Germany intends to strengthen its laws against anti-Semitic crimes as part of the government’s response to a deadly attack in the eastern part of the country.
Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht told parliament Thursday of her planned amendment to the country’s current law that would make anti-Semitism an aggravating factor for hate crimes in the nation’s criminal code.
Currently, discrimination against particular groups is considered an aggravating factor, but the law does not specifically refer to Jews.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) defines hate crimes or “bias crimes” as those “motivated by intolerance towards certain groups in society.”
“We have to send a clear signal against anti-Semitism,” Lambrecht told lawmakers.
A proposed change to the law would need to be approved by parliament, where the government holds a majority of seats.
The change is part of the government’s strategy to tackle anti-Semitism in the country following a deadly October attack in Halle, Germany. A gunman opened fire on a kebab shop after failing to storm a synagogue on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. The shooter killed a customer in the shop and a passerby.
The shooter confessed to German police that he was motivated by right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism.
Other elements of the plan are stricter gun control measures and requirements for social media companies to report hate speech to authorities. The police plan to establish a new department that would collect the reported content and the internet addresses of the posters.
The attack was part of a greater trend of crimes against Jews in the country.
Anti-Semitic offenses rose by almost 10 percent in Germany last year, with violent attacks going up more than 60 percent, according to preliminary police data released in February.
Police recorded 1,646 violations motivated by hatred against Jews, the highest level in a decade.
Perceived rise in anti-Semitism
In addition to rising hate crimes, studies show a perceived increase in anti-Semitism in German society.
After the Halle attack, a survey sponsored by public broadcaster ARD showed 59% of voting-age Germans believed that anti-Semitism was spreading in their communities.
More than a quarter of Germans hold anti-Semitic beliefs, according to a study by the World Jewish Congress.
“I am ashamed that Jews in Germany no longer feel safe and that so many are even thinking of leaving the country,” said Lambrecht.