A controversial critic of Germany's Covid-19 restrictions who repeatedly spread false information about the coronavirus has been acquitted of incitement to hatred for comments about Jews and Israel.
According to court indictments, Bhakdi committed two counts of “incitement to hatred” against Jews.
This includes references to a “second Holocaust” made in a speech in September 2021, and a video in April 2021 in which he said: “The people who fled from this land where the arch evil was, and have found their land, have turned their own land into something even worse than [Nazi] Germany was. That is the bad thing about the Jews - they learn well.”
He made the comments, which have been branded antisemitic, in a political campaign video for the “die Basis” party.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the “die Basis” party was widely considered a front for the anti-vax movement, the "Querdenker" (Lateral Thinkers), whose marches were heavily infiltrated by far-right groups such as the “Reichsbürger” (Citizens of The Reich).
The comments prompted Berlin’s antisemitism commissioner, Sigmount Königsberg, to file the charges of incitement to hatred against Bhakdi.
Speaking in court on Tuesday (May 23), Judge Malte Grundmann said that although Bhakdi referred to the Holocaust during his speech about the COVID pandemic, this was not punishable.
Judge Grundmann said because this was done as part of an election campaign speech, then one had to apply different standards and freedom of expression should be valued as the greater good.
Referring to the disturbing comments made in Bhakdi’s video, Grundmann said that his reference to Jewish people could also have meant the policies of the Israeli government.
On the morning of the case, Bhakdi rode to court on his e-bike, arriving at 08.45 to the applause of around 300 supporters, many of whom revere him as a form of guru.
Cheering, smiling and brandishing banners and placards with messages such as “Whoever says the truth gets sued”, “Friend of the people. THANK YOU. Schleswig loves you”, and a heart shaped “I stand with Sucharit”
As 50 German police officers in black caps stood by, Bhakdi greeted his fans saying “I am moved. I thank you. I thank you. I am overwhelmed.”
Chairman of the Jewish-German NGO “WerteInitiative (Values Initiative), Elio Adler, said the ruling could set an extremely dangerous precedent for future cases of anti-Semitism.
Speaking to the JC, he said: “There is a dangerous mixture of issues happening simultaneously right now. According to many studies, about 20% of the population have anti-Semitic attitudes.
“In addition, there is a significantly higher number which has such a negative opinion regarding Israel, that is can no longer be explained by facts, but only by anti-Semitic resentment. And this population is currently exposed to global and personal crises.
“History shows us that this will lead to the fact that hatred of Jews becomes unrestrainedly visible and judgments like this will unfortunately pave the way for this.
“It also means the debate about the so-called final line under German Nazi history suddenly takes a new turn. Clearly anti-Semitic statements, regardless of whether they come from the right, left or from other areas of society, are now described as legal in court. Who or what should then present anti-Semitism from becoming normal?”
The public prosecution office now has a week to appeal the verdict.