Berlin paper slammed over anti-Israel op-ed

Jewish community leader calls article "frightening."

May 13, 2010 12:42
3 minute read.
Lala Süsskind.

lala susskind 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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BERLIN – Lala Süsskind, the leader of the German capital’s Jewish community, on Tuesday slammed the left-liberal cooperative-owned Die Tageszeitung daily for publishing an article that criticizes how the Holocaust is remembered in Israel and Germany.

“The more Israel does things that we are not entirely happy with, [things] we as Jews in Germany as well [are not happy with], the more the non-Jewish Germans apparently feel liberated,” Süsskind told the Evangelical Press Agency. “Something is wrong with journalism... I consider the kind of ‘freedom of criticism’ that is spreading here to be quite frightening.”

After Die Tageszeitung’s March publication of the article, “Pilgrimage to Auschwitz” by Iris Hefets, an Israeli living in Berlin, a dispute erupted between the Jewish community and the newly appointed editor of the newspaper, Ines Pohl. The opinion piece was widely denounced as mirroring German neo-Nazi and right-wing extremists views.

Hefets wrote of a “cult of the Shoah” that is being exploited as a “form of religion with rituals.”

Hefets, a member of a fringe anti-Zionist group, wrote, “But there are also Jews who don’t accept this Israeli-German interpretation of the Shoah. For them, Auschwitz is not holy and Israel’s policies may still be criticized.

“Before a young Israeli goes to the army, he must have experienced booze, sex and a trip to Auschwitz at least once. If these conditions are fulfilled, he can do his army service and then go flip out in India,” she continued.

The article prompted the city’s 12,000-member Jewish community to organize a panel discussion on anti-Semitism in the media.

Thomas Schmid, the publisher of the daily Die Welt, Stephan-Andreas Casdorff, editor-in-chief of the Berlin daily Tagespiegel, and Pohl from Die Tageszeitung were invited to speak at a community center. Thierry Chervel, from the popular online cultural site Perlentaucher, moderated.

After Süsskind’s opening remarks, a small group of activists held signs in Hebrew and German reading, “We are all Iris Hefets.”

Pohl aligned herself with the demonstrators, objected that Hefets was not allowed to deliver a speech at the outset of the discussion and stormed out of the hall.

Schmid and Süsskind criticized Pohl for “staging” the disruption of the event.
Süsskind said she did not want to allow the activists to take over the symposium. According to Süsskind, it would be like allowing the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party to speak in the community center.

“I don’t want to be a copy machine for their ideas... There are ideas here that are so alien to me, there can be no fruitful discussions,” Süsskind explained. “I can never convince these people, and they can never convince me.”

She sharply criticized the Jews among the protesters.

“It’s always been the case that we had to fight anti-Semitism, now it’s just within our own ranks. To me, they are at least in part Jewish anti-Semites,” she said.

Die Tageszeitung has been criticized over the years for anti-Semitism and racism. Gary Smith, an American Jew who is executive director of the American Academy in Berlin, a trans-Atlantic think tank, said the paper was displaying racism toward then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

“A journalism that prides itself on treating stereotypes with irreverence needs to think harder about its own deployment of stereotypes and racial allusions. There are countless ways to address the issue of race in this year’s election more intelligently,” Smith told the Der Spiegel newsweekly. Die Tageszeitung showed a photograph of the White House under the headline “Uncle Barack’s Cabin.”

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