BERLIN – The University of Rostock consulted the state’s domestic intelligence agency to justify the refusal of space for a pro-Israel event sponsored by the German-Israel Friendship Society.
With Israeli media detailing an increasingly hostile attitude by German authorities toward Israel, the involvement of a regional intelligence agency in the cancellation of a pro-Israel lecture has sparked claims of increased bias toward the Jewish state.
Sacha Stawski, who heads the pro-Israel NGO Honestly Concerned in Frankfurt, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the involvement of the intelligence agency with the university in pulling the plug on the Israel event is “an absolute scandal.”
Alex Feuerherdt, a German journalist who writes extensively about anti-Israel attitudes and contemporary anti- Semitism in the Federal Republic, told the Post that the intelligence agency and the university have “criminalized de facto engagement for Israel and this is a particularly huge scandal in light of German history.”
The Post conducted telephone interviews and email exchanges over a one-week period in late August and early September to shed light on the highly unusual form of government intervention to bar a pro-Israel speaker from delivering an early July lecture on the property of the University of Rostock, located in the eastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
The German-Israel Friendship Society had planned a lecture with Justus Wertmüller titled “How are things going with ‘Israel Solidarity?” Wertmüller is a popular author among pro-Israel left-wing Germans and his philosophical and analytical texts are published mainly in the magazine Bahamas.
The Bahamas organization has set up pro-Israel rallies and conferences over the years, and is considered to express a form of unconditional solidarity with Israel.
In a statement issued to the Post on Wednesday by the university’s spokesman, Dr. Ulrich Vetter, the management of the university wrote, “There is no legal obligation to provide a room outside of the university’s research and teaching activities.”
The “lecture of Mr. Justus Wertmüller at the university appeared to be problematic to the management because Wertmüller is known for statements hostile to the constitution” in Germany, the university wrote.
According to Rostock’s management, his statements “could have produced disturbances,” and “the domestic intelligence agency shared the fear of the university management and recommended to the rector that the event not be permitted in the room at the university.”
The university did not provide the Post with examples of statements from Wertmüller hostile to the German constitution.
Wertmüller wrote the Post, “It is a fiction of the university to assess Bahamas or me, personally, as hostile to the constitution. The university is lying and the domestic intelligence agency has never said that.”
He continued that the intelligence agency told the University of Rostock that his appearance could cause serious trouble. The authorities interpreted “the troubles as Zionist and answered in a Nazi way,” he said.
“The problem is not only that the intelligence agency provided the justification based on the sensitivities of the population... rather it is those who do not want stress and who reference the intelligence agency.”
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, a current board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told the Post, “When such an incident occurs one should always look for other somewhat similar ones to put it into perspective. The one which comes to mind is when in Duisburg [in North Rhine- Westphalia state] in January 2009 the police removed two Israeli flags from a flat after participants in an anti-Israel demonstration organized by the Turkish extremist group Mili Gorus had started to pelt the flags with objects. Rather than confront the perpetrators, the police tried to accommodate them. Fortunately enough, this scandalous attitude was heavily criticized and the police apologized.”
Gerstenfeld, who has written extensively about modern anti-Semitism in Europe, said, “The Rostock case is even worse. Israel’s enemies reach their goals through fear of their violence without having to resort to it. This attitude only encourages additional violence such as the recent attacks on Jews in Berlin. It also encourages extremists to shout on the streets, ‘Kill the Jews.’ They risk little.
“All these are signs that aggressive members of the Muslim community in Germany and their allies have managed to impose their fear on the German authorities.
The only way to fight against this is to expose and shame these authorities thoroughly after each incident.”
An employee of the Mecklenburg- Western Pomerania intelligence agency told the Post via telephone that the “university made the decision” and turned to the agency for advice before terminating the Israel lecture.
The employee said that Wertmüller is not mentioned in their reports as being dangerous.
Alex Feuerherdt, the German journalist who writes about anti-Israelism in the Federal Republic, wrote the Post that the “recommendation of the intelligence agency and the approach of the university’s management is a scandal. It cannot and must not be permitted that the organizer of a solidarity for Israel event can be banned simply because forces hostile to Israel are able to disrupt the event.”
Feuerherdt termed the university’s and intelligence agency’s conduct as “not only appeasement toward anti- Semites, but downright capitulation to them.” He said that it is the university and intelligence agency that are creating the anti-Semitic disturbance.
Feuerherdt said it is unsurprising that the intelligence agency is involved in this case. The intelligence authorities have long engaged in surveillance of groups that are “intensively involved in fighting anti-Semitism, that stand on Israel’s side and are critical of German society.”
According to a statement on the website of the German- Israeli friendship group at the University of Rostock, a range of student and labor union groups joined in the German- Israel Friendship Society protest, including the main student organization, AStA Rostock, the GEW teachers’ union at the university, and the young socialists of the SPD (Jusos), as well as the Green Party student group, the liberal group and the university Pirate Party organization.
The pro-Israel lecture was later held at an off-campus location without any disturbances.