German center dismisses pro-Israel scholar

Academic Clemens Heni sacked after criticizing director's policies.

Wolfgang Benz 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Wolfgang Benz 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
BERLIN – Germany’s publicly funded Berlin Center for Research on Antisemitism and its director Wolfgang Benz improperly used their influence to dismiss a scholar from the editorial board of the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, according to leading professors in the field.
Dr. Clemens Heni, a Berlin-based scholar who had criticized the center’s neglect of Islamic anti-Semitism and Israel’s security, has since been reinstated (in February) to the Journal’s editorial board.
In an exclusive investigative report, The Jerusalem Post obtained previously unpublished internal e-mails between the editors of the Journal and Israeli, American, German, South African and British anti-Semitism experts who objected to the removal of Heni from the editorial board. The e-mail exchanges cover the period between December 2009 and last month.
“I wonder as to the role of Dr. Wolfgang Benz (director of the Berlin Center) in influencing the dismissal. It seems that this sorry affair seems to have arisen out of Dr. Benz’s resentment at having his (to my mind) misconceived arguments equating anti-Semitism with ‘Islamophobia’ properly criticized by Dr. Heni,” wrote Dr. Paul Lawrence Rose, director of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism at Pennsylvania State University.
Rose also noted that Heni had revealed that Benz praised his Nazi doctoral supervisor and had refused to distance himself from his mentor, Karl Bosl, a rabidly pro-Hitler ideologue.
Heni wrote an article on “Anti-Semitism as Specific Phenomenon” in the first issue of the Journal last year. It included a scathing indictment of the Berlin Center, asserting that it is placating political Islam by playing down “anti-Semitic rallies in Germany” and dangerously conflating murderous anti-Semitism with Islamophobia.
According to Heni’s central thesis, while anti-Semitism among Muslims in Germany is spiraling out of control, Benz and his colleagues’ decision to merge anti-Semitism with hatred toward Islam is endangering the security of Israel and Jews.
Steven Baum, a clinical psychologist in New Mexico and co-founder of the Journal, wrote in an e-mail that “when we asked Berlin Technical University for a rebuttal or to point out what it was that Clemens said in error or that was untrue, they refused and told us that we were wrong for going down this road. Then we were threatened to either keep Clemens or three of the four [German] anti-Semitism research centers would not only blackball us, they would see to it that seven members of the board would resign immediately.”
The e-mail exchanges revealed that a Journal editorial member or members carried out the dirty work and threatened co-editors Baum and Neil E. Rosenberg with “mafia like tactics” and “they told us not to publish any further Heni articles.”
Baum wrote that “at this juncture, the decision was made to take Clemens off the board and perhaps bring him on at a later point when we are less vulnerable. We are also aware that we could be wrong and lose everyone, since the next time we displease the power elite, we would be in the same boat. This is a new journal and self-funded and future grants may depend on advisory board prestige or their connections.”
What is all the more shocking to many of the academics is that Baum approved Heni’s article and helped edit the text. He confirmed to the Post that the Journal received “threats” about Heni’s article and that he deeply regretted the decision to capitulate to them. Yet he declined to disclose the names of the editorial board members who had brought the pressure to bear.
Baum, however, told the Post that Werner Bergmann, a sociologist at the Berlin Center, conveyed to him that it was a “bad idea” that “a young journal took a critical position” with respect to Heni’s article criticizing the Center and Benz. The Berlin Center, including Bergmann, declined to respond to Post queries.
After Heni was sacked, mass resignations took place among the “who’s who” of the editorial board because of the suppression of academic freedom, the intellectual dishonesty and the unsavory role of the Berlin Center in exerting pressure to silence its critics.
Dr. Daniel Pipes, an authority on radical Islam and a contributor to the Post and the German daily Die Welt, wrote in his resignation letter, “I consider his [Heni’s] analysis of problems at the Berlin Center for Research on Antisemitism, with a focus on its December 2008 conference, ‘Concept of the Enemy Muslim–Concept of the Enemy Jew,’ important to understand that claims of ‘Islamophobia’ have lead to a downplaying of Muslim anti-Semitism.”
Alvin H. Rosenfeld, a prominent scholar of the Holocaust and the director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University, wrote, “What has not occurred is an open discussion with board members about the very fact that such pressures – scandalous in themselves – have been exerted in the first place and have obviously been successful. Their success undermines the very basis of objective scholarship and dooms this journal to almost certain failure.”
Robert Wistrich, the head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University, wrote, “Clemens Heni is a good scholar and a friend and I cannot understand how he could be treated this way. If he is not reinstated then I must regretfully resign from the board.”
Sander L. Gilman, the head of Emory University’s Program for Psychoanalysis and the Health Sciences Humanities Initiative in Atlanta, promptly resigned.
Matthias Küntzel, a leading German scholar of Iranian and modern German anti-Semitism, wrote that the Journal “was hijacked by political considerations.” Küntzel walked away from participation with the Journal.
While concurring with the many of the scholars who reject the Berlin Center’s decision to lump anti-Semitism together with Islamophobia, Bernard Harrison, a philosopher who has professorships at both the University of Utah and the University of Sussex, explained his decision to resign because “a journal which allows itself to be bullied into imposing sanctions upon its contributors merely for raising such a question, has forfeited all claim to scholarly respect.”
Milton Shain, the director of the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre forJewish Studies and Research at the University of Cape Town, wrote, “Thematter is hugely disturbing. As a member of the editorial board I hadno notice of the controversy until the resignations came in. This issurely unacceptable.”
The ballooning number of resignations prompted Baum and the publishers of the Journal to reinstate Heni in February. However, the dismay and outrage of many of the Journal’seditorial board members was captured by Rose, from Penn StateUniversity: “Anti-Semitism is a subject which demands frankness andhonesty,” he wrote.
While some of the academics who pulled the plug on their participationhave been invited to return, many critics of the editors’ ejection ofHeni either have not been invited to return or wish to no longer beassociated with the Journal.