Row over threat to list Berlin mayor as one of world's worst antisemites

Critics say the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's list should be reserved for only the worst offenders


Jewish groups in Germany have reacted with shock and criticism to the news that the Simon Wiesenthal Centre is threatening to include Berlin's mayor on its annual list of the top ten worst antisemites.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Los Angeles-based centre, has confirmed that he would include Mayor Michael Müller on the list unless the mayor takes clear action to block the BDS movement and related activities in Berlin, as the cities of Frankfurt and Munich already have done.

But to put Mr Müller on the antisemitism list would be "grotesque" according to Joseph Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. In a statement issued at the end of last week, Mr Schuster weighed in on the controversy triggered by a report in the Jerusalem Post

Mr Schuster said he couldn't see putting Mr Müller "on a par with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the worst antisemites in the world", even though it is  “embarrassing for the city of Berlin that the mayor hasn’t yet considered it necessary to take a clear and unequivocal position against BDS".

Berlin's Jewish community, in the centre of the storm, also came out strongly against tarring the mayor. 

In a telephone interview, Rabbi Cooper said German Jewish leaders were "welcome to say and do whatever they think or feel is appropriate" but that he was acting in the name of Jewry worldwide, to combat the demonisation of Israel. The mayor of one of the world's top cities bears a special responsibility, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Müller told the Berliner Zeitung that he and the Berlin senate took the accusations seriously, though he found it "absurd" and would respond in greater detail soon. “Especially in a city like Berlin, we are aware of the special responsibility” of Germans given their history, Mr Müller said.

Politicians and activists against antisemitism in Germany have joined the chorus, suggesting that while they wish Mr Müller would take a stronger public stance against BDS, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre list should be reserved for major offenders. Some noted that Mr Müller has been grappling with BDS recently and has a history of sympathy for Israel and the Jewish community.

"The city's mayor is not responsible for all the idiots living in the city," Bundestag member Volker Beck, former head of the body's German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group, said on Facebook.

“Including the mayor in the list for no obvious reason [would] discredit all the critical work we do to keep the issue alive," Sergey Lagodinsky, a member of the Berlin Jewish community assembly of representatives, said.  "This is irresponsible."

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