On Wednesday, two people targeted a Berlin, Germany synagogue with molotov cocktails, a type of homemade firebomb, and rioters in Tunisia burned down the historic El Hamma synagogue. The attacks came as tensions continue to boil over in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent siege of Gaza.
Berlin police reported that two people threw the molotov cocktails at the Kahal Adass Jisroel synagogue in the center part of the city. The two people have not been identified. No casualties or injuries were reported, but the incident still sent shock and fear through German Jewish communities.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz condemned the attack and promised to protect the country’s Jewish communities, saying, “Attacks against Jewish institutions, violent riots in our streets–this is inhumane, disgusting and cannot be tolerated. Anti-Semitism has no place in Germany.” He also noted in later comments that Germany’s connection to the Holocaust means they must be extra vigilant of antisemitism and antisemitic violence.
Despite the attack, the Kahal Adass Jisroel community was resolute, with the synagogue’s chairperson saying, “We will live on, we will be strong, we will stay.”
In Tunisia, video circulated on social media of rioters burning down the historic El Hamma synagogue. Videos from the next day showed the building’s destruction. Local media briefly reported on the incident and Jewish publications have also raised awareness. Although the El Hamma synagogue no longer functioned as a house of worship, it held major symbolic significance for Tunisian Jews, who are still reeling from a May shooting at a different synagogue, the oldest in Africa.
Historically, Tunisia had a significant Jewish population: Jews have lived in the country for over 2,000 years and had a population of over 100,000 on the cusp of Israel’s founding in 1948. Since then, however, antisemitic violence and subsequent migration to Israel has dwindled Tunisia’s Jewish population to only about 1,500.
Both incidents immediately followed an explosive blast at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza, which was initially attributed to an Israeli air strike. These reports triggered mass protests in the Arab world, with some escalating into violence like in Tunisia. Israel’s responsibility for the blast has since been disputed, with both US and European officials saying their military intelligence shows it was a misfired rocket from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another militant group in Gaza. Arab states nonetheless continue to blame Israel, as noted by Al Jazeera.
The escalating war between Israel and Hamas has resulted in a sharp increase in antisemitic, islamophobic and other dehumanizing rhetoric across the globe, and hate crimes have ensued. UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted this issue, condemning hateful rhetoric and actions. He said, “Dehumanizing language that incites violence is never acceptable. I call on all leaders to speak out against Antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry and hate speech of all kinds.”
In the US, the FBI has reported an increase in threats to both Jewish and Muslim communities. Such threats have resulted in violence, including the murder of a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy in Chicago named Wadea Al-Fayoume. At a press conference, the Chicago branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) condemned Wadea’s killing and urged leaders to do more to control hateful rhetoric and violence. The Jewish Federations of North America also condemned the incident, saying “Hatred, prejudice, and violence have no place in our society.”
After condemning Wadea’s death, President Biden urged tolerance in a speech on Thursday. He also stressed pluralistic values like freedom of religion and freedom of expression, saying:
We can’t stand by and stand silent when this happens. We must, without equivocation, denounce antisemitism. We must also, without equivocation, denounce Islamophobia. And to all of you hurting — those of you who are hurting, I want you to know: I see you. You belong. And I want to say this to you: You’re all America. You’re all America.