Germany, confront your antisemitism

By Benjamin Weinthal, August 27, 2009
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The Federal Republic of Germany has named 10 members to its first-ever government commission to combat antisemitism.

The pressing question is whether the commission members will remain stuck in the past and devote their energies to fighting a largely obsolete form of Jew hatred: Nazi-style biological and racial antisemitism? Or will they address the gravest threats to Jews in Germany, which are Muslim antisemitism and that version dressed up as anti-Israel activity?

Dr Juliane Wetzel, a commission member who works for the controversial Berlin Centre for the study of antisemitism, seemed to confirm the concerns.

She said in the liberal-left daily, Die Taz, that the greatest danger of antisemitism comes from the extreme right and that she does not want to make hostility to Jews among German Muslims into an issue.

However, this is not the reality on the ground. At the beginning of this year, during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, Germany experienced a tidal wave of anti-Jewish demonstrations. Over 100,000 German-Muslims participated in protests across Germany where chants of “kill, kill Jews” and “kill, kill Israelis” were commonplace.

Germany has been largely in a state of denial about another ubiquitous modern form of antisemitism, namely hatred of Israel dressed up as Israel criticism.

The new German antisemitic ideology manifests itself as a toxic combination of anti-Israel sentiment and anger about the Shoah. The backlash against the crimes of the Holocaust can be summed up in one sentence: “The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.”

According to BBC polls in 2007 and 2008, Germans harbour the most negative views of Israel in the EU (tied with Spain in 2008).

An exhaustive 2004 German university study showed that 51 per cent of Germans equate Israel with Nazi Germany, a key manifestation of modern antisemitism as defined by the European Union’s working definition of antisemitism.

While there are a number of important voices on the commission such as Dr Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, an expert on Iranian and Islamic antisemitism, there are significant gaps. The members are mostly academics and NGO representatives.

What about politicians, Israeli experts, and people ‘on the ground’?

Some obvious key figures missing include Israeli Professor Robert Wistrich, arguably the world’s leading expert on modern antisemitism; the East German Jew Anetta Kahane, who heads a foundation fighting racism and antisemitism mainly in the former German Democratic Republic; and Gert Weisskirchen, a top Social Democratic Party MP who served as the personal representative of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe for combating antisemitism.

Some pressing work for the commission would entail ending the German government’s credit guarantees which ensure flourishing trade between German companies and the number one exporter of global antisemitism, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Also, the commission could tackle antisemitism within its own parliamentary backyard. MP Norman Paech, the foreign policy spokesman of the German Left Party, frequently compares Israel with Nazi Germany, and he and over 10 MPs from the Left Party rejected the resolution to form the commission because it mentioned bias against Israel.

The commission has a unique opportunity to breathe some life into a genuine fight against the two most potent forms of modern Jew-hatred. The ball is now in the commission’s court.

Benjamin Weinthal is the Jerusalem Post’s correspondent in Berlin

    Last updated: 11:30am, August 27 2009