German editorial rejecting Israel as Jewish state causes uproar

The Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung published an editorial on Thursday entitled “Israel as Jewish state: Unacceptable demand.”

The logo for Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The logo for Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
BERLIN – An editorial in a regional paper denying Israel’s right to be a Jewish state unleashed on Monday a sharp wave of criticism from Israel’s embassy, German Jews and experts in modern anti-Semitism. According to the chairman of the region’s Jewish community, the commentary is anti-Semitic.
The Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung (Neue OZ), located in the city of Osnabrück in the German state of Lower Saxony, published an editorial on Thursday entitled “Israel as Jewish state: Unacceptable demand.” It compared Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s goal of having the Palestinian leadership recognize Israel as a Jewish state to the creation of an “Apartheid state” or a “theocracy” such as the “Islamic Republic of Iran.”
The writer, Franziska Kückmann, argued that “Arab Israelis would be second- class citizens” if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Israel’s demand to be a Jewish state is not compatible “with a modern state” and “should not be accepted by the international community,” Kückmann wrote.
When asked about the editorial, a representative from Israel’s embassy issued a statement to The Jerusalem Post, saying: “Germany more than all other states should be aware of the necessity of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. Every attempt to define Israel as a ‘two peoples’ state — and not to be defined as a Jewish state — misjudges the reality and damages the chances for success in the peace process. Israel is a democratic, pluralistic state, in which all citizens are treated equally, independent of religion, sex and nationality.”
The embassy statement continued, “Israel is committed to the two-state solution.
Our goal is two national states for two peoples. Israel recognizes the right of the Palestinians to their own state and expects, in return, that the Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”
In a telephone interview with the Post, Michael Grünberg, head of the Jewish community in Osnabrück, said Kückmann’s comparisons with Iran and Apartheid were a “new form of anti-Semitism.” He said that “when one denies Jews the right to their own state – and that is what the woman does –” it is anti-Semitism.
Grünberg said the Neue OZ had written articles that “blame Israel and are one-sided.”
He said the editorial showed “a lack of knowledge and callousness” toward Israel as a “democratic and Jewish state.”
Rabbi Moshe Baumel, who serves the Osnabrück Jewish community, told the Post that Kückmann “has no idea about the Middle East conflict,” and said her argumentation was “completely irrational.”
Responding to Kückmann separating Jewishness from Israel’s existence as a state, Rabbi Baumel pointed to Germany’s official celebration of Christian holidays as an argument against the editorial. “Why should one celebrate Christian holidays in Germany?” he asked.
He added that “Israel is a Jewish state – what could it be otherwise?”
Alex Feuerherdt, a German journalist and an authority on anti-Semitism in Germany, told the Post that Kückmann’s text was a “shameful, scandalous anti-Semitic commentary” and “an example of the delegitimization and demonization of Israel.”
Feuerherdt writes on anti-Semitism for many publications, including the main German Jewish newspaper, Jüdische Allgemeine Zeitung.
The Neue OZ has a daily circulation of a little over 64,000 readers, and the city of Osnabrück’s 2012 population was listed as 155,000.
Speaking with the Post by telephone, Kückmann flatly denied any anti-Semitism in the article or her intention in writing it.
“I did not say that Israel was a theocracy or apartheid state,” Kückmann said, adding that it was “nonsense to accuse me of anti-Semitism. I am not anti-Semitic. There is no language in the commentary that denies Israel’s right to exist.”
When asked if she had visited Israel, she said no. She stressed that the commentary sought to ask questions and provoke thought about what Israel as a Jewish state would mean.
Asked if the editor-in-chief was in agreement with the editorial, Kückmann said that Burkhard Ewert, a senior editor, was “absolutely” in agreement.
In a Post telephone interview with Burkhard Ewert, who is a member of the paper’s editor-in-chief team, he said the critics had “falsely read” the commentary, leading to “misunderstandings.”
He said the editorial had posed the questions “what is a Jewish state, and how will the formation of the state in Israel be?” He stressed that Kückmann’s commentary was meant as a warning about Israel as a future theocracy or Apartheid state.
In response to the criticism that Kückmann’s editorial stripped Israel of its right to exist, Ewert said: “The paper advocates a two-state solution.”
The commentary “does not say anything about being against Jews,” Ewert said.
Dr. Elvira Grözinger, a member of the German chapter of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, wrote in an open letter to the paper that its editorial was “anti-Israel propaganda” and the “continuation of anti-Jewish agitation with new vocabulary.”
She wrote that such editorials in Neue OZ and elsewhere were irresponsible and contributed to an “anti-Jewish position” among Germans.