berlin holocaust memorial.
(photo credit: )
Germany's largest Jewish community has sharply criticized the parallel drawn between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia by historian Wolfgang Benz.
Maya Zehden, a spokeswoman for the 12,000-member Berlin Jewish community, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that "Benz's position has not changed. It is not beneficial when one compares anti-Semitism with Islamophobia."
Benz, the first non-Jewish head of the Berlin Center for Anti-Semitism Research, has been embroiled in an international controversy since he introduced his thesis that "the fury of the new enemies of Islam parallels the older rage of anti-Semites against the Jews."
In last Monday's edition of the SÃ¼ddeutsche Zeitung, which reaches more than 1.1 million readers each day, Benz wrote an article equating anti-Semitism with hatred of Islam.
Critics see Benz as mounting an academic campaign to conflate anti-Semitism with Islamophobia, and argue that there was no pressing news event to disseminate his thesis. Benz declined to respond to multiple Post queries.
He has argued in media interviews that "there are only structural parallels" between anti-Semitism and hostility toward Islam. In connection with bias hatred of Islam, he has said that "the exclusion of something unknown is as dangerous as anti-Semitism."
Jewish community members, however, see Benz as merging anti-Semitism with discrimination against Muslims. Critics in the US, Israel and Germany have argued that the Berlin Center is marginalizing the Holocaust and failing to understand the seriousness of murderous anti-Semitism.
His unwavering endorsement of the Islamophobia thesis has strained his relations with Jews in Germany. The 86-year-old head of the Nuremberg Jewish Community, Arno Hamburger, told the Post last week that he rejected the Berlin Center's parallel and saw it as a form of "schizophrenia."
"There is no acute danger coming from Jews," in contrast to radical Islam, he said.
Hamburger is the longest serving chairman of a Jewish community in Germany; he has overseen the Nuremberg community since 1972.
Last March, the Berlin Jewish community met with Benz and expressed its disappointment and misgivings over the Center's shift away from anti-Semitism research, his comparison between Jew-hatred and discrimination against Muslims, and the failure of the Center to publicly criticize the anti-Israeli Durban II UN anti-racism conference.
A widely read German pro-Israel blog, Lizas Welt, deemed Benz's comparison as "unspeakable" and a mockery of the attempted murder of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard by a political Islamist on January 1.
Writing in the SÃ¼ddeutsche Zeitung, Benz deplored that "Islam is associated with terror and extremism" and that an entire religion and culture is subjected to discrimination.