The war of words between the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and publisher Jakob Augstein, who also writes a column for SPIEGEL ONLINE, reached a new level Thursday, when Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Center called Augstein an anti-Semite during a visit to Berlin.
The Jewish human rights organization, named after Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, had included comments made by Augstein in its list of the top 10 anti-Semitic and anti-Israel slurs of 2012.
"Based on his behavior and his words since the release of the list, we can say, yes, we are dealing with an anti-Semite," Cooper, the associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said in Berlin. Cooper said that the list was focused on anti-Semitic slurs, not necessarily on the individual.
Cooper said Augstein has had the opportunity to reflect on his statements and to apologize to his German readers and to the Jewish people, which he has not done.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has published the list since 2010. Statements made by Augstein, including some made in his columns for SPIEGEL ONLINE, ranked in 9th place on the 2012 list, ahead of utterances made by Louis Farrakhan, leader of the US group, the Nation of Islam and behind the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and several right-wing extremist parties in Europe.
Augstein Rejects Accusations
Augstein has rejected the accusations. The Central Council of Jews in Germany criticized the statements made by Augstein, but the council's president Dieter Graumann has said that Augstein does not belong on the list.
Cooper came to Berlin to take part in a press conference at the invitation of the "Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin" (MFFB). He recently rejected an invitation by SPIEGEL to meet Augstein for a debate, or to discuss the issue with him via video feed. He thanked SPIEGEL for the offer Thursday, but stressed that he would only participate in such a discussion after Augstein apologized, which has not happened.
After Cooper declined to debate the issue with Augstein, SPIEGEL invited Graumann to take part in a discussion with the publisher and columnist, which was recently published. Cooper called that exchange "incredibly revealing."
In his discussion with Graumann, Augstein justified his critique of Israel by saying: "There is a conflict of roles here. As a German, I would like to take a cautious approach with Israel. As a journalist, however, I want to be candid. How do I resolve this? It's a double-bind situation. Should I add a safeguard clause to every criticism of Israel stating that I have nothing against Jews? That's neurotic journalism. Should we ignore that Israel's government violates the law and that there are also alternatives?"
At the MFFB event in Berlin, German author and political scientist Matthias Küntzel also criticized Augstein's statements. He said that after the "shocking" debate with Graumann, Augstein belonged on the list. With his reference to neurotic journalism, he pretends as if he "freed German journalism from the past."
Küntzel criticized the role of many journalists in the surrounding public debate. Before the debate with Graumann there was a "major alarm," and now there is "utter silence." He quoted commentary from several German media outlets, which he said defended Augstein against the Wiesenthal Center's allegations.
Anti-Semitism is not just a problem for Jews but involves everyone, he said. "Just like it was normal earlier to be against Jews across the board, today it is normal to be completely against Israel," he said. He called for a real discussion over journalism and anti-Semitism to begin.
In recent weeks, Rabbi Cooper has repeatedly raised his criticism of Augstein in the media. In Berlin, he again criticized a column written by Augstein for SPIEGEL ONLINE on the issue of ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews.
Cooper accused Augstein of comparing them to Islamic fundamentalists. He said at Thursday's forum he wants to know from Augstein how many suicide attacks have been carried out by Haredi Jews within and outside of Israel. Because of their appearance, he said Haredi Jews were some of the first victims of the Nazi regime. Recently, he said, they have been killed in France and attacked on the streets of Berlin.
Augstein had written: "Israel is threatened by Islamic fundamentalists in its neighborhood. But the Jews have their own fundamentalists. They are just called by different names: ultra-orthodox or Haredi. They are not a small, negligible splinter group. They account for 10 percent of the seven million Israelis."
Cooper said that if Augstein wanted to visit Israel, he would be happy to introduce him to some orthodox Jews.
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