Former German president honors ‘anti-Semitic’ pastor

Row goes straight to heart of Germany’s willingness, especially among prominent former politicians, to confront, combat anti- Semitism.

MITRI RAHEB (photo credit: MITRI
(photo credit: MITRI
BERLIN – Despite weeks of international and German-based protest letters and statements from Christian and Jewish NGOs, Roman Herzog, the former president of the Federal Republic of Germany, defied his critics and on Friday delivered a keynote speech in praise of a fiercely anti-Israel Palestinian Lutheran pastor.
Critics see the dispute as more than a mere spat over political opinions. The row goes straight to the heart of Germany’s willingness, especially among prominent former politicians, to confront and combat modern anti-Semitism.
The Bethlehem-based pastor Mitri Raheb, who studied in Germany, advocates boycott measures against Israel and an extremist form of Christian liberation theology that seeks to deny Jewish sovereignty in Israel.
Writing in last week’s mass-circulation Berlin daily BZ, the popular columnist Gunnar Schupelius slammed Raheb’s hostility to Israel. Based on his meeting with Raheb in Bethlehem several years ago, Schupelius observed how he met a pastor who delivered a “one-hour tirade against Israel.” His “wild look and tone could not be separated from hate. His words corresponded to half-truths or no truths at all.”
Schupelius, one of the few journalists in Germany to critically scrutinize Raheb’s statements, added that the pastor has frequently used inflammatory language. According to Schupelius’s account, Raheb “compared Israel’s security wall between Israel and West Jordan with the Berlin Wall. He did not mention that many children, women and men were murdered in Israel before the wall was built.” The German columnist wrote that Raheb “compared Israel with the racist state of South Africa during the time of apartheid.”
Schupelius wrote, “No, this pastor does not belong to those who work with Israel for peace.”
The German NGO Media Control defended its award to Raheb because he created “places of meeting” in Bethlehem and “an alternative to violence and radicalization.”
Herzog refused to respond to The Jerusalem Post’s queries in advance of the event. According to a report in a German Christian online news outlet, Christliches Medienmagazin, Herzog commented on the controversy in his keynote speech, saying that Christian-Jewish organizations asked him to not attend the award ceremony. Herzog added that other groups opposed the Christian-Jewish groups. As a result, he did not want to intervene and decided to appear.
German-Israeli friendship societies protested to Herzog that he had spoken against anti-Semitism but intended to honor a pastor who stokes Jew-hatred and seeks to strip Israel of its legitimacy. Herzog declined to comment on the apparent disconnect between his rhetoric and action to honor Raheb.
Gottfried Bühler, the head of the German section of the Jerusalem-based International Christian Embassy, urged Herzog not to attend and to ensure that the award ceremony not honor Raheb because the pastor “throws oil into the fire of the Middle East conflict with his radical theological views” and “rejects Israel’s right to exist.” Bühler wrote that Raheb “represents anti-Semitic intentions” with his views.
The German Coordination Board of the Associations for Christian-Jewish Cooperation (DKR), charged Raheb with reviving “hostile stereotypes toward Jews” in a letter several weeks ago. Ricklef Münnich, the head of the DKR, issued a fresh statement on Thursday, detailing the reasons why Raheb “is not a promoter of peace.” Bühler sharply criticized Raheb for asserting that “Israel’s occupation is to blame for the root of all evil” in the region. Bühler wrote that Raheb ignores the fact that young Christians are leaving Muslim-dominated areas and slams Raheb for shifting the blame to Israel. The head of the German section of the ICEJ notes that there are no Israeli soldiers in control in Bethlehem.
Israel, in contrast to the West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip, has experienced a growth of its Christian population. Arab Christians are fleeing Muslim-majority countries because of heightened persecution.
Raheb told German news outlets that he is a victim of “right-wing Christian Zionists” in Germany.
The pressure on Herzog’s to change his decision was hamstrung because there is little appetite for confronting contemporary Palestinian anti-Semitism in Germany, according to observers. Leading former politicians in Germany have frequently aligned themselves with pro- Palestinian positions. Last year, former German president Richard von Weizsäcker joined former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt in a petition to call on the EU to sanction Israel for settlement construction in the disputed territories. Both Schmidt, from the Social Democratic party, and von Weizsäcker, from the Christian Democratic Union party, served in Hitler’s army as young men.