Uproar over 'anti-Semitic' Spiegel columnist

Inclusion of Jakob Augstein in Wiesenthal Center's 2012 top-ten list of anti-Semites has sparked fierce debate in German media.

Jakob Augstein 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Jakob Augstein 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
BERLIN – The inclusion of a Spiegel online columnist in a 2012 top-ten list of anti-Semites has sparked a fierce debate in the German media since the beginning of the new year.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center ranked Jakob Augstein ninth for his written attacks on Jews and the State of Israel. He is a columnist for Spiegel online, owns a large stake in the Hamburg-based Der Spiegel magazine, and is owner of the left-wing weekly Der Freitag.
German mainstream media outlets from the Left to the Right rushed to defend Augstein against his critics, which include the popular Jewish author and Die Welt journalist Henryk M. Broder.
Writing in the social democratic-leaning Rundschau, Christian Bommarius, a journalist not known for writing about Israel and Jews, said Broder engaged in “character assassination” regarding Augstein and colluded with the Wiesenthal Center to damage his reputation.
Broder told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that “Jew-hatred is the common denominator” among the journalistic and blogger defenders of Augstein. He paraphrased a sentence attributed to Kaiser Wilhelm II – “I know no more parties, I know only Germans!” – by saying, “I don’t know any parties in Germany, I know only anti-Semites.”
Broder sees the debate as positive because it “brings clarity and light” to how anti-Semites think and to the modernity of Augstein’s expressions of Jew-hatred and demonization of Israel.
The Wiesenthal Center cited quotes from Augstein’s Spiegel online writings as examples of denigrating Jews and Israel, including “With backing from the US, where the president must secure the support of Jewish lobby groups, and in Germany, where coping with history, in the meantime, has a military component, the Netanyahu government keeps the world on a leash with an ever-swelling war chant.”
Regarding religious Jews, Augstein wrote that “the Jews also have their fundamentalists, the ultra-Orthodox haredim. They are not a small splinter group. They make up 10 percent of the Israeli population. They are cut from the same cloth as their Islamic fundamentalist opponents. They follow the law of revenge.”
He also called Gaza “a camp,” in an apparent reference to Nazi concentration camps, although Israel has had no presence in the Gaza Strip since its military disengagement in 2005.
Augstein defended a poem by German author Gunther Grass asserting that Israel was the main global security threat, and not Iran’s regime or its nuclear program.
In response to the list, Augstein wrote on his Facebook page that he respected the work of the Wiesenthal Center but saw a weakening of the fight against anti-Semitism when “critical journalism is defamed as racist or anti-Semitic.”
Augstein’s father Rudolf founded Der Spiegel.
Speaking on the telephone with the Post from Los Angeles, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, doubled-down in his defense of the list, saying that Augstein had crossed the line of former refusenik Natan Sharanksy’s definition of anti-Semitism.
This is “not about journalism,” Cooper said, and Augstein “should not try to hide behind that he is a journalist. So what? His statements are not defensible.”
According to Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky’s oft-quoted “3-D” definition on anti-Semitism, people meet the criteria of modern anti- Semitism when they demonize, delegitimize and apply double-standards to the Jewish state.
Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg, head of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, told the Post: “Critics of Israel evolve into anti- Semitic racists when they apply unique standards, deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign equality among the nations or invoke the imagery and themes of classical and theological Jew-hatred. Thus, as Broder shows, when Augstein and his defenders obsessively and irrationally attack Israel and promote BDS [boycott, divestment and sanction] campaigns [against Israel] – which combine all three dimensions – they are indeed anti-Semitic, as also highlighted in the case of Judith Butler.”
Butler, an anti-Zionist US professor, called on Germans to boycott Israel last year and has termed Hezbollah and Hamas “social movements that are progressive” and part of the Left.
Augstein defended her in one his columns.
Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, also mentioned the case of Krystian Benedict.
“Recently, an Amnesty [International] employee named Krystian Benedict was disciplined for an anti-Semitic ‘joke’ following a long-overdue protest from Britain’s Jewish leaders,” he said. “The Wiesenthal [Center’s] censure of Augstein is a similar and necessary response to his hate-based language referring to nefarious ‘Jewish lobbies’ and Der Sturmer-like depictions of Israelis as ugly war mongers. In contrast, Broder’s clear condemnation of such anti-Semitic behavior provides important moral clarity.”
Experts in Germany have defended Broder.
In an email to the Post on Thursday, Dr. Clemens Heni, director of the Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (BICSA), wrote about Frankfurter Rundschau journalist Christian Bommarius that he “promotes anti-Semitism.
"He is in support of Augstein and defames journalist Henryk M. Broder in the most disgusting way possible. He compares the German-Jewish journalist to Nazi language and pornography and to Nazis like Hitler, Goebbels, and Streicher.”
Alex Feuerherdt, a German journalist who contributes articles to the main German Jewish newspaper Die Jüdische Allgemeine and other publications, told the Post that "it is grotesque that the scandal in Germany is not Augstein's attacks on Israel but that the Simon Wiesenthal Center included him in its top-ten list."
Feuerherdt, who has written extensively about contemporary anti-Semitism in Germany, bemoaned" that the issue now was not anti-Semites but those who criticize the anti-Semites." Asked if the Augstein controversy would change anti-Semitic views in Germany toward Israel and Jews, Broder said, "It won't change much."