Inclusion of anti-Israel speaker at Berlin conference on ways to tackle anti-Semitism sparks uproar

Jewish Museum to host British professor who wrote that Zionism does not allow for a normal life.

November 6, 2013 01:24
4 minute read.
Dr. Brian Klug.

Dr. Brian Klug 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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BERLIN – The Jewish Museum – and a British professor accused of rejecting Zionism – faced withering criticism for their role in a slated event to mark the 75th remembrance of Kristallnacht later this week.

A who’s who of academic and human rights critics on Tuesday blasted Berlin’s Jewish Museum for hosting a conference with Oxford philosophy professor Brian Klug because he contends that Zionism, the founding philosophy of Israel, “prevents Jews from having a normal conception of their own life.”

Klug is the keynote speaker at a two-day conference scheduled for Friday and Saturday titled “Anti-Semitism in Europe Today: the Phenomena, the Conflicts.” The second day of the conference will mark 75 years since the pogrom referred to as “Kristallnacht,” in which the Nazis and ordinary Germans burned synagogues, murdered Jews and sent German Jews to concentration camps.

German political scientist Dr. Clemens Heni told The Jerusalem Post, “Brian Klug is a bad choice as a keynote speaker at a conference on anti- Semitism because he denies that there is a new anti-Semitism. In his view this is a ‘myth,’ as he wrote in [New York-based magazine] The Nation.”

Experts consider “the new anti-Semitism” to mean attacks that aim to demonize, delegitimize and apply double- standards to Israel.

Heni is the director of the Berlin International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, which launched  protest statements signed by many Israeli academics sharply criticizing the Jewish Museum and Klug.

Elhanan Yakira, a professor for philosophy at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said that the “Jewish Museum would rather deal with dead Jews or with a Jew à la Brian Klug” than with “the life, the feelings and thinking” of the majority of Jews in Israel and the United States.

Gerald Steinberg, a political studies professor at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, termed Klug “an immoral anti-Zionist” and accused the Jewish Museum of acting in the same immoral way by hosting Klug.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a historian and Islamic studies professor from the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said that the “participation of Brian Klug in a conference on anti-Semitism” is highly problematic.

Efraim Karsh, professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London, said it is outrageous that a German-Jewish institution would provide a platform for a voice that “demonizes Israel” on the 75-year remembrance of Kristallnacht.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group in Los Angeles, told the Post: “Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld would be a more appropriate scholar for Berlin’s Jewish Museum to speak on ‘Anti-Semitism in Europe Today.’ In his new book Demonizing Israel and the Jews, Gerstenfeld analyzes a German University’s poll done at the behest of the Ebert Foundation. By his calculation of the statistics in that poll and other available data, he estimates that some 150 million Europeans harbor extreme anti-Israel and/or anti-Jewish attitudes.”

“A quarter of European Jews fear being seen manifesting their Jewish identity in public,” Cooper continued.

“According to media reports, Klug has said that ‘Zionism prevents Jews from having a normal conception of their life.’ And what prevented European Jewry from having ‘a normal conception of their life’ in the 1930s and ’40s? Outrageous.”

In an email to the Post, Klug wrote, “The dossier compiled by [the Berlin International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism] is a classic example of a kangaroo court. It distorts my work, misrepresents my views and maligns my character.

Reading it, I felt a little like Socrates at his trial: he opened his defense by saying that listening to his accusers he almost forgot who he was.”

Klug added, “Rabbi Cooper refers to a comment I made about Zionism. The quote is completely out of context. If he is interested, I would gladly send him the text of the lecture I have written for Berlin (but after the event, of course) and then he can make up his own mind about whether I am an appropriate speaker. I extend the same offer to you and to your readers.”

Multiple Jerusalem Post press queries to the Jewish Museum, including to its program director, Cilly Kugelmann, were not returned.

Last year, Berlin’s Jewish Museum hosted Judith Butler, a professor in the rhetoric and comparative literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley. She told a sold-out audience of 700 at the museum that she accepts a “version of a boycott” against Israel, and stressed that the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement is “non-violent resistance” against Israel. The mainly German 700 attendees cheered Butler.

Dr. Shimon Samuels, who heads the European office of the Wiesenthal Center, wrote an appeal on Tuesday to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the website of the European Jewish Press. “Was the Berlin Jewish Museum created, at the cost of Germany’s taxpayers and international donations, to demonize Israel, serve as a fig leaf for anti- Semitism and to commit memoricide – the murder of the memory of those murdered?” Samuels asked.

He added, “Our center thus urges your chancellery to condemn the museum’s distortion of its role, launch an inquiry into its behavior and suspend public funding until a new management is appointed.”

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