Germany’s Top Anti-Semite?
Journalist Jakob Augstein appears alongside Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on a top 10 list of the world’s worst bigots
In any case, it was this column that led Henryk Broder, a sui generis German-Jewish polemicist who is the most confrontational and controversial voice in German media, to label Augstein a “little Streicher,” after the Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher. “Jakob Augstein is not a salon anti-Semite, he’s a pure anti-Semite,” wrote Broder, going on to allege that Augstein is “an offender by conviction who only missed the opportunity to make his career with the Gestapo because he was born after the war. He certainly would have had what it takes.”
Broder’s position was unique among German commentators. In an article for Berlin’s Tagesspiegel titled, “I also want to be on the anti-Semitism list!” the journalist Harald Martenstein concluded, “If Jakob Augstein were Germany’s worst anti-Semite, then this means that in Germany there is no more really dangerous anti-Semitism.” The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung chimed in by stating, “The choice of Jakob Augstein for ninth place on the list of the 10 worst anti-Semites is a serious intellectual and strategic error made by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Not only has a critical journalist been placed in a group into which he doesn’t belong, the nine other people and groups who have justifiably been pilloried can now exculpate themselves by pointing to such arbitrariness.” And Dieter Graumann, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, acknowledged that while Augstein’s writings about Israel were “horrible” and “hideous,” naming him alongside the likes of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the entire “Iranian Regime” belittled the effort of naming and shaming anti-Semites.
The Wiesenthal Center’s list so perplexed the editors of Spiegel that they asked the organization’s associate dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, if he would sit for a public conversation with Augstein on the topic of anti-Semitism. Cooper said he would accept the invitation only on the condition that the German apologize first. (Ultimately, the magazine hosted a contentious debate between Graumann and Augstein.) But these petty demands from the Wiesenthal Center fed perfectly into the victimization narrative offered last year by Grass and endorsed by Augstein and lent some validity to the narrative that Jews—and American ones in particular—enjoy bullying well-intentioned Germans with hysterical allegations of anti-Semitism.
“Just because he is a journalist, we are not giving Mr. Augstein license to say what he wants and to hide behind journalistic integrity,” Cooper said in an interview with the German news agency DPA. “His statements are incorrect and baseless.” Cooper is indeed correct that Augstein’s writings about Israel are “incorrect and baseless.” But are they anti-Semitic? Claiming that Israel’s nuclear capability poses a threat to world peace—while ignoring its crucial function as a long-time deterrent against an array of Arab states that have been openly committed to its destruction, not to mention the nuclear-weapons-seeking regime in Tehran that denies the Holocaust while promising another—is naïve and idiotic. And to single out Israel’s nuclear capacity, which threatens no one, while ignoring Pakistan’s, which hangs precariously close to the hands of messianic extremists, reveals a fixation with Israel that is unhealthy, to say the least. But it is not necessarily anti-Semitic.
Yet add up all of Augstein’s writings, and one finds an obsession with Jews and their country that render the outraged responses on the part of his defenders, who portray him as a martyr, over the top. Augstein’s critics point out that he hardly ever writes about foreign affairs, yet when he does, it is usually to condemn Israel. Augstein’s use of Nazi terminology to describe Gaza would be considered anti-Semitic in any context (including by the European Union’s working definition of anti-Semitism), and all the more so in Germany. (Augstein later acknowledged that the phrase was “an unfortunate choice of words.”) Drawing a parallel between the Haredim, (who, while ultra-religious, are not pledging genocide against Muslims), and the Iranian mullahs, (who have a military wing responsible for the deaths of many innocents) is worse than sloppy. His attempt to blame Israel for the “Innocence of Muslims” demonstrates a knowing willingness to validate the blatantly anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that originally tried to pin the video on “100 Jewish businessmen” when it was, in actuality, the work of a single Coptic Christian.
Today, as Israelis vote, the religious Zionist theology of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and his son looms large