Paper’s claim that tens of thousands of Israelis fled to Germany draws fire

Article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung suggests that the policies of Israel’s government created a refugee crisis with parallels to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.

September 20, 2014 23:05
3 minute read.
germany anti-semitism

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) appears on a large screen as she makes an address during an anti-Semitism in Berlin.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

BERLIN – Germany’s largest broadsheet paper, Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), came under fire for its claim that “tens of thousands of Israelis fled” from Israel to seek refuge in Germany.

Last week the article, titled “Germany’s terrible silence” attracted fierce criticism in Israel and Germany, because of ostensibly faulty statistics and its suggestion that the policies of Israel’s government created a refugee crisis with parallels to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.

“This strikes me as a purposeful distortion of current reality to minimize or erase guilt for the Holocaust. There are numerous reasons why Israelis might relocate to Berlin temporarily or permanently. To assume that every Israeli is running away from Israel because of politics is not based on scientific data,” Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and director of its Israel office, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

It is unclear where the author of the article, Thorsten Schmitz, a former SZ correspondent in Israel, secured his statistical information.

In response to Post emails and a telephone query, he declined to provide evidence for his contentions that tens of thousands of Israelis fled Israel because of possible dissatisfaction with the government or political persecution.

According to a Post analysis of data on Israelis in Germany‘s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, there were 11,655 Israeli citizens registered in 2013 as living in the country – the most recent figure available.

In 2012, the data showed 11,244 Israeli citizens living in Germany.

Henryk M. Broder, a leading expert on modern German anti-Semitism and a columnist at the daily Die Welt, criticized Schmitz for his use of legalistic language based on asylum laws in Germany to establish that Israelis fled to secure asylum in Germany. He said the figure of “tens of thousands” of Israelis seeking refuge “exists in a fantasy world of Schmitz.”

In contrast to Schmitz’s allegation – and the implication of Israelis securing asylum status – the Office of Migration and Refugees showed a total of 84 Israeli citizens applying for asylum status between 2011 and 2013. There were 20 applications filed in 2014, as of the end of August.

The composition and location in Israel of the asylum- seekers was not listed.

For example, it is unclear whether the refugees were Israeli Jews or Israeli Arabs and whether they lived in the disputed territories or within the pre-1967 borders.

Broder wrote about Schmitz and the SZ, “In the past, the Stürmer and the Völkische Beobachter [Nazi-era papers] wrote, ‘Jews out to Palestine!’ Today, the SZ writes, ‘Jews out of Palestine!‘ thanks to Schmitz.”

Schmitz wrote the Post that, “Broder agitates and defames in way that reveals more about the author than what he actually would like to express.”

Broder told the Post that he may file a complaint with the German Press Council regarding the errors in Schmitz’s article.

Ilan Kiesling, a spokesman for Berlin’s 10,000-member Jewish community, told the Post that, “I have never met an Israeli who, as ‘politically persecuted,’ fled to Germany.”

Berlin is believed to have the highest number of Israelis residing in Germany.

The SZ has been embroiled in a series of alleged anti-Semitic cartoon scandals over nearly the last 15 months.

The paper published a caricature of Israel as a demonic monster and depicted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a hook-nosed Octopus gobbling up the world – a reference to Nazi portrayals of Jews.

German media experts have long criticized the SZ for its poor understanding of Jews and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sacha Stawski, the head of the Frankfurt-based Honestly Concerned media watchdog group, told the Post, ”Given its history of biased, one-sided coverage against Israel, this article in the SZ is hardly surprising. The SZ has long since crossed the line between ‘critical reporting’ about Israel and blatant double standards and delegitimization. “Time and time again, readers are taught…that Israel is a place to flee from, thereby instilling and reinforcing stereotypical images of the Jewish state.”

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