Anne Frank educational institution in Frankfurt: “Solidarity with the people in Palestine must be possible in public”
The board members of the Anne Frank educational institution, Meron Mendel and Deborah Schnabel, talked about digital education about anti-Semitism, talks in mosques and their relationship with the Hessian Minister of the Interior
Meron Mendel and Deborah Schnabel sit between shelves in which books about the Holocaust, the Auschwitz trials and chief prosecutor Fritz Bauer are packed close together. A poster with the portrait of Anne Frank hangs on the wall. Mendel has been director of the Anne Frank educational facility since 2010; Schnabel has been co-director since September. They take around an hour and a half to interview the FR in the library of the institution in the Westend.
Ms. Schnabel, what will change with your appointment as director of the educational establishment?
Beak: I’m not new to it, I’ve been Meron Mendel’s deputy since February 2020. I also came just before the Corona crisis (laughs). Of course, digital education repeatedly plays an even greater role than before, and this topic is one of my areas of expertise. We have to further digitize our educational offers. That means more than putting videos on the web. We have to reach young people in their digital world.
Please be more specific.
Beak: We need a different address. I’m thinking of our mobile game Hidden Codes. This is a digital learning game that helps young people to recognize radicalization on the Internet. And we have to go where the youngsters spend time. For example, we seek contact with influencers who are immensely important in social networks. For example, they are the multipliers for young people at the popular Tik Tok video portal. We can use them to convey to young people, for example, what anti-Semitism and racism mean. This is the bubble we have to get into. So we can enlighten there without raising an index finger.
What can these influencers ideally convey to young people?
Beak: For example, that there are very different forms of anti-Semitism.
Mendel: We experience this on the internet as well as in the analog world. The traditional, open anti-Semitism, which is expressed, for example, in the swear word “You Jude”, still exists. Anti-Semitism, which is articulated via detours, is becoming more and more important. First and foremost, there is Israel-related anti-Semitism, which, in the guise of a supposedly neutral “criticism” of the State of Israel, serves anti-Semitic stereotypes and resentments.
How does he stand out?
Mendel: It seems to be about criticism of the actions of the State of Israel. Of course you can criticize the Israeli government, that is perfectly legitimate. But if a demonstration against Israel’s settlement policy takes place in front of a synagogue, then that is anti-Semitic. Because then it’s about discrediting Jews. And these processes also exist on the internet. Someone says they criticize Israel and speak of “the Jews”. Muslim migrant youth in particular are susceptible to this. You see what’s going on in the Middle East and develop anger towards Israel. Again: criticism is okay, I partly understand that. But when the anger turns into hatred of Jews, when the Israeli state is equated with “the Jews” and demonized or even the very existence of Israel is called into question – then the line to anti-Semitism has been crossed.
Is the line between criticism of the government of Israel, which you still consider legitimate, and anti-Semitism always easy to draw? An example: The one-player Amin Younes was criticized in May for a mail in which a man with a Palestinian flag IS assaulted by Israeli soldiers. Younes wrote: “May Allah be with you”.
Mendel: I don’t know the details of the case. In principle, solidarity with Palestinians is not automatically anti-Semitic. Also on the net. This is different from when people march in front of a synagogue and shout “Israel child murderer”.
Beak: And it is precisely these differentiations that influencers can make understandable to young people. They reach the young people, we also want to reach them.
Do you create enemy images with this very differentiated attitude?
Mendel: Yes, but we have to live with that. We promote the dialogue between all parts of the diverse society in Germany, that is also important. And we no longer leave the elephant out in the room when talking.
Mendel: That means that we should also talk about the Middle East conflict in Germany. We can argue about it. We do that anyway. There’s no point in saying: We live here in Germany, that’s none of our business. We tried that. But Israel and the Palestinians, that’s always an issue. By the way, in all milieus. We see ourselves here as bridge builders. For example, I was born and raised in Israel. I love israel But the second half of my heart belongs to Frankfurt, the city in which I now live. And here there has to be a dialogue between Jews and Muslims and all people in the diverse urban society.
Beak: So I see that too. I was socialized in the Jewish community, attended the Jewish kindergarten and the Jewish school. Now I would also like to fit in with the fact that, especially in the younger generation, there are contacts with other communities.
But is there any point in seeking contact with every group, including the extremist ones?
Deborah Schnabel has been the director of the Anne Frank educational facility since September of this year. In February 2020 she started as the main manager of the facility on Frankfurter Hansaallee. The 36-year-old has a doctorate in psychology. The communication of digital educational content is one of the main focuses of her work.
Meron Mendel Has headed the educational facility since it was founded in 2010. The 45-year-old, who was born in Israel and has German citizenship, has a doctorate in education. He holds a professorship for transnational social work at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences. geo
Beak: We set very clear limits. We do not work with radical Islamist groups and we do not seek proximity here. We go to the mosques, we approach Muslim youth. In our daily work, we experience a willingness on the part of many mosques to deal with the issue of anti-Semitism. In our experience, this also applies to very heterogeneous institutions in which many different forces act on young people. That is precisely why it is important that we offer these young people a dialogue. It is part of our self-image to go where our educational work is most needed. We can’t say: Because in a certain mosque a certain preacher spoke completely, whose theses we reject, When & we reject the whole community. On the contrary: It is precisely here that dialogue and empathy have to be built up. Here in particular we have to convey what anti-Semitism is and what people can do about it – also in their own environment and their own communities.
In your opinion, how pronounced is anti-Semitism in Frankfurt? The Hessian anti-Semitism officer, Uwe Becker says yes, Frankfurt is the most Jewish city in Germany …
Beak: Is he saying that?
Share that view, don’t you?
Beak: I can’t do much with this ascription.
Mendel: Neither do I. That is such an exaggeration of Judaism. Is a city better when it is more Jewish? I do not believe that. The point is that Jews can live in peace everywhere. And to answer your question: there is anti-Semitism everywhere, including Frankfurt, of course.
Let’s talk about the educational establishment again. How can you imagine your work eleven years ago?
Mendel: Completely different from today. We had four employees and were welcomed by a non-specialist audience, especially as a district facility that is concerned with communicating the Holocaust. Our approach is to look at the society of the present and future – while taking into account the warnings of the past. With our learning laboratory “Anne Frank. Tomorrow more “developed a completely new approach to convey the topics of anti-Semitism, racism and misanthropy to young people. We launched the Anne Frank Day of the city of Frankfurt so that these topics can be negotiated in urban society. With our special exhibitions we often take on unexplored aspects of the German migration society – most recently it was the topic of German colonialism. We have founded two advice centers in Hesse where we advise those affected by right-wing violence and discrimination. We offer anti-racism training in companies and businesses, we counterbalance right-wing forces in social media.
The educational establishment has grown steadily to currently have 60 employees. Was there a point for YOU that was critical to the development of the facility?
Mendel: Of course, social developments have made a significant contribution to growth: The last few years have been shaped by a massive shift to the right and an increasing need for our educational expertise from all areas – schools, authorities, cultural institutions, sports clubs and the voluntary fire brigade. We are experiencing increased discrimination, from racist and anti-Semitic violence and right-wing terrorist attacks, also in Hesse. We try to cover part of the immense demand with our educational and advisory services. Of course, a lot more would be needed.
In that year there was a conflict between the board of the educational institution and the works council. Are the conflicts resolved?
Mendel: The war has been for a difficult time, but the conflict is resolved. We reached an out-of-court settlement in May and made a fresh start. Of course we work on what happened.
Beak: And we work together constructively on the future of our facility. We share the concerns of the works council and want to work for safe and good working conditions. We are all bothered by the precarious situation of the, the basis of our work are political projects with limited-term, which make it difficult to provide long-term prospects for our very long-term work.
How is your relationship with the Hessian Interior Minister Peter Beuth?
Mendel: There is no contact with him. It’s a shame because it would make sense to have a conversation.
They had argued with him about funds for the Response advice center.
Mendel: What does quarreled mean? We should get federal funds for the survivors and relatives of the Hanau attack, but the die will be distributed by the state of Hesse. The Ministry of the Interior initially refused to pass it on. We suspect that our criticism of racist structures in police authorities was connected with it and that we defended ourselves publicly. In the end we got the money.
Still, the conflict doesn’t seem over yet, does it?
Mendel: It is always a problem when one is dependent on public funds and at the same time not afraid to criticize the politics publicly. Then we always have to expect that we won’t get any more money for important projects. That is of course stressful.
Interview: Thomas Kaspar and Georg Leppert