German top government officials and immigrant leaders today condemned remarks by a board member of Germany’s federal bank as racist and anti-Semitic.
Thilo Sarrazin, of the German Bundesbank, came under fire for telling the weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag that “all Jews share the same gene”.
He also said Muslim immigrants across Europe were not willing to, or capable of, integrating into western societies.
Several politicians demanded that Mr Sarrazin, 65, step down from his post as board member at Germany’s federal bank and resign his party membership of the left-leaning Social Democrats – demands that Mr Sarrazin rejected.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said in an interview with weekly Bild am Sonntag that “remarks that feed racism or even anti-Semitism have no place in our political discourse”.
Defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said Mr Sarrazin had “overstepped the borders of provocation”.
Leaders of Germany’s Jewish and Muslim communities also condemned the banker’s remarks.
Stephan Kramer, of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told German news agency DAPD: “Whoever tries to identify Jews by their genetic makeup succumbs to racism.”
Last year, Mr Sarrazin, who previously served as finance minister for Berlin, told a magazine that “I do not need to accept anyone who lives on handouts from a state that it rejects, is not adequately concerned about the education of their children and constantly produces new, little headscarf-clad girls”.
He later apologised for his remarks.
A leading member of the Turkish community in Germany, Kenan Kolat, called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to expel Mr Sarrazin from his Bundesbank post.
In his Welt interview, Mr Sarrazin said that “Muslim immigrants don’t integrate as well as other immigrant groups across Europe. The reasons for this are apparently not based on their ethnicity, but are rooted in the culture of Islam”.
While most politicians have condemned his accusations as racist, some newspapers and TV stations have said an open debate about the country’s integration of Muslim immigrants is greatly needed.
Maria Boehmer, the German government official responsible for immigrant affairs, said in a statement that while it was undisputed that mistakes had been made in the integration of immigrants for decades, there had also been lots of improvement, which Mr Sarrazin always failed to mention.
“Sarrazin paints a distorted picture of integration in Germany, which will not withstand any kind of scientific research,” Mr Boehmer said, adding that among other things, the education level of young immigrants had improved significantly during recent years. “We need to support this potential, not discriminate against them.”
A government survey in 2009 found that the Muslim population in Germany is likely to be between 3.8 million and 4.3 million – meaning Muslims make up between 4.6% and 5.2% of the population. About 63% of those report Turkish heritage.
The overall number of Germans with immigrant roots – including Muslim and non-Muslim immigrants – reached more than 16 million, or nearly 20% of the country’s 82 million inhabitants in 2009.
Mr Sarrazin has a new book out on the topic that he will introduce next week in Berlin. In some of the excerpts that have already been published by German media, he writes that immigrants have profited much more from Germany’s welfare system than they have contributed to it, and claims that immigrants are making German society “dumber” because they are less educated but have more children than ethnic Germans.
The head of the Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, called Mr Sarrazin’s comments “linguistically violent” and said last week: “If you were to ask me why he still wants to be a member of our party, I don’t know either”.