The Düsseldorf Jewish community and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem called on Monday for strong penalties, including dismissal, against a Social Democratic Party official, amid widening criticism of his claim that pro-Israel supporters are betraying the German state.
In July, Social Democratic Party (SPD) official Stefan Grönebaum labeled pro-Israel members of the SPD and other supporters of the Jewish state, an “organized, good networked ‘fifth column’ in the interests of Israel’s policies.”
Dr. Efraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post that Grönebaum’s attack on pro-Israel activists means “giving a green light to incitement and possible violence against Jews.” Zuroff said, “The SPD should expel him.”
Grönebaum’s employer – the Ministry of Economic Affairs for the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia – sent the Post an email on Thursday stating that Grönebaum said: “If I hurt feelings with my political criticism, I regret it very much. Israel’s right to exist is, in view of our history, beyond all questioning. I apologize to those who found my criticism as anti-Israel, anti-Jewish or antisemitic. That was meant in no way.”
Matthias Kietzmann, a spokesman for the ministry, told the Post that the ministry made clear to Mr. Grönebaum “that it decisively rejects his Facebook comments and has prohibited him from making a connection to the ministry in his private comments.”
Zuroff said Grönebaum’s “apology is insufficient. Anyone who believes this is an apology is simply ignoring the problem.”
Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi-hunter, said Grönebaum’s accusation that pro-Israel activists, including Jews, were “traitors is very dangerous.” He added, “There are shades of the stabbed-in-the-back policy after WWI” targeting Jews. “And we all know where that went.”
Michael Szentei-Heise, executive director of the Jewish community in Düsseldorf where the Economics Ministry is located, told the Post he expects the new Christian Democratic Union (CDU) head of the state government and ministry officials to sack Grönebaum. “I am certain that the Christian Democratic Union Party will examine the case and that there will be consequences.”
The CDU defeated the SPD in this year’s state election and is now the governing party in the state. The new state governor is Armin Laschet from the CDU. When asked if Grönebaum’s comments were antisemitic, Szentei-Heise said, “Absolutely.” The Düsseldorf Jewish community has a little more than 6,700 members.
He said the real fifth column is the neo-Nazi party NPD. Szentei-Heise said he briefed the Social Democratic mayor of Düsseldorf, Thomas Geisel, about Grönebaum’s allegedly anti-Jewish incitement.
After the Post report on Grönebaum’s anti-Israel activity in July, he deleted his Facebook post targeting supporters of the Jewish state. Grönebaum’s Facebook post was in response to Sercan Aydilek, a pro-Israel activist with the Berlin branch of Jusos – the Social Democratic youth organization.
When asked about Grönebaum’s apology, Aydilek told the Post: “Mr. Grönebaum’s Statement is not believable” because he can’t suddenly change his view from the middle of July, when he negated Israel’s right to exist. He only made “the 180 degree turnaround because he fears personal harm for his career.”
Aydilek said he expects Grönebaum’s employer to take action against the SPD official. “It would have grave implications for all Jews, Israelis and those engaged in the fight against antisemitism and anti-Zionism,” when a high-level employee in the Economics’ Ministry is not opposed.
The Jewish community of Bonn, which is located in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, told the Post in a statement on Monday: “We, the members of the Jewish community in Bonn, sharply protest against the discussion commentary by Stefan Grönebaum, director in the NRW Economics Ministry.” The nearly 1,000 member Jewish community said Grönebaum’s anti-Israel Facebook post “pushed the Jewish community in an extreme, politically one-sided – in order to not say fascist – corner.”