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Narratives, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Government data about German antisemitism, widely cited in the English-language press, is wrong.

· 12 min read
Narratives, Damned Lies, and Statistics
December 8, 2018 - Munich, Bavaria, Germany - A Pegida supporter of the Jewish faith attends a Rally against immigration and migrants in Munich's Milberthofen district. Alamy.


In almost every discussion of German antisemitism in the English-speaking press, one will come across the following claim: According to “German government statistics,” almost all antisemitic hate crimes in Germany are perpetrated by “far-right” forces; that is, by nativist or even neo-Nazi ethnic Germans. This claim has found its way into the New York Times twice in recent months, once in an article from November 10, 2023, and again on December 6, in a piece tellingly titled “How Germany Became Mean.” The same claim has also appeared in the Guardian and in a recent issue of the London Review of Books. Susan Neiman, director of the Einstein Forum in Berlin, wrote in the New York Review of Books, on October 19, 2023, that “police statistics show that over 90 percent of antisemitic hate crimes are committed by white, right-wing Germans.”

There’s one problem with the statistic: It’s wrong. Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, the Bundeskriminalamt or BKA, tracks crimes that appear to be motivated by political or religious ideology and issues annual reports on them. There is a separate category for reported antisemitic hate crimes, which includes vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, firebomb attacks on synagogues and Jewish institutions, and insults or assaults against persons based on their presumed Jewish identity. Under a controversial and much-criticized policy implemented in 2001, the BKA by default classifies all unsolved antisemitic incidents as being perpetrated by “extreme-right” actors. Most antisemitic incidents are never solved (only 42 percent of politically motivated crimes, including antisemitic hate crimes, were solved in 2022). This means that, for the majority of antisemitic crimes classified as right-wing, the authorities have no evidence at all to back up this conclusion.

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