311_ German Jews.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
BERLIN – The announcement on Monday that Haifa-born Dieter Graumann
plans to run for president of Germany’s 106,000-member Jewish community
indicates a sea change for the Central Council of German Jews, the
community’s powerful umbrella organization. The 60-year old Graumann
would be the council’s first Israeli-born, non-Holocaust-survivor
Speaking from Frankfurt, Graumann told The Jerusalem Post
on Tuesday that his program would offer “renewal.” He said his agenda
would stress “solidarity with Israel in these difficult times” and the
continued efforts to combat “Muslim and Islamic anti-Semitism.”
He noted that Germany’s trade relationship with Iran would also play a
role in his work if elected president. Graumann has been vocal about the
Federal Republic’s international responsibility to dramatically curtail
German-Iranian economic ties and the country’s tight political
relations with Teheran. Germany is Iran’s number one European trade
Graumann, who frequently visits family members in Israel, plans to be in Israel for Sukkot later this month.
As a one-and-half-year old child, Graumann’s immediate family left
Israel for Germany. According to a statement issued by the Central
Council on Monday, his candidacy “received a large measure of approval”
from its governing body at a meeting in Frankfurt on Sunday.
The election will take place in late November.
According to observers, the Central Council is stuck in an institutional
rut and has lacked orientation under the presidency of Charlotte
Knobloch. “With Dieter at the helm, I trust that we will gain a stronger
overall leadership, under which the Central Council will once again
speak with one voice... to reunite a community that has faced a lot of
internal turmoil,” Sacha Stawski, a member of the Frankfurt Jewish
community, told the Post on Tuesday. Stawski, who heads the pro-Israel
media watchdog organization Honestly Concerned, which tracks
anti-Semitic and anti-Israel reports in the German media, said Graumann
was “an ally on all issues” relating to combating anti-Semitism and
“support for the State of Israel.”
The 77-year-old Knobloch, who survived the Holocaust by hiding in
Bavaria as a young girl, will continue to serve as president of the
Munich Jewish community.
Critics say that Knobloch’s tenure since 2006 has been marked by
aloofness and a chaotic organizational style. She prompted irritation
among members of the Jewish community for her decision last fall to
accompany and praise German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle during
his visit to Yad Vashem. According to critics, she was too lenient with
Westerwelle, who tolerated the anti-Semitic 2002 national political
campaign of the late Jürgen Möllemann, and used the trip to Israel to
rehabilitate his damaged image.
According to a report earlier this year in the daily Die Welt
member of the Central Council complained that Knobloch failed to demand
that Westerwelle make amends for the Möllemann scandal. The foreign
minister’s Free Democratic Party (FDP) took the legislative lead in
sponsoring an anti-Israeli resolution in Bundestag against Israel’s
actions last May against a Gaza-bound flotilla. An Israeli diplomat
complained to the Post
Westerwelle was allowing MP and FDP-member Rainer Stinner to travel to
Iran to strengthen bilateral ties at a time when the international
community was seeking to isolate Teheran.
Nevertheless, Knobloch’s activism in promoting Holocaust education
across Germany, including speaking engagements in schools and fighting
extreme right-wing anti-Semitism, represent many of the highlights of
her remarkable record as president, Stawski told the Post
Graumann said he spoke at a Cologne rally in support of Israel after the
Gaza flotilla and sharply criticized the Bundestag resolution. He told
the Post that “everybody is not against Israel” in Germany. He noted
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s support for the Jewish state and the “anger”
other politicians expressed over the anti-Israel Bundestag resolution.
“It cannot be good when politicians vote with the Left Party,” Graumann
said. He was referring to cross-party support for the resolution, which
was championed by MPs from the Left Party, which is widely seen as being
anti-Zionist. Graumann, considered a gifted speaker, has frequently
used his bully pulpit to slam what he sees as the party’s anti-Semitism
in speeches and newspaper articles.
Graumann has also refused to shy away from sharp criticism of
anti-Semitism from neo-Nazis and the Right, including conservative
writers such as Lorenz Jäger of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
newspaper, who has stoked anti-Israel and anti-Jewish conspiracy
theories. In a previous interview with the Post, Graumann called on the
paper’s publisher to clamp down on Jäger.
According to critics, Jäger propagates the view that an influential
network of pro-Israel groups exerts undue influence in Germany and
Europe. “It is no longer a secret,” he wrote, that two French-Jewish
philosophers, Andre Glucksmann and Bernard Henri-Levy, are serving “the
interests of the United States and Israel.”