First Israeli-born Jew to run for German Jewry leadership

Dieter Graumann would be the first Israeli-born, non-Holocaust survivor to head the Central Council of Germans Jews, representing 106,000 German Jews.

311_ German Jews (photo credit: Associated Press)
311_ German Jews
(photo credit: Associated Press)
BERLIN – The announcement on Monday that Haifa-born Dieter Graumann plans to run for president of Germany’s 106,000-member Jewish community indicates a sea change for the Central Council of German Jews, the community’s powerful umbrella organization. The 60-year old Graumann would be the council’s first Israeli-born, non-Holocaust-survivor leader.
Speaking from Frankfurt, Graumann told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that his program would offer “renewal.” He said his agenda would stress “solidarity with Israel in these difficult times” and the continued efforts to combat “Muslim and Islamic anti-Semitism.”
He noted that Germany’s trade relationship with Iran would also play a role in his work if elected president. Graumann has been vocal about the Federal Republic’s international responsibility to dramatically curtail German-Iranian economic ties and the country’s tight political relations with Teheran. Germany is Iran’s number one European trade partner.
Graumann, who frequently visits family members in Israel, plans to be in Israel for Sukkot later this month.
As a one-and-half-year old child, Graumann’s immediate family left Israel for Germany. According to a statement issued by the Central Council on Monday, his candidacy “received a large measure of approval” from its governing body at a meeting in Frankfurt on Sunday.
The election will take place in late November.
According to observers, the Central Council is stuck in an institutional rut and has lacked orientation under the presidency of Charlotte Knobloch. “With Dieter at the helm, I trust that we will gain a stronger overall leadership, under which the Central Council will once again speak with one voice... to reunite a community that has faced a lot of internal turmoil,” Sacha Stawski, a member of the Frankfurt Jewish community, told the Post on Tuesday. Stawski, who heads the pro-Israel media watchdog organization Honestly Concerned, which tracks anti-Semitic and anti-Israel reports in the German media, said Graumann was “an ally on all issues” relating to combating anti-Semitism and “support for the State of Israel.”
The 77-year-old Knobloch, who survived the Holocaust by hiding in Bavaria as a young girl, will continue to serve as president of the Munich Jewish community.
Critics say that Knobloch’s tenure since 2006 has been marked by aloofness and a chaotic organizational style. She prompted irritation among members of the Jewish community for her decision last fall to accompany and praise German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle during his visit to Yad Vashem. According to critics, she was too lenient with Westerwelle, who tolerated the anti-Semitic 2002 national political campaign of the late Jürgen Möllemann, and used the trip to Israel to rehabilitate his damaged image.
According to a report earlier this year in the daily Die Welt, one member of the Central Council complained that Knobloch failed to demand that Westerwelle make amends for the Möllemann scandal. The foreign minister’s Free Democratic Party (FDP) took the legislative lead in sponsoring an anti-Israeli resolution in Bundestag against Israel’s actions last May against a Gaza-bound flotilla. An Israeli diplomat complained to the Post that Westerwelle was allowing MP and FDP-member Rainer Stinner to travel to Iran to strengthen bilateral ties at a time when the international community was seeking to isolate Teheran.
Nevertheless, Knobloch’s activism in promoting Holocaust education across Germany, including speaking engagements in schools and fighting extreme right-wing anti-Semitism, represent many of the highlights of her remarkable record as president, Stawski told the Post.
Graumann said he spoke at a Cologne rally in support of Israel after the Gaza flotilla and sharply criticized the Bundestag resolution. He told the Post that “everybody is not against Israel” in Germany. He noted Chancellor Angela Merkel’s support for the Jewish state and the “anger” other politicians expressed over the anti-Israel Bundestag resolution.
“It cannot be good when politicians vote with the Left Party,” Graumann said. He was referring to cross-party support for the resolution, which was championed by MPs from the Left Party, which is widely seen as being anti-Zionist. Graumann, considered a gifted speaker, has frequently used his bully pulpit to slam what he sees as the party’s anti-Semitism in speeches and newspaper articles.
Graumann has also refused to shy away from sharp criticism of anti-Semitism from neo-Nazis and the Right, including conservative writers such as Lorenz Jäger of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, who has stoked anti-Israel and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. In a previous interview with the Post, Graumann called on the paper’s publisher to clamp down on Jäger.
According to critics, Jäger propagates the view that an influential network of pro-Israel groups exerts undue influence in Germany and Europe. “It is no longer a secret,” he wrote, that two French-Jewish philosophers, Andre Glucksmann and Bernard Henri-Levy, are serving “the interests of the United States and Israel.”