Jews to return German honors in protest

Decision to award Federal Cross to a harsh critic of Israel has sparked an outcry around the world.

Felicia Langer  and german 248.88 (photo credit: Baden-W?rttemberg State Website)
Felicia Langer and german 248.88
(photo credit: Baden-W?rttemberg State Website)
The Federal Republic of Germany's decision to award its highest honor - the Federal Cross of Merit, first class - last week to a harsh critic of Israel has sparked an outcry among Jews and non-Jews around the world. Motke Shomrat, a 74-year-old Israeli recipient of the Cross of Merit, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he planned to return it to protest the decision to honor Israeli attorney Felicia Langer, because "she praised Ahmadinejad and supports him. He is the new Hitler and wants to annihilate Israel." Reached in Tübingen, a university city in Baden-Württemberg and her residence since 1990, Langer told the Post that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had not threatened to obliterate Israel, and while she didn't agree with many of Ahmadinejad's speeches, when he spoke about "the suffering of the Palestinians, he is right." The state-controlled Iran Press-TV headlined on Monday its laudatory article about Langer, "Germany honors anti-Zionist Israeli Langer." There was a "concrete campaign to shut people up who criticize Israel in Germany," she told the Post. According to Langer, the campaign was organized by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, which "is the Israel Lobby" in the federal republic. Shomrat, a survivor of the SS-Collection Camp Mechelen in Belgium, works as a tour guide in Israel, where he uses his fluent German to show visitors from Central Europe the attractions of the Jewish state. He was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit in 1995 for his work in "reconciling Jews and Germans." "All friends of Israel" who have been awarded the Federal Cross should return it, Shomrat urged. "Felicia Langer is an enemy of Israel, and it cannot be possible that the friends of Israel want to be in the same company as Felicia Langer." When asked about Shomrat, Steffen Schulze, a spokesman for German President Horst Köhler, told the Post, "If the return of the Federal Medal of Honor that you mention happens, the decision would be extraordinarily regrettable." The American Jewish Committee issued a strongly worded statement on Monday criticizing Germany's decision to celebrate Langer's activity against Israel. Langer's "attacks are not based upon criticism of actual Israeli policies, but upon her demonization of Israel as the 'apartheid of the present' and her rejection of Israel's right to define itself as the state of the Jewish people," said the letter, signed by AJC Executive Director David Harris and three top-level staff members. Seven AJC representatives have received the award, including the four who signed the letter. The letter "urged President Köhler to reconsider the decision to honor Ms. Langer, given Germany's record of 'principled solidarity with Israel.'" Yves Pallade, director of the B'nai B'rith Europe's Foreign Affairs Network, wrote in an e-mail to the Post that "those recipients of the Order of Merit who really care about the fight against anti-Semitism should consider returning their medals, unless the authorities change their minds and revoke the award. The honoring of a person who for years has been promoting a kind of pathological hatred against the Jewish state in public has without any doubt discredited the award itself." Two prominent German Jewish intellectuals are prepared to return their Federal Crosses if Köhler declines to strip Langer of the award. "With a heavy heart I've decided to give back my award if the Federal Cross is not denied to this person," historian Dr. Arno Lustiger wrote. "As a survivor [of the Holocaust] and historian, I take it as a personal insult that Ms. Langer compares ongoing events in the Middle East with the Holocaust." Langer was "the shrillest anti-Israeli fanfare in Germany," Dr. Ralph Giordano, a leading author and journalist in Germany who survived the Holocaust in hiding, wrote in a letter. "No one in the last 25 years - with a one-sidedness bordering on blindness - has done Israel more damage than Langer," he continued. Langer did not shy away from supporting Hamas and Ahmadinejad, Giordano said. While his decision was "very difficult," he said, he intended to return his award if the Federal Cross were not rescinded for Langer. Yet Boris Palmer, the Green Party mayor in Tübingen, remains a staunch supporter of Langer. He wrote in an e-mail to the Post, "She is not an anti-Semite, but an honest and upright fighter for peace and human rights. She also criticizes Israel. With plain words, but always with the goal of making peace through compromise. For this, she rightly received the Federal Medal of Honor." According to the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Palmer has previously played down Iran's genocidal threats toward Israel. The Green Party has been plagued by a number of anti-Israeli disputes. Earlier this month, party chairwoman Renate Künast allegedly called a pro-Israel group in Germany a front organization for the Mossad. She denied making the statement, but confirmed that she had described the group as "not entirely kosher." The head of the German-Israeli parliamentary group, the Green's Jerzy Montag, suggested during a Bundestag hearing on anti-Semitism last year that one could separate anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism. Israeli diplomats were troubled by Montag's clumsy criticism of Israel at an event celebrating the 60th anniversary of Israel's creation. Meanwhile, Uwe Köhn, the spokesman for the state governor in Baden-Württemberg, Günther H. Oettinger of the Christian Democratic Union, declined to comment on the unfolding Federal Cross scandal. According to media reports, Oettinger wishes to avoid another conflict with the Central Council of Jews in Germany. He supported Langer's efforts to receive the Federal Cross. In 2007, Oettinger delivered a speech honoring a former Nazi Navy judge, Hans Filbinger, later a Christian Democratic politician, who convicted and sentenced German deserters to death in the final days of World War II. Oettinger praised Filbinger as a "resistance fighter" against Hitler and faced intense criticism from the Central Council of Jews for whitewashing Filbinger's Nazi past and grossly distorting German history. "After the run-ins which Governor Oettinger had with the Central Council of Jews, one would have expected that he and his office would have more carefully researched when awarding a Federal Cross of Merit," Sacha Stawski, the editor-in-chief of Honestly Concerned, a media watchdog outlet in Germany monitoring anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, told the Post. "Instead Oettinger probably thought what a wonderful opportunity it would be to award an elderly Jewish lady for her merits, expecting praise and not paying attention to the fact that this wonderful lady is nothing but an anti-Semitic Israel hater," Stawski said.