial insights into the findings from our forthcoming study on anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attitudes in Germany. The basis for the study is the 2023 Religion Monitor, which provides international comparative data. Data for the Religion Monitor were collected before the current escalation of the conflict in the Middle East, but shed light on important underlying factors.

Israel-related anti-Semitism now socially acceptable

As the 2023 Religion Monitor shows, Israel-related anti-Semitism in particular has become socially acceptable, with 43 percent of the German population agreeing with the statement that what the state of Israel is doing to the Palestinians is basically no different from what the Nazis did to the Jews in the Third Reich. This attitude is not only found on the extreme right of the political spectrum; supporters of the CDU/CSU, SPD, FDP and Linke parties also concur with the statement to a significant degree, with between 43 and 54 percent of respondents of those political parties expressing agreement. This opinion is much less common among supporters of Alliance 90/The Greens. “Of course, criticism of Israel is not automatically anti-Semitic. However, positions purportedly critical of Israel are often simply adopted without any recognition of their anti-Semitic dimension,” says Stephan Vopel, expert on German-Israeli relations at the Bertelsmann Stiftung. “Prejudices, even unconscious ones, can provide a dangerous gateway for clearly anti-Semitic ideology. It’s therefore all the more important that we make use of the relevant educational programs early on to impart both knowledge and an ability to discern.”    

Moreover, Israel-related anti-Semitic attitudes are found to a greater degree among immigrants who grew up in countries where people are less aware of the importance the Holocaust has had on the German identity and the responsibility that has resulted from it. In addition, Muslims who are more religious are more likely to express anti-Semitic attitudes. “Anti-Semitism is partly based on religion in some of the countries Muslim immigrants are originally from. Interpretations of Islam should therefore be promoted that do not divide society, but can serve as a bridge between people,” says Yasemin El-Menouar, religion expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Muslims under general suspicion

At the same time, anti-Muslim sentiment is also widespread in German society. For example, 52 percent of the population perceives Islam to be “very” or “rather” threatening, while 54 percent of non-Muslims in Germany view Islam as “primarily a political ideology” and 58 percent believe the Muslim population supports Islamist terrorists. “Equating Islam and Islamism in this manner means that Muslims are often under general suspicion when Islamists commit atrocities,” says El-Menouar. “Both anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim prejudices lead to social division. We must stand up to them, including to preserve social cohesion.” Our factsheet lists six concrete ways society can counter anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim prejudice and resentment and promote awareness and understanding. More information on these and other findings from our study can be found in the publication below.


Additional information:

The publication “Antisemitismus, Rassismus und gesellschaftlicher Zusammenhalt” (Anti-Semitism, Racism and Social Cohesion) is part of the 2023 Religion Monitor. The underlying data were collected in June and July 2022. A total of 10,657 people were surveyed in Germany, the Netherlands, France, the UK, Spain, Poland and the US. In Germany, 4,363 people participated in the survey. The findings are representative of the German population.     

The Bertelsmann Stiftung has been using the Religion Monitor since 2008 to examine the role religion plays in social cohesion in various countries. The 2023 Religion Monitor looks at questions of religiosity in times of multiple crises along with the issue of diversity, solidarity and tolerance towards people of other faiths. Findings from the studies shed light on possibilities for promoting peaceful coexistence.