Germany’s Most Annoying Jew
Satirist and media gadfly Henryk Broder attacks his countrymen’s attitudes toward Israel and Jews
Broder, in Forget Auschwitz! as in his 1986 book The Eternal Anti-Semite, argues that there’s a link between the obsessive thinking about the Holocaust in Germany and what he sees as an increasing German tendency to condemn Israel. “Forget Auschwitz,” he urges; “think about Israel, before it’s too late.” Broder is convinced that what were once fringe opinions in the German New Left have now moved to the mainstream, that Germans are now free to suggest that Israelis are the new Nazis. “The transfer of their own past onto Israel” is how Broder sees it; they can redeem themselves by blaming Jewish aggression. The Iranian threat to commit genocide against Israel, Broder stresses, is the only real existential danger that Israel has experienced since 1967; but too many Germans see Ahmadinejad’s nuclear sabre-rattling as just hot air, and Israel as the real threat to peace in the region.
In 2009, Der Spiegel published online an exchange of emails on Israel between Broder and the journalist Erich Follath. Within a few hours, the Broder-Follath debate received hundreds of thousands of clicks and for several days ranked among the top three topics among German Internet users. The next year, the Broder-Follath letters became a book titled Give the Jews Schleswig-Holstein!: When Germans Criticize Israel. The title comes from Broder, who cited Ahmadinejad’s idea that Israeli Jews ought to be relocated to Europe. The Iranian president “speaks too broadly,” commented Broder, “but he is, in principle, correct. If there were something like historical justice in this world, the Jewish state would be in Schleswig-Holstein or in Bavaria, not Palestine.” In one of his letters to Follath, Broder said that Germans are like alcoholics, and the Jews are their addiction. He proposed a period of abstinence: “For a while no klezmer concerts, no week of solidarity, no calls for the solution of the Palestine question, no symposia about the German-Jewish symbiosis and above all, no declarations that begin with the words ‘We, especially, as Germans … ’ ”
Last year, Broder tangled with Jakob Augstein, author of a weekly online column in Der Spiegel and publisher of Der Freitag, a weekly newspaper. Augstein is publishing royalty, the heir of Spiegel founder Rudolf Augstein (and illegitimate son of the novelist Martin Walser). Augstein defended Günter Grass’ anti-Israel poem “What Must Be Said,” which had been roundly condemned in the German media. He said that Grass’ poem “hit the mark” (though he added that Grass exaggerated when he claimed, bizarrely, that Israel was planning to use nuclear weapons against Iran); and he denounced German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement, in a 2008 visit to Jerusalem, that the German responsibility for Israel’s security cannot remain “empty words.” Augstein announced his alarm at the prospect of German soldiers fighting against Iran and protested that Netanyahu “keeps the world on a leash with an ever-swelling war chant.” Broder came out swinging: He called Augstein a “little Streicher” and compared Augstein’s statement that he was no anti-Semite to a pedophile’s claim that he likes children. Augstein was born too late, Broder said, but he would have fit in well in the Gestapo. Then Broder publicly dared Augstein to sue him for libel. Augstein refused, remarking in gentlemanly fashion, “I respect Broder even when he makes an error.” (Broder’s response: “He wimped out.”) Augstein’s Der Freitag is indeed stridently anti-Netanyahu, and it harshly criticized Israel’s conduct in the 2009 and 2012 Gaza wars, but in these respects it is not so different from Haaretz. Surprisingly (and, it is rumored, on Broder’s advice), Augstein was named on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s annual list of the world’s “top 10 Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel slurs,” and he was also condemned by the ADL. Augstein had never attacked Israel’s right to exist, nor had he ever advocated or applauded any violent action against Jews; nor, for that matter, had he ever criticized Jews as such. Germany’s Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland, the official voice of its Jewish community, defended Augstein, and the Frankfürter Allgemeine Zeiting found the charges of anti-Semitism against Augstein ridiculous.
Broder exaggerates when he presents Grass and his defender Augstein as the true representatives of German public opinion; what they represent, instead, is the hard left, which is still just as anti-Israel as it was in the ’60s. British and American left-wing opinion, like German left-wing opinion, is prone to blame Israel alone for the lack of peace with the Palestinians, to accuse Israel of war crimes while omitting any mention of Palestinian terrorists, to imply that Israel ought to abandon its Jewish character and become a non-Jewish state, and to describe Iranian threats against the Jews as mere bluster. But German leftists are not more stridently anti-Zionist than the leftists of other countries. In Britain, condemnation of Israel has entered the mainstream media far more than in Germany, as any BBC listener or Guardian reader can attest. According to polls, anti-Semitism in Germany is far lower than in Spain, Poland, and Hungary. Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky sell well in Germany, but so does Broder, whose Forget Auschwitz! received glowing reviews in the German press.
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