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Emil Lehmann Addresses Leipzig Jews on the Antisemitic Movement (April 11, 1880)

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In the seemingly scientific term “Semites,” people have found a new shibboleth or swear word, and it is even used by those who regard the tale of Noah’s three sons as a myth, those who dismiss the division of humanity into three classes or races as unscientific.

All this occurred under the rule of a legal code that threatens to penalize anyone who publicly incites various classes of the population to commit violent acts against each other and in this ways threatens the public peace (§130), and that threatens to penalize anyone who publicly insults any religious community with rights of corporation within the German territory, or the institutions or customs thereof (§ 166).

All this is punishable directly by the state, even without the filing of private charges. Nevertheless, so far no public prosecutor has officially charged the authors, publishers, or distributors of those antisemitic writings; no police authority has taken exception to those tempting signs in booksellers’ shops – “On the Jewish question” – and the countless pamphlets that lie underneath them. As if, with the existence of legally stated equality, a Jewish question could still actually exist today!

Since October 21, 1878, we have the well-known law against the dangerous activities of Social Democracy. Although a good portion of those writings only take the Jews as the occasion and starting point for Social Democratic attacks on and disparagements of conditions here in Germany, although they are mostly intended to fuel the differences between those who supposedly make an easy living and those who are supposedly exploited – the Antisocialist Law was not applied to those writings. Only one public prosecutor, the one in Bremen, has warned of the founding of antisemitic associations, pointing to those regulations stipulating punishment under the criminal code.

The Committee of the German-Israelite Congregation League has repeatedly made the question of prosecution under the criminal code a subject of its detailed deliberations. I deem it beneath our dignity to draw attention to inflammatory writings by filing private suits. It is the governments’ responsibility to take action against them on their own. And where this does not happen, a private suit will accomplish extremely little. An acquittal, weak proceedings on the part of the public prosecutor’s office to which the plaintiffs appealed – this has happened before – has a worse effect than the execution of a sentence that creates martyrs.

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