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July 28, 2020 12:54 pm

Professors Attack German Antisemitism Commissioner in Letter to Chancellor Merkel

avatar by Ben Cohen

Felix Klein, the German government’s commissioner on antisemitism. Photo: Wolfgang Kumm / dpa / Archivbild via Reuters.

More than 60 German and Israeli academics have signed a letter addressed to Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, complaining that criticism of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians was being “suppressed” by concerns over antisemitism and eviscerating the German government’s antisemitism commissioner for allegedly promoting “right-wing populist Israeli voices.”

The letter — whose signatories include former Knesset Deputy Speaker Prof. Naomi Chazan and the prominent historians Dr. Wolfgang Benz and Prof. Moshe Zimmermann — emphasized that the writers’ concern was “particularly great where this tendency is linked to political and financial support for the antisemitism commissioner.”

The commissioner, Felix Klein, was appointed as Germany’s first official tasked with combating antisemitism in 2018, in the midst of a dramatic escalation in outrages targeting the country’s Jewish community.

While Klein has focused primarily on the role of far-right agitators, he has occasionally clashed with adversaries of Israel on the left, who were angered by his support for legislation passed by the German parliament in May 2019 that designated as antisemitic the global campaign to subject Israel to boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

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In May this year, Klein was similarly vilified after he commented that the comparison of the Jewish state with the former racist white-minority regime in South Africa was a familiar antisemitic trope.

The July 24 letter to Merkel made specific mention of Klein’s alleged backing for a publication by Arye Sharuz Shalicar —  a German-born Israeli — in which a German academic, Reiner Bernstein, was referred to as a “Jew-hater.” A court action by Bernstein against Shalicar for slander collapsed last month when a Berlin court ruled that the Israeli had engaged in a “permissible expression of opinion.”

The letter then went onto argue that Germany should take the lead in opposing any claims of sovereignty by Israel in the West Bank, commenting that in the German context, “we expect consistent protection of freedom of opinion and assembly in public discourse about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Several of the letter’s signatories have long argued that the government’s tougher approach to antisemitism has negatively impacted discussion of the Middle East. A recent book on antisemitism edited by Dr. Benz was criticized by some reviewers for playing down the level of Jew-hatred on the political left and within some Muslim communities.

Among the assertions made in Benz’s book was the presentation of the BDS campaign as a “non-violent movement to bring about a change in Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories through economic means.”

In another passage, a Syrian refugee in Berlin who assaulted a man wearing a kippah was depicted not as a convinced antisemite, but as behaving in the “manner … typical of a young man in the politicized context of the Middle East conflict.”

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