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What Jakob Augstein Actually Said about Israel

The U.S.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center just named left-wing German journalist Jakob Augstein one of the 10 worst anti-Semites of 2012, which is raising eyebrows (g) in Germany. This puts him in the company of European neo-Nazi parties who explicitly advocate forced resettlement/annihilation, fanatical Muslims calling for Allah to destroy the Jews, and Louis Farrakhan. I decided to go read the report (pdf) and see which statements they cited as proof. Here they are:

“With backing from the US, where the president must secure the support of Jewish lobby groups, and in Germany, where coping with history, in the meantime, has a military component, the Netanyahu government keeps the world on a leash with an ever-swelling war chant.”

“Israel’s nuclear power is a danger to the already fragile peace of the world. This statement has triggered an outcry. Because it’s true. And because it was made by a German, Guenter Grass, author and Nobel Prize winner. That is the key point. One must, therefore, thank him for taking it upon himself to speak for us all.”

“Israel is threatened by Islamic fundalmentalists in its neighborhood. But the Jews also have their fundamentalists, the ultra-orthodox Hareidim. They are not a small splinter group. They make up 10% of the Israeli population. They are cut from the same cloth as their Islamic fundamentalist opponents. They follow the law of revenge.”

“The fire burns in Libya, Sudan, Yemen, in countries which are among the poorest on earth. But those who set the fires live elsewhere. Furious young people burn the American, and recently, the German flag. They, too, are victims, just like the dead at Benghazi and Sanaa. Whom does this all this violence benefit? Always the insane and unscrupulous. And this time it’s the U.S. Republicans and Israeli government.”

“Gaza is a place out of the end of times….1.7 million people live there on 360 sq. kilometers. Israel incubates its own opponents there.”

To quote Joschka Fischer, I'm not convinced. First of all, you'll notice that Augstein never refers to 'the Jews', like most of the others on the list, many of whom are despicable and/or nuts. He refers to Israel or the current Israeli government or the 'Netanyahu government'. Further, his statements are based on fact (Haredi Jews are in fact about 11% of the Israeli population, and growing fast), or are legitimate, if provocative, statements of opinion. To take one example, the assessment that Israel's possession of around 200 nuclear missiles is 'a' (not the only, but a) danger to peace:

  1. Israel has created a nuclear program and has 200 launch-ready missiles (some of them carried on German submarines provided free to Israel).
  2. This has, unsurprisingly, has helped motivate other states in the region to pursue their own nuclear programs.
  3. The Israel has bombed these states (Iraq and Syria) and is now threatening to go to war with Iran to prevent it acquiring nuclear weapons, and has attempted to convince its ally, a world superpower, to join it.

You may disagree with this reasoning, but it's not irrational or stereotype-driven. Bombing other countries, whether justified or not, is a threat to peace. As for the notion that merely identifying the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. is somehow anti-Semitic, that dog hasn't hunted since at least 2006. One of Washington's most powerful lobbying groups, AIPAC, calls itself 'America's Pro-Israel Lobby', and all American Presidential candidates must make a pilgrimage to its annual meeting to declare their undying fealty to both it and Israel. Really, there is no other word for it. If you doubt me, read Obama's 2012 AIPAC speech here. I won't even mention Romney's speech, which is a self-parody of subservient pandering.

On a related note, why is it anti-Semitic to simply point out that 1.7 million people do, in fact live in Gaza? As for the notion that conditions there are creating future opponents, this is so obvious it hardly bears mentioning. I presume we're supposed to be outraged by the journalistic hyperbole 'end times'. Yawn. This is ar for the course in German advocacy journalism, and you'll find similar colorful exaggerations in article on tax reform.

Of course, the standard response is that Augstein is selectively criticizing Israel, without paying similar attention to the misdeeds of its enemies. This dog doesn't hunt either. Any polemic that's worth reading is going to be 'one-sided'. Further, none of the English-speaking readers of this report will have any idea whether it's actually true that Augstein only criticizes Israel, since they have no access to the other 99.999% of what Augstein has said on the Mid-East. Overall, Augstein's argument is that the extremists on both sides of the conflict, who are unfortunately in power at this point, have no interest in peace, and feed off each other.

The report cites Henryk Broder as proof of Augstein's anti-Semitism:

Respected Die Welt columnist Henryk M. Broder, who has testified as an expert in the Bundestag about German anti-Semitism, labeled Augstein a “little Streicher” adding: “Jakob Augstein is not a salon anti-Semite, he’s a pure anti-Semite…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.”

Now that's what I call reasoned debate! I imagine Augstein will sue Broder for this comment under German law, and he'd have a pretty good case. What we have here is an unfortunate incident of cross-cultural blind spots. Broder is not to be taken seriously, he's a crank who reflexively smears mainstream German politicians as anti-Semites when he disagrees with them on Mideast policy. In 2011, for example, he declared that the leader of the Green party, a woman named Claudia Roth, would have been happy to visit the concentration camp Theresienstadt and compliment its commandant. He was sued (eventually unsuccessfully) for libel when he criticized Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, a German Jewish activist who criticizes Israeli policy, in the following terms (clumsy translation courtesy of Wikipedia): "Any carnival drunkard with two promille of booze in his blood is able even to recognize on women's carnival that Hecht Galinsky is just a hysterical, selfsupporting housewife with nothing more in mind than to promote herself. Her specialty is intellectually vapid anti-Semitic anti-Zionist phrases -- such as are currently in fashion."

Nuff said.