Wiesenthal Center calls leading German journalist ‘anti-Semite’ for criticizing Israel, then refuses to debate him

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This is an amazing story that’s been unfolding over the last few days. At the end of December, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in L.A. published its top ten list of the world’s worst anti-Semites (PDF). Number 9 was a prominent German journalist, Jakob Augstein, whose late father Rudolf was a leading Nazi-exposer. Jakob Augstein’s crime is that he has several times criticized Israel.

For instance, he wrote of Gaza, “Gaza is a place out of the end of times….Israel incubates its own opponents there.” The other four “anti-Semitic” quotes are below.

Der Spiegel, which is partly owned by the Augsteins, has responded angrily, calling the citation a “scandal” and passing along Augstein’s challenge to debate the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which the SWC has declined. From Spiegel:

It seemed like a completely unexpected stab in the back — a startling assault from someone who is generally considered to be harmless.

After the list was published, a passionate debate erupted in German newspapers over what constitutes justifiable criticism of Israeli policies and what exactly defines anti-Semitism. Most journalists felt that the accusation against Augstein was absurd, with the exception of Henryk Broder, a former SPIEGEL writer and well-known polemicist. Broder, in an effort to illustrate Augstein’s lack of self reflection, even went so far as to liken him to a pedophile who views himself as a friend of children.

Salomon Korn, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, seemed to put an end to the debate when he said that he had never had the impression that Augstein’s writings were anti-Semitic, and suggested that the Americans hadn’t done their homework. Korn said on the radio station Deutschlandradio Kultur, that the Americans were “pretty far removed, in a manner of speaking, from German reality.”…

We believed that readers could form their own opinions about the accusations if we presented both positions. So we tried to organize a debate between Augstein and the person at the Wiesenthal Center in charge of the list so as to allow the opponents to argue their sides in detail. We contacted Augstein by telephone, and he agreed.

But who are the people in Los Angeles? Rabbi Abraham Cooper.. took… less than 24 hours to respond by email. He wrote that he appreciated the “kind offer” and that he was willing to participate, but only under certain conditions. “If you wish to interview me together with him,” Cooper wrote, “Mr. Augstein must publicly apologize in advance for the statements that earned him his designation on the Wiesenthal Center’s Top Ten anti-Semitism List.” Otherwise, he added, he would refuse to “sit in the same room with him.”

Such a request is nothing less than a snub, yet Augstein reacted matter-of-factly when told about Cooper’s response. Of course he wouldn’t apologize for criticizing Israel, he said, noting that he is, after all, a journalist.

Here are Augstein’s words that constitute anti-Semitism in the view of the SWC:

“With backing from the US, where the president must secure the support of Jewish lobby groups, and in Germany, where coping with history, in the meantime, has a military component, the Netanyahu government keeps the world on a leash with an ever-swelling war chant.”

“Israel’s nuclear power is a danger to the already fragile peace of the world. This statement has triggered an outcry.Because it’s true. And because it was made by a German, Guenter Grass, author and Nobel Prize winner. That is the key point. One must, therefore, thank him for taking it upon himself to speak for us all.”

“Israel is threatened by Islamic fundamentalists in its neighborhood. But the Jews also have their fundamentalists, the ultra-orthodox Hareidim. They are not a small splinter group. They make up 10% of the Israeli population. They are cut from the same cloth as their Islamic fundamentalist opponents. They follow the law of revenge.”

“The fire burns in Libya, Sudan, Yemen, in countries which are among the poorest on earth. But those who set the fires live elsewhere. Furious young people burn the American, and recently, the German flag. They, too, are victims, just like the dead at Benghazi and Sanaa. Whom does this all this violence benefit? Always the insane and unscrupulous. And this time it’s the U.S. Republicans and Israeli government.”

“Gaza is a place out of the end of times….1.7 million people live there on 360 sq. kilometers. Israel incubates its own opponents there.”

The American Israel lobby group The Israel Project has passed along the Simon Wiesenthal’s “anti-Semitic” judgment in an email without questioning it. But the German news site DW impeaches the judgment of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, questioning the balance of its German canary:

The SWC bases its accusation against Augstein on five quotes. They are all extracts from opinion columns he writes for the online site of Der Spiegel, a German news weekly. In his columns, the journalist criticized Israel’s foreign policy and defended a poem by Nobel laureate Günter Grass that is highly critical of Israel. He has also called Gaza a “place from the apocalypse of humanity.” …

The Center was prompted to include Augstein by Hendryk Broder, a German publicist with a Polish-Jewish background. He is a well-known provocateur who once wrote, “The only reason [Augstein] didn’t make a career with the Gestapo is because he was born after WWII.”

Los Angeles Rabbi Abraham Cooper, in charge of compiling the list, told German broadcaster ARD that he stood by his choice, despite the criticism. According to Cooper, Augstein has crossed the line of demonization. But many Germans, including the Central Council of Jews in Germany, can’t understand why the SWC relied on Broder’s assessment… Several leading politicians also came out in support of Augstein.

Oh and don’t forget, Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff is #3 on the list, cited for slandering Israel. The cartoonist has repeatedly hit out at the idea that anti-Zionism = anti-Semitism, and boldly accepts the award.

We mentioned Augstein last year. Thanks to Annie Robbins, Alex Kane, and Scott McConnell.

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