Top Ten Anti-Semites Controversy: Wiesenthal Center Refuses Debate with Accused Author

By Clemens Höges

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has triggered a major debate by listing a prominent German publisher and SPIEGEL ONLINE columnist among the world's top 10 anti-Semites. The evidence is debatable, but now the center refuses to speak to the publisher unless he apologizes first.

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It seemed like a completely unexpected stab in the back -- a startling assault from someone who is generally considered to be harmless.

On December 27, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center published its current "Top 10" list (PDF) of the world's worst anti-Semites, a list the center has published near the end of each year since 2010. The Jewish organization has a good reputation, certainly due in part to the fact that it was named after the legendary Nazi hunter when it was founded in 1977.

The usual suspects can be found in the top spots of the 2012 list of "anti-Semitic/anti-Israel slurs": Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is in first place, followed by the Iranian regime, which aims to destroy the state of Israel. Not the kind of list one wants to be a part of.

But prominent German journalist Jakob Augstein, publisher of the weekly newspaper Der Freitag and author of a regular column on SPIEGEL ONLINE (which is occasionally translated into English for publication), appears in 9th place on the list.

It's a scandal. SPIEGEL immediately sought to find out what had happened and why Augstein had appeared on the list -- but failed. It is a failure that speaks volumes about the methods and position of the Wiesenthal Center. At issue are absurd demands and emails that seem to stem from a different world.

After the list was published, a passionate debate erupted in German newspapers over what constitutes justifiable criticism of Israeli policies and what exactly defines anti-Semitism. Most journalists felt that the accusation against Augstein was absurd, with the exception of Henryk Broder, a former SPIEGEL writer and well-known polemicist. Broder, in an effort to illustrate Augstein's lack of self reflection, even went so far as to liken him to a pedophile who views himself as a friend of children.

Salomon Korn, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, seemed to put an end to the debate when he said that he had never had the impression that Augstein's writings were anti-Semitic, and suggested that the Americans hadn't done their homework. Korn said on the radio station Deutschlandradio Kultur, that the Americans were "pretty far removed, in a manner of speaking, from German reality."

No Evidence

It's a tricky issue for SPIEGEL. Augstein isn't a member of the editorial staff, nor does he have any influence over the content of the magazine. Augstein doesn't even write for the magazine per se, since SPIEGEL ONLINE, its Web-based sister publication, has its own editorial staff.

Nevertheless, he is the adopted son of SPIEGEL founder Rudolf Augstein. As heirs, he and his siblings own 24 percent of the SPIEGEL publishing house. We didn't want to attack him, because we believe that the accusation against him is wrong. But we could hardly defend him, because every reader would expect us to defend him. Doing so would devalue every sentence.

But there was a possible solution: We believed that readers could form their own opinions about the accusations if we presented both positions. So we tried to organize a debate between Augstein and the person at the Wiesenthal Center in charge of the list so as to allow the opponents to argue their sides in detail. We contacted Augstein by telephone, and he agreed.

But who are the people in Los Angeles? Rabbi Abraham Cooper, born in 1950 and one of the founders of the center, is responsible for the list. We called him in Los Angeles, which is nine hours behind Central European Time, late at night on Jan. 2. We asked him if he would tell Augstein directly what his accusations were and engage in a debate with him, which would then be published in SPIEGEL. Rabbi Cooper asked for 24 hours to consider the proposal.

The proof of Augstein's anti-Semitism the center used when compiling the list is weak; one would have to have malicious intent or be looking for a fight to see an anti-Semite behind the quotes used. The center cited five lines from two columns Augstein wrote for SPIEGEL ONLINE in which he criticized Israeli policy and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In one case, Augstein quoted German author Günter Grass, who had said that Israel, a nuclear power, posed a threat to an already fragile world peace. In another column, Augstein likened the Gaza Strip to a camp in which Israel was incubating its own enemies. A number of journalists, including some in Israel, have published similar remarks.

Quotes by Broder are the worst of the supposed evidence cited by the Wiesenthal Center. Broder refers to Augstein as a "pure anti-Semite" and a "little Streicher," a reference to Hitler propagandist Julius Streicher. Broder was out to provoke -- but he offered no evidence to support his arguments.

Absurd Conditions

It took Cooper less than 24 hours to respond by email. He wrote that he appreciated the "kind offer" and that he was willing to participate, but only under certain conditions. "If you wish to interview me together with him," Cooper wrote, "Mr. Augstein must publicly apologize in advance for the statements that earned him his designation on the Wiesenthal Center's Top Ten anti-Semitism List." Otherwise, he added, he would refuse to "sit in the same room with him."

Such a request is nothing less than a snub, yet Augstein reacted matter-of-factly when told about Cooper's response. Of course he wouldn't apologize for criticizing Israel, he said, noting that he is, after all, a journalist.

Since Cooper apparently finds Augstein's physical presence intolerable, we thought the debate could also be held via Skype. The two men could sit in two different rooms, as Cooper wanted, and conducting the debate online wouldn't diminish its quality.

Augstein doesn't really like Skype conversations owing to the sometimes poor technical quality, but there was no getting around it. The editorial office sent Cooper the proposal, along with a plan covering its technical aspects.

In his email response to the proposal, Cooper was even more adamantly opposed to the idea: "I will not participate in any face-to-face, simultaneous 'discussion' live, in the same room or digitally with Mr. Augstein unless he has apologized," Cooper wrote (italics in original). Instead, he added, he would prefer to have a page for himself in SPIEGEL, apparently so that he could tell its readers about his accusations without having to entertain any opposing arguments.

SPIEGEL editors sent him another message on Friday afternoon asking whether he would be willing to participate in an ordinary interview, without Augstein sitting in the next room. He would, in principle, Cooper later replied. But by then it was too late, because the magazine was approaching its copy deadline. Besides, Cooper reiterated, he would prefer to have his own page in SPIEGEL.

He also pointed out that he would be in Germany during the last week of January, and that he might be willing to talk then. We shall see.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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1. Not every critic is an anti-Semitic
Inglenda2 01/07/2013
For those who have been watching the activities of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, during the last few years, the published list of its current "Top 10" anti-Semites, should be of no surprise. Every commentator of Jewish misconduct must expect to face the smear of being called anti-Semitic. This has nothing whatsoever to do with his personal opinion towards a certain race or religion, or to whether the comments made are correct or incorrect, but is purely to place such persons in a position from which just criticism is highly difficult to formulate. In other words, to keep him quiet! How the Jewish organisation came to a good reputation, merely due to the fact that it was named after a so-called Nazi hunter, is also rather incredible. Is the kidnapping and deportation of enemies (however horrible their actions might have been), now looked upon as being politically correct? Was not the 2nd world War partially fought in order to stop racial hatred? It would seem that some of the children of the former victims have in many ways become the offenders of the present. Here again however, we should be most careful not to criticise a person, or organisation for who they are, but if it is wrong, for what they do. So judged, the number of true anti-Semitics and anti-Israelis in the world, would also be found to be much smaller than generally considered. In a free democracy, (for many still a dream), fair criticism should not only be allowed, but considered a duty.
2. MY absolutely fair position
mm2young 01/07/2013
I don't know Mr. Cooper, who apparently lives on the West Coast of the USA; I live on the East Coast. Never met the man. I can say the same about the German journalist who was ranked 9th among the 10 most antisemitic people in the world. I don't know what Mr. Cooper wrote, nor his #9 target. I don't know who is right and who is wrong. But past experience leads me to consider that some Zionist Jews regard any criticism of Israel as being anti-semitic. According to the story, #9 criticized Israel. Therefore, must be an anti-semite. If it turns out that #9 is really an anti-semite who criticized Israel, should there be a way to divide this person into two parts: one anti-Israel and anti-semite? Doesn't take a Solomon to figure that out. However, what about Mr. Cooper. Clearly he is pro-semitic. He may even be a Jew. Shall we divide him into two characters? One portion semite, second portion pro-Israeli. Again, Solomon's example comes in handy. Now, here comes me. I am critical of today's Israel and, even more so of the Israeli prime minister, who intends to build a fence illuminating the Isaraeli-Syrian border. There is already a fence between the West Bank of Palestine and Israel. Also, a fence along the border of Israel and Egypt. What next? A fence along the low tide mark on the beach and the Mediterranean Sea? In my opinion, Mr. Cooper has made an ass of himself by demanding an apology from #9 before he might argue with the alleged anti-semite. Does that make me an anti-semite? An anti-Israel person? Maybe, both? Dare I revel my identity? I am a Jew. I am a critic of this generation of Israelis, who are being led (willingly, it seems) into building their own ghetto from the inside out -- fences all around! Is it to keep the world out, or the Israelis in? I'm also an American, ex-soldier and -- don't stop reading here -- the son of a Jew who fought in World War One. In the German cavalry. He had the wound to show for it. And he despised the Nazis of World War Two as I also do. Germans worry me. But Mr. Cooper worries me more.
3. Another attempt to whitewash Israel. Nothing to do with antisemitism.
poliman 01/08/2013
Germans may be foreign to these types of accusations since it is seldom that Israel is criticized there. Here in the US, we have to deal with these types of silencer accusations in academic, media and political environments all the time. Academic freedom is non existent here if you practice it to critics Israel, a foreign country. We have more freedom to criticize our country than Israel. Folks here are virtually afraid of criticizing Israel in fear of being called antisemitic. A lot of pro-Israeli groups are using antisemitism accusations boldly for political gain. It is sad that true antisemitism which caused the deaths millions has nothing to do with criticism of state of Israel. This is simply crying wolf when there is no wolf. Disgrace to the souls of true victims of antisemitism. Israel is wrong and cornered. It is doing its best to use its external organs for its own interest to silence the critics of israel. I suggest that no one, including this author backs down from saying and writing the truth. Criticism of Israel has nothing to do with antisemitism. We know that. Rhetoric must stop.
4.
chuchu3151 01/08/2013
Why is this so very important to you? The best answer is.. NO ANSWER. Let Wiesenthal stew in his own illusion,why bother to engage a person that is obviously a narcissist? I think there are more important things we want to know about than Wiesenthal's opinions!
5. Perverse minds.
mrsoran 01/12/2013
The Simon Wiesenthal foundation and its present leaders deserve - not only because of this story - to be ranked TOP 1 among thuggish Jewish-Zionist organizations in the world. Jakob Augstein would be on a scale using Third Reich knowledge a Jewish victim in a concentration camp and the leaders of the Wiesenhal Foundation the SS criminals. And Broder isn't just strident, he is the re-incarnation of Nazi propagandist thinking and methods in a German Jewish Sturmabteilung. And I'll repeat here: Israel under its present government gang is a very serious threat for the world piece, the largest since decades.
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