Germany's decision to issue its highest honor to Israeli attorney Felicia Langer, a fierce critic of the Jewish state, has prompted the government in Jerusalem to rebuke the Federal Republic's president, Horst Köhler, in uncharacteristically strong language.
Langer has "over the years consistently supported the forces that promote violence, death and extremism," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor toldThe Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "Anyone who wishes to award her a prize must bear in mind the consequences of legitimizing such positions of intolerance and bad faith."
Langer has called Israel the "apartheid of the present."
Steffen Schulze, a spokesman for Horst Köhler, declined to comment on Israel's criticism of the German government. He told the Post the award process was confidential and that he would not discuss a "third person."
When asked if he was referring to Langer, he responded, "No comment."
Köhler awarded Langer the Federal Cross of Merit, first class last Thursday, and a state ceremony involved accolades for Langer from dignitaries and politicians such as Baden-Württemberg State Undersecretary Hubert Wicker.
Langer has praised speeches from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and terms the Central Council of Jews in Germany as a "branch of the Israeli Embassy."
The German media are saturated with the unfolding controversy surrounding Langer and her supporters within the government.
Israeli governments rarely criticize Germany, but there are concerns in Jerusalem that the Federal Republic's praise of Langer casts doubts on Israel's legitimacy.
The last public row between Israel and Germany revolved around the German-Iranian trade relationship. Aaron Abramovich, then-director-general of the Foreign Ministry, blasted Germany's economic support for the Iranian regime last summer as manifested by the decision to allow German companies to supply three facilities to liquefy natural gas.
The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, on Wednesday termed Langer a "friend of Ahmadinejad" and a "supporter of Stalin." She wrote in an e-mail obtained by the Post that the "decision [to honor Langer] was not properly researched." Knobloch is herself a recipient of the award.
An angry secretary-general of the Central Council, Stephan J. Kramer, on Thursday blasted Tübingen Mayor Boris Palmer for his unwavering support for Langer.
Reached on his mobile phone in Ben-Gurion Airport, before his return to Berlin, Kramer told the Post that Palmer "should be ashamed of himself" for supporting the Iranian regime and the Federal Cross of Merit for Langer.
"There is a distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and delegitimizing the State of Israel," said Kramer, adding that Langer's statements were "anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist" because she sought to strip Israel of its legitimacy as the homeland for Jews.
Palmer told the Post on Wednesday he had not discussed the Iranian threat to Israel with the Central Council. He denied a previous Central Council assertion that he had "played down the Iranian threat" in a conversation with the council. He added that there were "different estimates" about whether the Iranian regime was threatening Israel's existence.
"The issue is that Ms. Langer is committed to implementation of international law. The important thing is that criticism of specific Israeli policies cannot always be equated with anti-Semitism... Ms. Langer is certainly a harsh critic," Palmer wrote in an e-mail to thePost.
Dr. Johannes Gerster, the head of the German-Israeli Friendship Society, issued a statement on Thursday demanding that the German government "correct the failure" and revoke Langer's Federal Cross of Merit.
"I cannot see what Ms. Langer has done for the state, society or international reconciliation. Yesterday I returned from an eight-day Mideast trip that included numerous contacts with top Israeli and Palestinian politicians. I am not surprised that Israelis are surprised that Germany is honoring Ms. Langer. But even Fatah people interested in a settlement with Israel were strangely affected by Langer's award," Gerster wrote.
Meanwhile, Arno Hamburger, the head of the Jewish community in Nuremberg since 1972 and a recipient of the Federal Cross, told the Post he planned to return his award in protest. "Langer defames Israel in the same way that the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer wrote about Jews" during the Hitler period," the 86-year-old said.