Germany adopts international definition of anti-Semitism

(JTA) — Germany has formally accepted an international definition of anti-Semitism in a move designed to provide clarity for the prosecution of related crimes.

The German Cabinet announced Wednesday that it unanimously adopted the working definition promoted by the International Alliance for Holocaust Remembrance, a body with 31 member states.

In addition to classic forms of anti-Semitism, the definition offers examples of modern manifestations, such as targeting all Jews as a proxy for Israel, denying Jews the right to a homeland and using historical anti-Semitic images to tarnish all Israelis.

“We Germans are particularly vigilant when our country is threatened by an increase in anti-Semitism,” Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière said following the Wednesday morning meeting. “History made clear to us, in the most terrible way, the horrors to which anti-Semitism can lead.”

Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, welcomed the announcement “as a clear signal” that anti-Semitism is not tolerated in Germany. Schuster said he hoped the definition would be “heeded in schools, in the training of public servants and in the courts,” and that it would help police to categorize crimes effectively.

“Cases of anti-Semitism are all too often overlooked or even ignored by authorities due to the lack of a uniform definition of anti-Semitism,” said Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations in Berlin. “This will change dramatically with the adoption of the Working Definition, which will make it more apparent when anti-Semitism rears its ugly head.

“This decision, coming at the beginning of the Jewish New Year, sends an important and reassuring message to the Jewish community in Germany.”

Its adoption was recommended by the independent Bundestag Commission on Anti-Semitism. The commission also has urged the appointment of a federal commissioner for anti-Semitism affairs — a move the AJC and other Jewish organizations have promoted as essential to “fight[ing] anti-Semitism as well as respond[ing] to current manifestations,” Berger said.

According to the IHRA definition, anti-Semitism “is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Contemporary examples are provided, including:

* Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

* Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

* Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

* Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

* Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

In Germany, recent court decisions reveal the difficulty of finding unanimity on the issue. For example, while some courts have found anti-Zionist-motivated crimes to be tantamount to anti-Semitism, since perpetrators blame Jews in Germany for Israel’s policies, other courts have accepted political motivation as a mitigating factor in sentencing.


Polish nationalist party head (White Freemason, Zionist) denounces anti-Semitism, praises Israel

WARSAW (AP) — Poland’s most powerful politician on Monday denounced anti-Semitism and praised the “great” state of Israel at a ceremony honoring Poles who protected Jews during the Holocaust.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chief of the governing conservative Law and Justice party, spoke at an outdoor ceremony attended by Israeli, US and British officials and organized by From the Depths, a foundation established by descendants of Jewish Holocaust survivors.

In rare remarks on international relations, Kaczynski said Israel owes its existence to the “power of spirit, power of the mind, determination and courage” of its people. He denounced anti-Semitism as a “very dangerous” phenomenon that is expressed through hostility toward the country.

“In its way, in a real way, Israel is a great state,” Kaczynski said, calling the Mideast country an “outpost of our civilization.”

While Warsaw and Tel Aviv have strong ties, Kaczynski has faced pressure from Jewish communities in Poland and Europe to denounce what they see as a rise of anti-Semitism.

Monday’s ceremony was held to recognize the heroism of Poles who saved Jews from the Nazis. From the Depths presented the Zabinski Awards, named for former Warsaw zoo director Jan Zabinski and his wife, Antonina, who hid more than 300 Jews at the zoo during World War II.

Daniel Kawczynski, a Polish-born member of the British Parliament, accepted an award on his behalf of his great uncle. Jan Kawczynski was shot by the Germans in 1943 along with his wife, Helena, and their 10-year-old daughter Magdalena, for having sheltered Jews.

Franciscan nuns whose convent sheltered over 700 Jews in more than 40 orphanages in Poland also received an award. One of the people the nuns’ order helped save, Zipi Kamon, came from Israel to attend the ceremony.

Most of Poland’s pre-war population of some 3.5 million Jews perished in the Holocaust. Poland was the only country occupied by the Nazis where any form of aiding Jews was punishable by immediate execution.



WASHINGTON — In a call on Friday with Jewish community leaders marking the High Holy Days, President Donald Trump professed an affinity for Israel and vowed to fight a scourge of antisemitism festering across the United States.

With his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on the line, Trump said the tradition of Judaism “strengthens our nation and inspires us all.”

He noted that survivors of the Holocaust were invited on the call, and underscored the importance of telling their history.

But several Jewish community leaders protested the annual phone-in over Trump’s response to a neo-Nazi rally last month in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which he was perceived to be equating their violent behavior with that of the minority groups in their crosshairs.

“We forcefully condemn those who seek to promote antisemitism,” Trump said, according to two sources who were on the phone call. “I will make sure we protect Jewish communities, and all communities, to make sure they are safe.”

The president also said America would “always” support the state of Israel— “not just because of security, but because of shared values.”

“On a personal level, and I just returned from Israel not too long ago, I can tell you that I love Israel,” Trump said. “This new year gives us hope for significant progress on peace. And I am very hopeful that it could happened by the end of the year.”

President Trump is slated to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, where the latter is also expected to give an official address at the opening of the assembly’s 72nd session.

Scottish Jews say Nazi pug video stoked anti-Semitism

A Scottish Jewish leader told a court this week that a clip of a Scottish man training a dog to perform a Nazi salute stirred up online anti-Semitic sentiment against the local Jewish community.

Ephraim Borowski, head of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, testified to the Airdrie Sheriff Court that the video posted by Mark Meechan was “grossly offensive.”

“It stuns me that anyone should think it is a joke,” the Daily Mail reported Tuesday.

In the clip, which received over 3 million views on YouTube, Meechan said he had decided to train his girlfriend’s pug Buddha to be a Nazi as a practical joke.

“My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is, and so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing that I could think of, which is a Nazi,” he told his viewers.

He then filmed multiple instances in which his dog perks up to the sound of the phrase “gas the Jews” as well as simply the word “Jews.” In the second part of the video the dog is seen watching a Hitler speech and raising its right paw in response to the phrase “Sieg heil.”

Borowski told the court this was clearly more than a practical joke.

“My immediate reaction is that there is a clear distinction to be made between an off-hand remark and the amount of effort that is required to train a dog like that,” he said. “I actually feel sorry for the dog.”

Borowski, who was shown the video in court, argued it was meant to offend.

“The other thing that struck me was the explicit statement that this was intended to give offense and intended to be the most offensive thing he could think of,” Borowski said. “I’m no historian but it is the marching signal of the Nazi storm troopers who contributed and supported the murder of six million Jews including members of my own family and I take this all slightly personally.”

He added that the Scottish Jewish community felt threatened by the anti-Semitic sentiment stirred up by the video.

“The threat is against the Jewish community and there is an echo chamber effect with people trying to be more offensive,” he told the court. “160 pages of messages about this were collected by us in a day, they supported it and it was extremely anti-Semitic.”

In a subsequent clip Meechan apologized for the posting the video, saying he had never intended to offend anyone and simply wanted “to annoy my girlfriend.” He said he never imagined the video would go viral and had thought it would only be viewed his close friends “who know me and know my sense of humor and know my comedy, which is quite dark.”

He stressed that he hated “racism in any way shape or form…I don’t have any ill will towards the Jewish community or anything like that at all.”

His girlfriend Suzanne Kelly defended him as well, telling The Mirror “that’s just Markus’s sense of humor. He would never set out to insult anybody or cause offense.”

Both the original clip and the apology were deleted from YouTube.

The left has an Israel problem. Does that mean colleges have an anti-Semitism problem?

(JTA) — Last week JTA reported a story about an alternative students’ guide published by student activists at Tufts University that labels Israel a white supremacist state. The so-called “disorientation guide” also reduced the university’s Hillel to a “Zionist” organization that offers nothing of value to the private campus’s diversity or culture.

The authors of the guide might deny that, of course. But what else do you make of a guide to campus diversity that does not discuss Jewish social, cultural or religious life? And one that takes at face value complaints from an African-American organization that a Hillel-sponsored event about gun control was meant to “exploit” black people “for their own pro-Israel agenda”?

After all, what’s a Jewish organization doing promoting liberal causes, right?

The conflation of “Jewish” and “Zionist” (and “racist” and “colonialist,” while we’re at it) is hardly a new thing on the left, although the guide was a pretty stark example of an entire minority group on campus being erased or devalued with a few taps of a keyboard by those who purport to stand up for religious and ethnic minorities. That’s why we considered it an important story, and that’s why we published it.

Still, a few things bothered me about the story — and the issue itself.

First, just because an activist group says dumb and misguided things about Jews and Israel, that doesn’t mean the campus in question is “hostile” or “uncomfortable” for Jews. Too often groups, mostly on the outside, seize on incidents like these (and articles like ours) to tar the school or administration as unfriendly or anti-Semitic. Last year, the Algemeiner published a list of “The 40 Worst Colleges for Jewish Students,” which was really just a list of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic incidents at various campuses. Missing was any sense of how Jewish students actually experience Jewish life at these colleges.

As the student magazine New Voices recently put it: “If Columbia University — home of kosher dining, multiple minyans and a joint program with Jewish Theological Seminary — is the worst school for Jewish students… you’re probably defining ‘bad for Jewish students’ wrong.”

Indeed, Tufts, no. 23 on the Algemeiner list, has a student body that is 25 percent Jewish. Our article noted that it has a range of Jewish and pro-Israel clubs, including Hillel, the Tufts American Israel Alliance, Tufts Friends of Israel, J Street U, Jewish Voice for Peace, TAMID and IAC Mishelanu. Hillel offers Reform and Conservative Shabbat services, and there’s a Chabad. The Forward, which took into account many more factors than pro-Palestinian activism when assembling its own list of top colleges, named Tufts the 13th best school for Jewish students.

That’s not to say that “Israel Apartheid Week” demonstrations, BDS resolutions and screeds like the “disorientation guide” aren’t upsetting. Or that a strong reaction isn’t called for when anti-Zionists slander Israel, Jewish groups and individual Jews.

But colleges are also places where students are supposed to encounter upsetting or uncomfortable ideas. You can’t ridicule a leftist campus like UC Berkeley when it offers counseling to students offended by a talk by a conservative like Ben Shapiro, and then demand that a university “protect” Jewish kids from a pro-Palestinian message. (I mean, you can — but just watch out whom you are calling a “snowflake.”)

On the other hand, the Tufts “disorientation guide” itself also failed the test of university-level inquiry.

There are already enough reasons to be critical of Israel, if you are so inclined, without inventing slanders like “white supremacy.” Liberal Zionists, for example, see Israel’s control of millions of non-citizen Palestinians not only as a hardship for Palestinians but a threat to Israel’s own Jewish and democratic character. Their critique — shared with a weakened but persistent left in Israel itself — is one side of a debate in which reasonable people can take part. You can disagree, but you understand that the critics are serious in their concerns and can summon a strong factual argument in their defense.

But by accusing Israel of “white supremacy,” the anti-Zionists sound like that old tongue-in-cheek definition of anti-Semitism: “disliking Jews more than is necessary.” They yank the debate into a territory where it doesn’t belong. Nothing in Zionism assumes Jews are white, and indeed Israel’s Jewish population — four-fifths of a country that includes a substantial minority of Arab citizens — includes a range of ethnic groups hailing from Europe, North Africa, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Ethiopia and India.

And the “white supremacy” gambit is shoddy scholarship and a tactical disaster. It casts the conflict as a simple case of segregation and civil rights, and not as a clash of national identities. So you can be proud of yourself as a good leftist if, in the name of intersectionality, you rally all kinds of dispossessed groups and discriminated-against people behind your anti-Israel cause, but you do nothing to bring Israelis and Palestinians any closer to peace.

Because the Palestinians aren’t looking for equality — they are looking to fulfill their nationalist aspirations, just like the Jews. Palestinians — I am talking about those who live in the West Bank and Gaza, not Israel’s Arab citizens — don’t want to vote or serve in the Knesset. They want a country — some, a country coterminous with Israel; some separate and side-by-side. But if you delegitimize Israel — and that can be the only motivation behind calling it “white supremacist” — it can mean that you are wishing for only one outcome: the end of the idea of a Jewish homeland, and the elimination of the political sovereignty for one national group, the Jews, in favor of another, the Palestinians.

Then you would have to explain why Palestinian nationalism is any less “racist” or supremacist than the Jews’.

Anti-Zionists, selective in their nationalisms, have found an easy and fashionable metaphor into which to plug their anger at Israel and solidarity with the Palestinians. As a former colleague put it on Facebook: “They’re not really interested in doing good; they’re interested in feeling good. And forcing complicated realities into simplistic moral frameworks helps them feel good about themselves and their ‘activism.’”

What’s more, by hating Israel more than they have to, they have managed to discredit the left in ways that are spreading into the center, and handing a huge victory to a pro-Israel right that is only too happy to paint its adversaries as unserious, uninformed and anti-Semitic.



Germany’s government reported to Green Party MP Volker Beck on Friday an increase in the number of criminal antisemitic acts. This includes Israel-related antisemitism, and the classification of Hezbollah’s crimes as far-right extremism.
The federal government said 681 antisemitic incidents occurred in the first half of 2017–a 4% increase when compared to the same period in 2016 (in which 654 criminal antisemitic acts took place) .

Beck told the Jerusalem Post that “The antisemitic and anti-Israel criminal offenses are only the tip of the iceberg.” He added the registered offenses are only those that the victims came forward to report. “The estimated number of unreported cases, I fear, is clearly higher,” said Beck.

Dr. Emily Haber from the German federal interior ministry said that 20 “politically motivated criminal offenses under the category Israel” took place in the documented 2017 period. The police conducted investigations against 12 perpetrators. There were no physical injuries reported.

In the same period in 2016, the federal government said 17 political crimes against Israel were registered. The authorities investigated 6 suspects and no injuries were cited. Anti-Israel criminal acts were listed under the sub-topic “Israel-Palestine conflict.” Starting in January, 2017, politically-animated attacks against Israel are listed under the sub-rubric “Israel.” The cited suspects hailed from Germany, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey.

Antisemitic acts not related to Israel accounted for 681 offenses in the 2017 period. The authorities investigated 339 people and nine people were injured. In 2016, the government registered 654 anti-Semitic criminal crimes and 400 suspects were investigated. Eight people were injured because of antisemitic offenses in 2016.

According to federal statistics, 92.8% of criminal acts had a right-wing extremist background. However, critics say the federal government’s classification system is inaccurate.

Benjamin Steinitz, the head of the RIAS group in Berlin that tracks antisemitism, told Die Welt paper on Friday there is a “discrepancy between the perception of antisemitic attacks, insults, taunts and police statistics.” According to a 2017 federal government report on antisemitism, the crime of Jew-hatred is designated by the category of “politically motivated right-wing extremist crime.” A telling example, cited in Die Welt, was an outbreak of Islamic-animated antisemitism that was registered as right-wing extremism.

Supporters of the US and EU classified terrorist organization Hezbollah participated in an anti-Israeli march during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. The Hezbollah supporters formed a 20-person group and yelled the pro-Nazi slogan “Sieg Heil” at a group of pro-Israel activists in Berlin. The “Sieg Heil” call violates Germany’s anti-hate law and was registered as a far-right extremist crime.

There are 250 active Hezbollah supporters and members in Berlin. Germany’s interior ministry declined to outlaw all of Hezbollah in Germany. There are 950 Hezbollah operatives spread across the federal republic.

According to the Die Welt report, “The Islamic part of antisemitic offenses in police statistics is clearly underrated.” Beck, who heads the German-Israel parliamentary caucus group, cited the high levels of antisemitism in Germany, including that 40% of Germany’s population of 82 million are infected with contemporary antisemitism – hatred of the Jewish state–according to the federal report.
“We must fight all forms of anti-Semitism,” said Beck. He called on the federal government to appoint a commissioner for antisemitism, as well as for civic society to initiate “educational programs against modern forms of antisemitism, conspiracy theories and anti-Zionism.”
Charlotte Knobloch, the head of Munich’s Jewish community, said in a Friday statement: “The Muslim associations have for decades not only done nothing [to combat antisemitism] ,rather they have allowed that anti-Semitic hate-preachers from Muslim countries to bring their anti-Jewish ideology into German mosques and into the heads of young Muslims.”

Far-right driving German anti-Semitism, government says

Right-wing extremists have committed the vast majority of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel offenses in Germany, which have seen a slight rise over the corresponding period last year, according to a government report.

Of the 681 incidents reported from January to August, 92 percent were committed by right-wing extremists, the Ministry of the Interior report said. In 23 cases, political motivations such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were involved.

In that period last year, there were 27 fewer such crimes registered.

The report, which the Interior Ministry provided this week by request to Green Party legislator Volker Beck, also noted a slight increase in violent crimes, to 15 from 14.

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish community of Upper Bavaria and Munich, said the numbers were “oppressive for the Jewish population and shameful for our country.”

Even though they were not much higher than last year’s, the figures “are all the more upsetting if you look at them in the context of the small number of Jews in Germany,” Knobloch said. The country’s Jewish population is about 200,000, or 0.25 percent of the total population in Germany.

The largest segment of the reported crimes involved anti-Semitic incitement and also had a slight increase for the time period, to 434 from 425.

The only category that saw a drop was illegal propaganda, such as repeating Nazi slogans or denying the Holocaust: The number fell to 94 from 106.

Beck said the reported crimes are “only the tip of the iceberg.”

The dark number [of unreported crimes] is — we fear — much higher,” he said in a statement, adding that many victims of such crimes still fear going to the police.

Beck also said the problem came from the entire society “and not just from refugees, immigrants or Muslims.”

Right-wing, populist political parties have tried to put the blame for growing intolerance and other societal ills on those populations, especially in the countdown to national elections later this month.

When Boston was America’s ‘capital’ of anti-Semitism

BOSTON — You won’t find it mentioned along the city’s “Freedom Trail” route, but Boston was once home to a thriving network of Nazi supporters. Not only did the Cradle of Liberty’s anti-Semitic activists receive funds and direction from Berlin, they also helped incite “small pogroms” against Jews well into the war.

During the same years as the Holocaust, “marauding anti-Semitic bands severely restricted the physical movement of many Jews in [Boston and New York], rendering it difficult for them to carry on normal religious, business, or social activities,” wrote Stephen H. Norwood, a history professor at the University of Oklahoma.

In Boston and elsewhere, anti-Jewish incitement was fueled by Father Charles Coughlin, the “founder of hate radio.” Although he was based in Michigan, Coughlin’s largest following was in Boston, where members of his Christian Front heeded the priest’s calls to organize boycotts and mass mailings against Jews.

“When we get through with the Jews in America, they’ll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing,” said Coughlin during a tirade in the Bronx. The hate-monger also published “Social Justice,” a newspaper that reprinted “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in 1938, just as the persecution of German Jews reached a fever pitch.

Coughlin’s largely Irish American adherents earned Boston the moniker, “the poisonous city.” For example, the Christian Front worked with vendors to include anti-Semitic pamphlets with products, and restaurant owners were urged to include text denouncing Jews among specials on the menu. This was not “polite” anti-Semitism behind closed doors, but an ongoing campaign of incitement.

Led by insurance salesman Francis P. Moran, Boston’s chapter of the Christian Front gathered for meetings in Roxbury’s Hibernian Hall. There, Moran once shouted, “Who are the blood suckers plotting to send our boys to die in England?” As if at a Nazi rally in Germany, the crowd roared back, “the Jews!”

During the 1930s in Yaphank, New York, members of the Nazi party march through the Long Island town, where they also organized a pro-Hitler summer camp (public domain)
Not surprisingly, the Front’s rhetoric against Jews spilled onto the streets. In neighborhoods throughout Boston, roving gangs of teens attacked Jews and vandalized their property. According to contemporary accounts, “Irish-Catholic gangs” organized “Jew hunts,” entering Jewish neighborhoods to attack young Jews. Sometimes, up to half a dozen thugs would pile out of a car and pounce on a Jewish student, catching him by surprise.

So pervasive was gang violence against Jews in Dorchester, the magazine Newsweek devoted an article to it in 1943. Similarly, the Atlantic Monthly tried to embarrass Boston’s Catholic leaders for failing to condemn the attacks on Jews, many of which began by the perpetrators asking, “Are you a Jew?”

Boston’s Nazi conspiracy

With its active Christian Front and several pro-Nazi universities, the “poisonous city” of Boston was prime recruitment ground for the Nazis during the 1930s.

Until a few years ago, the extent of ties between Boston anti-Semites and the Nazi government was unclear. It took a Roman Catholic priest based at Boston College — Charles Gallagher of the Jesuit order — to connect the dots between the Front and SS officials.

Historians already knew that Germany’s consul-general in Boston was an SS officer and friend of Heinrich Himmler, architect of the Holocaust. As the Reich’s top diplomat in New England, Herbert Scholz hung a large swastika flag outside his office on Beacon Hill. More significantly, Scholz worked with the Christian Front’s Moran to direct anti-Semitic campaigns, and — through SS contacts — fund the Boston chapter.

The Copley Square Hotel in Boston, where the pro-Nazi Christian Front had its offices until 1940, August 2017 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)
A key link between Scholz and Moran was the transcript of Scholz’s trial at Nuremberg, where the fallen Nazi diplomat spoke about working in Boston with Moran. Additionally, funds from the SS helped Moran obtain offices in the elegant Copley Square Hotel, where the Front posed as a Constitution defense group until 1940.

Also that year, the FBI disbanded New York City’s Christian Front as a terror cell. Alarmed that the Front continued to operate in Boston, British leaders authorized MI6 spies to create a grassroots counter-movement in the heart of New England: the Irish-American Defense Committee. Composed of Catholics opposed to Nazism, the committee’s “shadow war” against the Front helped drive “the Nazis of Copley Square” underground in 1942.

‘Marauding anti-Semitic bands’

Even after Boston police shut down the Christian Front in 1942, violence against Jews intensified during each year of the war. A generation of anti-Jewish incitement had been ingrained in every level of society, from Harvard University’s pro-Nazi president to adolescent boys racking up their count of “Jew hunt” victims.

In October of 1943, one such gang severely beat two Jewish boys, Jacob Hondas and Harvey Blaustein. Upon arriving on the scene, law enforcement arrested the Jewish adolescents and brought them to Station 11, where Boston police officers beat them with rubber hoses. Even after these affronts, a judge ruled against the victims and fined them.

Father Charles Coughlin, known as ‘the founder of hate radio,’ was a leading proponent of American anti-Semitism during the 1930s (public domain)
“These attacks on Jewish children are the complete responsibility of Governor Saltonstall, Mayor Tobin, the church and the clergy — all of whom have for three years buck-passed and ignored the tragedy,” declared Frances Sweeney, publisher of “Boston City Reporter” and a formidable opponent of the Christian Front.

Calling Boston the most anti-Semitic city in the country, Sweeney reminded the public of past persecution endured by fellow Catholics. Known as “a one-woman crusade” against the Front, Sweeney also operated a “rumor clinic” out of the Boston Herald to combat Axis propaganda.

Thanks to Sweeney and other upstanders, anti-Semitism in Boston subsided after the war. The Jewish community started to organize, and a new church leader — Cardinal Richard Cushing — reached out in reconciliation. Although violence against Jews beset some of the same neighborhoods in the decades to come, those tensions were unrelated to the forgotten Nazis of Copley Square.

Does Berlin’s mayor belong on Wiesenthal Center’s top 10 list for anti-Semitism? Local leaders say no.

(JTA) — Berlin’s mayor, many local Jewish leaders agree, could do more to counter the city’s vocal BDS movement.

But does that make him an anti-Semite?

A report that the California-based Simon Wiesenthal Center may include Mayor Michael Müller on its annual list of the world’s 10 worst cases of anti-Semitic activity has perplexed prominent Israel supporters in Germany.

In an interview Monday with The Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, charged that by declining to publicly oppose recent high-profile anti-Israel events in the city, Müller is “mainstreaming the BDS movement that never contributes to the daily life of Palestinians. BDS is widely recognized as anti-Semitic.”

Jewish leaders in Germany note that other cities have done more to block activities by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel. But they say this is no reason to put Müller in the stockades and could be counterproductive.

While it’s “embarrassing for the city of Berlin that the mayor hasn’t yet taken a clear and unequivocal position against BDS,” it is “grotesque to put him in line with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the worst anti-Semites in the world,” Joseph Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement Thursday.

Though a clear stance would be appreciated, Müller “definitely does not belong on this list,” the Jewish Community of Berlin’s commissioner on anti-Semitism, Sigmount Königsberg, said in a statement Thursday. He called BDS “nothing less than the continuation of the anti-Jewish boycotts” of the 1930s in Germany.

Cooper confirmed to JTA that Müller will remain a candidate for the list until he acts to curb BDS activities in the German capital. He accused Müller of supporting the movement through inaction.

BDS “needs legitimate players to gain legitimacy,”  said Cooper.

“We didn’t consult with the Jewish leaders in Berlin, and they are welcome to say and do whatever they think or feel is appropriate,” Cooper added. Müller, as mayor of a world-class city, is “impacting an ongoing global project that aims to demonize and get rid of the Jewish state.”

Initially reluctant to comment, Müller now has called the charges “absurd” and suggested a fuller response would come.

The insinuation of anti-Semitism impacts the entire Berlin government, Müller told the Berliner Zeitung on Wednesday.

“Especially in a city like Berlin, we are aware of the special responsibility” of Germans given their history, he said.

Others have defended Müller, including Bundestag member Volker Beck, former head of the body’s German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group; Elio Adler, founder of a nonpartisan Jewish political initiative in Berlin; and Sergey Lagodinsky, a member of the Berlin Jewish community assembly of representatives.

“Including the mayor in the list for no obvious reason discredits all the critical work we do to keep the issue alive. This is irresponsible,” Lagodinsky told JTA. “One can and must criticize Müller’s too mild course in dealing with conservative or political Islam, but to attribute to him anti-Semitic motives in doing so is wrong and unfair.

Lagodinsky added that any judgment of Müller should come from Berlin and not from Los Angeles.

“Adding him weakens the relevance of this list,” he said.

It also risks devaluing the term anti-Semitism, said the heads of a prominent German organization fighting anti-Semitism among Muslim youth. In a statement Wednesday, Reinhold Robbe and Dervis Hizarci of the Berlin-based Kreuzberg Initiative Against Anti-Semitism urged Cooper to drop the “far-fetched” idea “immediately and unequivocally.”

They noted that Müller had made clearly pro-Israel statements as the state leader of the Social Democratic Party, and that state culture senator and fellow party member Klaus Lederer had called the BDS movement “disgusting.”

In addition, throughout his political career and especially as mayor, Müller “has repeatedly proved his friendship and his deep connection with the Jewish community and with Israel,” Robbe and Hizarci said. “So it’s not at all understandable to have this accusation hanging over him.”

The BDS movement in Berlin recently called for a boycott of an international pop festival in the city when it emerged that the Israeli Embassy had contributed about $600 to cover the costs for some performers. Several bands from Arab countries dropped out of the event.

In June, after BDS activists disrupted an event with a member of the Israeli parliament and an Israeli survivor of the Holocaust at Berlin’s Humboldt University, the chair of Israel’s Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, blasted the mayor for giving anti-Israel activists “the freedom of the city.”

The Tagesspiegel reported that the Wiesenthal Center wants Müller to bar the annual anti-Israel, pro-Iran Al-Quds demonstration, which takes place in early August.

Local authorities allow political demonstrations while setting boundaries as to what can be said or displayed by participants — boundaries that are not always easily enforced.

In response to a Jerusalem Post article from June, the Israeli Embassy clarified that it was critical of anti-Zionist events in Berlin and “not [of] the mayor or the Berlin Senate.”

Cooper agreed that there are enough anti-Semites in the United States alone to “fill half of this year’s top 10” and “there is not exactly going to be a shortage.” But a world-class city has to set an example, he added.

“In other cities there has been leadership to fight” BDS, Cooper told JTA. “The mayor should know better and do something about it. It’s not too late. Is he going to facilitate the BDSers or derail them?”

The center’s annual list is neither scientific nor definitive, and tends to read as an annual survey of trends in anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activity. Still, observers take notice.

In 2013, the Simon Wiesenthal Center came under criticism for including remarks by German journalist Jakob Augstein on its annual list. The then-head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, agreed that Augstein wrote “horrible, hideous” articles on Israel, but said his inclusion trivialized all the others on the list.

European Jewish group pans Poland’s ‘lack of concern’ over anti-Semitism

In an unusually harsh condemnation, the European Jewish Congress said the Polish government has a “staggering lack of concern” about anti-Semitism and a “transparent divide-and-rule tactic” vis-a-vis Jews.

The statement Thursday follows an open feud between leaders of Polish Jewry on whether Poland has seen an increase in anti-Semitic incidents or sentiment since the rise to power of the nationalist Law and Justice Party in 2015.

The EJC statement offers support for the organization’s Poland affiliates, the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland and the Jewish Community of Warsaw, in their fight with other Jewish organizations in Poland.

The fight erupted earlier this month when leaders of the affiliated groups blamed the government for allowing if not encouraging an alleged increase in anti-Semitism. Other Jewish leaders disputed this claim, saying it constitutes a partisan tactic against the ruling party by the EJC affiliates.

“The EJC notes the staggering lack of concern from the government of Poland to the growth and normalization of anti-Semitic and xenophobic rhetoric in the country in recent times,” the statement read. “The transparent divide-and-rule tactic of senior leaders of the Law and Justice Party in seeking to choose its selected Jewish interlocutors over the heads of official and representative community organizations in Poland leaves us staggered and reminds us of much darker times in Europe when governments chose their Jews.”

The statement referenced the hosting for a meeting earlier this month by a founder of Law and Justice, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, of two Chabad rabbis and Artur Hofman, president of the TSKZ cultural group, which is Poland’s largest Jewish organization in terms of membership and has offices in 15 cities. An activist for Holocaust commemoration in Poland also attended the meeting.

The meeting, which participants described as friendly and earnest, followed the publication of a critical letter that two leaders of the EJC-affiliated groups sent last month to Kaczynski. The authors asserted that an increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric has occurred and pleaded with the government to intervene to curb it. The leader of the Jewish Community of Warsaw, Anna Chipczynska, told JTA that Polish Jews have reached a “low point” in their feeling of safety under Law and Justice.

But these claims were part of a “political war” by some leaders of Polish Jewry on Law and Justice, according to Hofman, who was present during the meeting with Kaczynski. Hofman, who was elected to his position by a majority of the members of his group, said the EJC affiliates were exaggerating in their claims about anti-Semitism a problem that did not really exist.

On August 21, Sergiusz Kowalski, who had alerted the government about anti-Semitism as the president of the Polish branch of the B’nai B’rith Jewish group, said the men who met with Kaczynski were “court Jews.”