German newsweekly owner compares Israel to National Front, fascists

Jakob Augstein of Der Spiegel: “So right-wing like the German right-wing populists is the government of Benjamin Netanyahu."

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December 14, 2015 02:53
4 minute read.
German news magazine Der Spiegel is seen at a newsstand in Athens

German news magazine Der Spiegel is seen at a newsstand in Athens. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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 BERLIN – Jakob Augstein, a partial owner of and columnist for German newsweekly Der Spiegel, drew parallels last week between the Netanyahu government and historical European fascism, France’s National Front party and the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD).

Volker Beck, the Green Party spokesman for interior affairs and religion, in what appears to be the first public criticism of Augstein on the issue by a Bundestag deputy, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that in the publisher’s eyes, “Israel is to blame for everything – somehow also still for the right-wing populists of the AfD. Mr. Augstein is once again on the wrong track with his Israel obsession.”

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In a column subtitled “Fascism is not a phenomenon of the past,” Augstein wrote, “so right-wing like the German right-wing populists is the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.” Augstein discussed Israel’s government within the context of the National Front.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post on Sunday, “Sadly, Augstein’s anti-Semitism is not a phenomenon of the past. Unfortunately, his latest article dumping the democratically elected Israeli government in the same basket with far-right and xenophobic parties confirms an anti-Israel bias so extreme that he merited criticism from a leading member of Germany’s Green Party.”

Pascal Beucker, a domestic politics editor for the left-leaning die taz daily, responding to Augstein’s column, wrote on Thursday: “With enthusiasm Augstein is always occupied with proving anew that he was correctly included in the ‘Top Ten Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Slurs’ list of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.”

Ulf Poschardt, a journalist for the conservative- leaning Die Welt newspaper, praised Beucker’s column in a tweet on Friday: “danke [Thanks], @taz.”

Beucker wrote that “Augstein owes his wealth to the work of old Nazis with which his father, Rudolf Augstein, established Der Spiegel.”

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Augstein and three family members together own 24 percent of Der Spiegel.

German critics of Augstein say he has actively promoted modern anti-Semitism and hatred of Orthodox Jewry, creating the intellectual space in which violence can breed.

Beucker slammed Augstein for his effort to free himself from the German ‘Judenknacks’ [loosely translated as fear of Jews], likening him to the left-wing anti-Semitic terrorist Dieter Kunzelmann who was believed to be connected to the attempted bombing of the Jewish community center in Berlin in 1969.

“Augstein doesn’t deposit a bomb in the Jewish community, rather he writes columns,” Beucker wrote, mocking the title of Augstein’s column “When in Doubt, Left” as not Left because of its anti-Jewish tendencies.

Deidre Berger, the head of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, told the Post, “There seems to be no evil phenomenon in the world for which Israel is not at the least a contributing factor for Jakob Augstein. In this case, comparing the elected leader of a center-right government in Israel to the racist leaders of a fringe populist movement in Germany is part of Jakob Augstein’s concerted campaign to discredit the region’s only democracy. It is an absurd notion that the prime minister of the only country in the Mideast where large numbers of Jews and Muslims live together peacefully, enjoying equal rights, is anti-Muslim.”

Berger continued, “As for Arab neighboring countries, the Israeli government works closely with all prepared to accept Israel’s existence. The Israeli government is neither anti-Muslim nor anti-Arab but rather is engaged in a front-line struggle to combat Islamic extremism and state-sponsored terrorism.”

The 2012 Simon Wiesenthal List ranked Augstein No. 9 under the caption “Influential German media personality’s bigotry,” and cited a series of quotes, including, “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.”

Augstein wrote in 2012 that “Israel’s nuclear power is a danger to the already fragile peace of the world.” The columnist also slammed ultra- Orthodox Jews in Israel, writing, “But the Jews also have their fundamentalists, the ultra-Orthodox haredim. They are not a small splinter group. They make up 10 percent of the Israeli population. They are cut from the same cloth as their Islamic fundamentalist opponents. They follow the law of revenge.”

He called Gaza “a camp,” in an apparent reference to Nazi extermination camps, although Israel has had no presence in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip since the disengagement in 2005. He later said, “With the word ‘camp,’ I definitely went too far.”

Henryk M. Broder, a Die Welt columnist and one of Germany’s top experts on modern anti-Semitism, first exposed Augstein’s anti-Israel writings in 2012. Broder, who has testified in the Bundestag on contemporary anti-Semitism, termed Augstein “a pure anti-Semite.”

Augstein did not immediately respond to Post emails and telephone queries sent to Der Spiegel offices in Berlin and Hamburg.

Augstein, who has refused to debate Broder, has responded to the criticism of his columns on Israel in the past by saying “Critical journalism is defamed as racist or anti-Semitic.” He said he will not visit Israel.

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