In the aftermath of the Holocaust, successive German governments have meticulously upheld their obligations to the Jewish people. Study of the Holocaust is a mandatory component of the German state education curriculum, Holocaust denial is classified as a crime and restitution commitments were honored and even exceeded.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is a genuine friend of the Jews and despite intense political pressures and occasional minor vacillations, has consistently supported Israel, describing its security as “part of my country’s raison d’etre”. However in recent years, as in other European countries, German public opinion has turned against Israel, perceiving it as the principal threat to global stability and peace. This hostility has increasingly assumed overt anti-Semitic tones.
There is growing resentment against Jews, who are blamed for imposing excessive emphasis on collective German national guilt for the Holocaust.
Anti-Jewish hostility is often expressed in the more ‘politically respectable’ demonization of the Jewish nation state, allegedly not related to anti-Semitism although the “Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe” (OSCE) explicitly defines such behavior as anti-Semitic.
The German left has accused Israel of war crimes, occupation and racism and also engages in inverse Holocaust imagery, enthusiastically condemning Israel for allegedly behaving towards the Palestinians as its Nazi forebears did to the Jews.
When reproached for engaging in anti-Semitism, the left condemns the ‘global Zionist propaganda machine’ for seeking to deny Germans the right to criticize Israeli government policies.
These trends are fortified by the sizable Islamic migrant community – now numbering over four million – which aggressively agitates against Israel, utilizing obscene placards at demonstrations chanting “gas the Jews” or “death to the Jews”. Moslems are at the forefront of violence directed at identifiable Jews in urban areas, especially in Berlin, where some Jewish communal leaders are now recommending to avoid wearing kipot in public.
Yet, the government has welcomed the immigration of almost 200,000 former Soviet Jews and invested major funds to resurrect a vigorous Jewish communal life and foster Jewish education.
Despite receiving state subsidies, the Jewish leadership displays its independence and frequently speaks out if it considers the government is not fulfilling its obligations to the Jewish community or fails to act evenhandedly towards Israel.
However the intensification of extreme anti-Israeli hostility combined with a recent spate of disconcerting incidents has created angst within the Jewish community.
Last year, there was a traumatic national debate which assumed ugly anti-Semitic overtones after a judgment in Cologne ruled that male circumcision causes “bodily harm” and declared the practice illegal. The matter was only resolved following the direct intervention of Chancellor Merkel who initiated the passage of legislation legalizing circumcision.
In April 2012, in a provocative outburst, 84 year old Nobel Prize laureate Gunter Grass bitterly accused the Israeli government of seeking to obliterate the Iranian population. He warned that the Jewish state, which he considers ‘insane and unscrupulous’, represents the principal obstacle to peace in the region and called on his government to cancel delivery to Israel of the last Dolphin submarine.
Despite being discredited for having initially concealed that he had served as a member of the Nazi Waffen SS, Grass’s vicious attack on Israel, whilst condemned by numerous politicians and journalists, was enthusiastically endorsed by many Germans.
Shortly after that incident, the state-sponsored Berlin Jewish Museum invited Judith Butler, a notorious Jewish promoter of BDS against Israel, as a guest lecturer. Butler received enthusiastic applause from the 700-strong audience when, purporting to act in accordance with the highest Jewish moral values, she renewed calls to boycott Israel and ‘abolish political Zionism’ in order to create a bi-national Palestinian state.
To provide a platform for such an outspoken anti-Israeli activist at a state-sponsored Jewish Museum in Berlin is surely obscene but not unprecedented. Former Israeli communist Felicia Langer, lives in Germany where she condemns the German government for supporting Israel, constantly equates Israelis with Nazis, calls for Israeli leaders to be tried as war criminals, describes Israel as an apartheid regime and even praises Iranian President Ahmadinejad. In August 2009, German President Horst Kohler, who four years earlier had addressed the Knesset, shocked the Jewish community by honoring Langer with the Federal Cross of Merit, Germany’s most prestigious award.
In 2010, despite protests from the Israeli Embassy, Frankfurt’s Mayor Petra Roth invited Alfred Grosser, a German-born Jew known to be frenziedly hostile to Israel, to give the annual Kristallnacht oration in the Paul’s Church. He used the occasion to draw parallels between the behavior of Israelis and Nazis and was lauded by the media.
Another ongoing scandal prevails at the German Center on anti-Semitism in Berlin, considered the most important German institute engaged with the subject. Until last year it was headed by Professor Wolfgang Benz, who received his PhD from Professor Karl Bosl, a former Nazi storm trooper who maintains an ongoing association with right wing extremist groups. To this day, Benz continues defending his mentor.
Benz equates Islamophobia with anti-Semitism, alleging that critics of Islamic practice are reminiscent of Nazi anti-Semites attacking the Talmud. He recently challenged the fact that the Muslim terrorist murders in Toulouse had an “anti-Semitic dimension”. He dismisses concerns about the Moslem Brotherhood as being reminiscent of anti-Semitic phobias like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and bizarrely complains that drawing attention to the fact that Moslems comprise 70% of Berlin prison inmates is comparable to Hitler’s ravings over “the fact that 89% of Berlin pediatricians in the 1930s were Jews”.
The Center focuses on right-wing extremism and largely ignores or understates left-wing and Islamic anti-Semitism. Yet, despite protests, no effort has been made to redirect the activities of this government funded institute.
The most recent upheaval erupted in response to a list compiled by the US-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, purporting to identify the ten worst anti-Semitic statements of 2012. It included President Ahmadinejad, the Moslem Brotherhood, Nation of Islam founder, Louis Farrakhan and European anti-Semites. Ninth on the list was Jakob Augstein, publisher of the magazine Der Freitag, who also provides columns to Der Spiegel, Germany’s leading weekly, founded by his father.
I have an aversion to simplistic lists prioritizing bigots and having reviewed some of Augstein’s outbursts, I consider that bracketing him with Ahmadinejad or Farrakhan absurdly magnifies his standing and impact. But nevertheless, his outbursts, by any benchmark, warrant describing him as an anti-Semite.
Augstein alleges that when “Jerusalem calls, Berlin bows its will”; that US presidents were obliged to “secure the support of Jewish lobby groups”; that American Republicans and the Israeli government profit from violence in Libya, Sudan and Yemen; that “the Netanyahu government keeps the world on a leash with an ever swelling war chant”; that “Israel incubates its opponents in Gaza”; that the recent Prophet Mohammed video provoking riots was initiated by Israel; that ultra-Orthodox Jews are like Islamic fundamentalist terrorists and “follow the law of revenge”.
Even the broadest interpretation of the OSCE definition would qualify such demonization of Israel and allusions to Jewish global power as anti-Semitic.
In response, Augstein shamelessly claimed that being opposed to Jew hatred and “deeply respecting” the Simon Wiesenthal Center, he was distressed to be defamed as an anti-Semite.
Prominent German Jewish writer and commentator, Henryk Broder, was sufficiently outraged to describe Augstein as “a pure anti-Semite… who only missed the opportunity to make his career with the Gestapo because he was born after the war”.
The president of the Jewish Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, whilst condemning his “horrible, hideous” articles on Israel, criticized his placement on such a list. His vice president, Salomon Korn, went further and foolishly defended Augstein against charges of anti-Semitism.
Juliane Wetzel from the German Center on anti-Semitism was amongst those who rejected suggestions that Augstein was disseminating hatred of Jews. Overall, the bulk of the German media, as well as both leftist and CDU politicians defended him, insisting that he was merely expressing legitimate criticism of Israel.
It was significant that in 2010, two Bundestag leftist representatives were aboard the Turkish Marvi Marmara and that for the first time, the left and the right united in parliament to carry a unanimous resolution censuring Israel for the Gaza flotilla episode. This in itself may not represent anti-Semitism, but reflects the atmosphere of increasing hostility against Israel which would have been inconceivable in Germany only a few years ago.
For Jews, the positive side of Germany is the evident abundance of pro-Israeli and even philo-Semitic rank and file Germans in all walks of life. Yet, simultaneously the intensifying efforts by left wing activists uniting with Moslem extremists and occasionally even Nazis, to demonize Israel and promote anti-Semitism, provide valid grounds for concern about a future for Jews in Germany.
The situation is likely to further deteriorate drastically after the culmination of Angela Merkel’s term as Chancellor.
The writer may be contacted at [email protected]
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom