Managing anti-Semitism in Germany

3 short-term remedies that could breathe some life into fighting disease.

By HENRYK M. BRODER,
July 11, 2009 21:54
Managing anti-Semitism in Germany

German Parliament building 248.88. (photo credit: Courtesy of Daniel Schwen)

 
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One of the biggest achievements of political correctness in the Federal Republic of Germany is that there is a "representative" or "commissioner" for everything. There is a "commissioner for the armed forces" in the Bundestag (Lower House of Parliament) to whom soldiers can complain about long hours and bad food, a "federal drug commissioner" who wants to convince children to give up smoking, binge-drinking and the excessive use of computer games, and a "federal government representative for patient interests" at the Ministry of Health from whom we almost never hear anything. Every large company has an "addiction issues representative" who takes care of employees addicted to alcohol or drugs, and there is an "equal opportunity commissioner" at every German college who ensures that women are not at a disadvantage. It is very fashionable for companies and institutions to have an "environmental issues manager." There is even a "commission for environmental questions" for the Protestant regional churches in Germany, and it won't be long before the Catholics follow their lead. In this way an entirely new profession has been born, along the lines of "bankruptcy trustee" and "event manager" - another niche in post-industrial society where people who have no idea what else they could do establish themselves. There have been discussions about an "anti-Semitism representative" since November 9, 2008 (the 70th anniversary of the Krystalnacht pogroms), when the Bundestag called on the federal government to convene a panel of experts to compile an annual "anti-Semitism report" combined with recommendations on how to come to grips with anti-Semitism. All the parliamentary parties agreed (which is quite rare) that a committee "of scientists and practitioners" was necessary. Of course they did not consider the fact that they must first agree on what constitutes anti-Semitism. NOW SOME representatives are mad at the government because so much time has passed and nothing has been done. Green Party MP Jerzy Montag (and chairman of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group) no longer believes that such a committee will be established before the upcoming elections. Left Party MP Petra Pau has even called it a "disregard" for the German parliament and "ignorance in the light of a major social problem." These reactions are typical of a conviction, widely held in Germany, that a committee must be established in order to gain control of any problem. The "scientists and practitioners" will then take care of everything else. Government representatives like Montag and Pau don't even notice that they themselves are standing in the way of understanding and fighting anti-Semitism. Montag quite innocently asked during a hearing of experts in the Bundestag's Committee on Internal Affairs whether there could be such a thing as "pure" anti-Zionism uncontaminated by anti-Semitism. Pau's understanding of anti-Semitism is just as limited. She likes to travel to Jerusalem for anti-Semitism symposiums, but doesn't say a word when there are discussions within her own party about Israel's right to exist, since those discussions are not considered anti-Semitic but merely anti-Zionist. Some of Pau's fellow party members have no problem taking part in pro-Hizbullah demonstrations or calling for a political and economic boycott of Israel - none of that counts as anti-Semitism. In Germany, distancing oneself from the classic anti-Semitism of the Nazis is a basic prerequisite before one can act as an anti-Zionist without arousing suspicion of being a common anti-Semite who has merely changed shirts. Establishing an anti-Semitism representative will not change anything. On the contrary, the government would merely be giving its blessing to these bogus claims of innocence. There is a central paradox at the core of fighting anti-Semitism in post-Holocaust Germany. On the one hand, the German parliament passes resolutions pledging to combat anti-Semitism, and forms an anti-Semitism commission. Politicians lament that anti-Semitism has again "arrived in mainstream society." Morally charged admonitions such as "Never Again Auschwitz" and "stop it before it has a chance to start" are part and parcel of the German anti-anti-Semitism strategy. ON THE OTHER HAND, anti-Semitism remains a faceless, nebulous concept that allegedly serves to silence criticism of Israel. Wolfgang Benz, director of the Berlin Center for Anti-Semitism Research, which advises the German government in formulating policies to fight Jew-hatred, asserted that the allegation of anti-Semitism is as dangerous as anti-Semitism itself. Referring to the accusation of anti-Semitism, Benz said: "In Germany it has become the discussion killer, in order to shut people up." Benz and his colleagues at the publicly funded Center are reticent about calling those who hate Jews anti-Semites, and have resigned themselves to managing anti-Semitism and investigating Jews as if they are laboratory hamsters exposed to different forms of anti-Semitism. Yet by "managing" anti-Semitism, Benz has mismanaged it and, bizarrely, contributed to the staying power of modern Jew-hatred. The Berlin Center seems to believe that if you do not subscribe to the anti-Semitic worldview of Hitler's inner circle, then you are not anti-Semitic. Unfortunately, the Center simply reflects the limitations of mainstream thinking in modern Germany. While there is strong civil resistance to the fragmented and largely impotent extreme right-wing groups that propagate Nazi-based racial anti-Semitism, there is hardly a bleep of resistance when widespread anti-Semitism is dressed up as ostensibly respectable criticism of Israel. Many German foundations and media have perfected a tried-and-true method to avoid the charge of anti-Semitism - namely, subcontract the job to anti-Israel Jews like Jeff Halper in Israel, Alfred Grosser in France and Norman Finkelstein or Tony Judt in the US, although they articulate views that might meet the European Union's working definition of anti-Semitism. The Jewish origin of these so-called "Israel critics" is believed to insulate journalists, editors and NGOs from the accusation of stoking anti-Semitism. What cannot be done directly is thus accomplished indirectly, and there is no shortage of subcontractors available. A recent telling example is the decision to award Halper the "Immanuel Kant world citizen prize" in May for his efforts to reconcile Jews and Palestinians. Halper told the Badische Zeitung, a local newspaper in Freiburg where he accepted the award, that "I am a Jewish Israeli and, nevertheless, I say that Hamas should not recognize Israel. You cannot expect from the Palestinians that they support Zionism." Continuing along these lines, Halper characterized Israel as a terror state. THERE ARE three short-term remedies that could breathe some life and fire into fighting anti-Semitism in Germany:

  • Academics, journalists, NGOs and politicians should attach a human face to modern anti-Semitism (anti-Israelism);
  • The myth that the accusation of anti-Semitism is as lethal as anti-Semitism itself ought to be dismissed for the nonsense it is;
  • And insulating oneself against the charge of anti-Semitism by employing hard-core anti-Zionist Jews should be recognized as a mixture of cowardice and anti-Semitism. Wallowing in meaningless resolutions and a fluffy anti-Semitism parliamentary commission represents the path of least resistance; it means managing anti-Semitism instead of confronting it when it comes disguised as criticism of Israel. Anti-Semitism is a disease in society, as is anti-Zionism. Both phenomena fall under the authority of the federal government's representative for patient interests, and that position has already been filled. He just needs to become more active. Henryk M. Broder is one of Germany's leading commentators and writes for Der Spiegel. Benjamin Weinthal is The Jerusalem Post correspondent in Germany.

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