SPIEGEL Debate: What Is Anti-Semitism? – part 1

Published on Spiegel Online International, with Jakob Augstein and Dieter Graumann, Jan. 16, 2013.

Just how strongly are Germans allowed to criticize Israel? Accusations of anti-Semitism against SPIEGEL columnist Jakob Augstein have brought the question to the fore. He debates the issue with Dieter Graumann, the leader of Germany’s Jewish community.  

Since the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center placed German journalist Jakob Augstein, 45, on its list of the world’s top 10 anti-Semites, Germany has been embroiled in controversy over his columns for SPIEGEL ONLINE. Augstein, publisher of the Berlin-based weekly magazine Der Freitag and a prominent shareholder of the SPIEGEL publishing house, has attacked Israeli policies on a number of occasions. Dieter Graumann, 62, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, voices criticism of Augstein’s articles and engages in a debate with him on the sensitive issue.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Augstein, are you an anti-Semite?

  • Augstein: No.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Graumann, do you think Jakob Augstein is an anti-Semite?

  • Graumann: No. To make it clear right from the start, he doesn’t belong on the list of top 10 anti-Semites that was recently compiled by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. But I find his column entries despicable and repugnant. He is recklessly fueling anti-Jewish sentiment.
  • Augstein: That is a serious allegation. What makes you say that?

SPIEGEL: Is there a litmus test for anti-Semitism? Henryk Broder, a former SPIEGEL journalist who is now a regular columnist for the conservative daily Die Welt, summed it up as follows: From now on, I determine what constitutes an anti-Semite. Broder, whose expertise played a role in the Wiesenthal Center’s rating …

  • Graumann: … is a gifted polemicist. He has also sharply criticized me on occasion. I survived — and I still think highly of him.
  • Augstein: I can’t take this quite so lightly. Broder wrote that I could have made my career with the Gestapo and been of service on the ramp (a reference to loading Jews onto rail cars headed for concentration camps). Is that what you mean when you say that he is a gifted polemicist?

SPIEGEL: Let’s get back to the definition of anti-Semitism.

  • Graumann: Anyone who senses a pervasive, worldwide Jewish conspiracy or who holds “the Jews” responsible for all bad things that transpire among nations. Anyone who denies Israel’s right to exist, demonizes it or is prepared to accept its annihilation. Anyone who makes plump comparisons with Nazis to condemn Israeli policies.
  • Augstein: I agree with that definition. Indeed, you have also defined who is not an anti-Semite, namely anyone who views Israel like any other state and criticizes it when its government violates international law. In other words, anyone who does not apply a double standard to Israel. And I would say that this definition applies to me … //

… SPIEGEL: It sounds as if you perhaps don’t like the ranking of the Wiesenthal Center, but you generally agree with their assessment of Augstein. Does he belong on the list after all, but only perhaps behind the American Jew hater Louis Farrakhan, in 11th or perhaps 40th place?

  • Graumann: Oh, let’s just drop the whole ranking analogy! There is a world of difference between the people on this list, between a Holocaust denier like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for instance, or Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and Augstein. It’s also not a matter of whether people in Germany are allowed to criticize Israeli policies. Of course they can do that — and it constantly occurs in the press. As far as I’m concerned, it can even be harsh criticism. But the question is: When does this criticism become obsessive and hostile, when does it deviate from objective arguments, and when does it become irresponsible? And this is where Mr. Augstein continuously goes beyond the limits.
  • Augstein: I find what you are saying to be presumptuous and I don’t exactly know what you mean by obsessive.
  • Graumann: In your foreign policy column entries, you focus exclusively on Israel, and on the faults that you believe you have discovered there. Where have you even once attacked the Syrian regime, which has slaughtered 60,000 people — and where have you written about the Iranian regime’s brutalities against its own people? Your focus on Israel creates a moral asymmetry.
  • Augstein: Really? If I don’t write about something, it certainly does not conversely imply that the situation is any less grave elsewhere. And with regard to my alleged focus on the issue of Israel, I have written slightly over 100 column entries for SPIEGEL ONLINE, and of these articles, only five deal with Israel and one with anti-Semitism. If I were obsessed with Israel, that track record would look different. I follow the political agenda with my articles, I certainly don’t set it. I react to developments, to news — such as when the story broke that Germany was delivering submarines to Israel, or that Israel and Iran seemed on the verge of war. The allegation that I focus less on the problems of Tibet or South Sudan seems far-fetched to me. Israel is a key country, located in a key region and a point of friction for the world’s religions.
  • Graumann: And this means that it has to be treated by you in a particularly one-sided and hostile manner? You write here with the sensitivity of a bulldozer.

(full interview text).


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