There is a kind of obsessive national pastime among certain mainstream and left-of-center German dailies that involves, wittingly or unwittingly, anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments. The charged debates within American Jewry, ranging from the role of American Jewish organizations to the controversy surrounding intellectual provocateurs like Tony Judt, serve to provide new fodder to those looking to exploit the anti-Israel card in central Europe.
“Right-wing anti-Semitism is inhibited and left-wing anti-Semitism is shameless…. Today’s anti-Semitism is anti-Zionism,” notes Spiegel-online journalist Henryk M. Broder. The major media, including Jewish publications, tend to focus on neo-Nazi hatred of German Jews, people of color and foreigners while frequently overlooking or ignoring the hotbed of anti-American and anti-Jewish activity found on Germany’s political Left.
A recent article titled “Controversy about Israel: Jews vs. Jews” in Die Tageszeitung (Die Taz), a liberal-progressive daily with a large Green party readership in Germany, provides a classic example of a journalist who understands himself to be politically progressive but whose thought processes are comparable to the anti-Jewish extremism he would normally associate with German far rightists.
Wrote Die Taz journalist Daniel Bax: “On the one side stand Jewish intellectuals who are well known for their criticism of Israel. On the other side stand the pro-Israeli Pressure Groups….”
Bax asserts that “the only possibility” for critics of Israel it “is to face the claim of exclusive representation of organized professional Jewry (berufsjudentum) and its media standard bearers. Because organized professional Jewry has become obsessed with neoconservative alliances.”
Thus a lively political debate among American Jews becomes a cause celebre for Bax, who reflexively pits “the most important Jewish lobby” (Bad Jews) against Tony Judt (Good Jews).
Bax’s repetition of catchwords and simplistic slogans in his short article (fewer than 400 words) helps socialize Germans to absorb stereotypes of American Jews and Jewish advocacy organizations. This type of language helps explain why 77% of Germans, according to a new BBC study, have a pejorative view of Israel – the highest figure in Europe. Many Germans reflexively equate American Jews with Israelis.
Letters to the editor of Die Taz taking issue with Bax’s article were reportedly tossed in the office wastebasket.
Belinda Cooper, of the World Policy Institute in New York, complained about the gross oversimplification of the diverse and complex American Jewish community and the misrepresentation of the Tony Judt controversy.
Sophie Krempl, a non-German Jewish journalist, protested that Bax “applies a language that seems to serve a questionable reservoir of the LTI.” (The LTI refers to the “language of the Third Reich.”)
There are slivers of dissent within Die Taz, which happens to be Germany’s seventh largest daily, with an estimated readership of 200,000. One of the paper’s writers speculated that critical letters to the editor were not published because the person who oversees that department is pro-Palestinian. Another Taz journalist decried Bax’s “anti-Semitism, which presents itself as enlightened criticism.”
Both journalists wish to remain unnamed, perhaps because they are minority voices adrift in a sea of anti-Israel prejudice.
Bax sent me an e-mail justifying, in clumsy and callous terms, his commentary. He wrote, “Jewish organizations like the AJC and the Anti-Defamation League in the USA or the Central Council of Jews in Germany drive, however, an explicit ‘we-support-Israel-at-all-costs’ course. I thought ‘organized professional Jewry’ would be an appropriate ironic designation. Oh well.”
Less sophisticated examples of the growing hostility in German left-wing media against American Jews can be found in the leftist daily Junge Welt. Rainer Rupp wrote, in his coverage of the recent AIPAC conference in Washington, that “pro-Zionist Democratic congressional representatives have already turned against the Pelosi supporters for [their opposition to] a war against Iran, especially the influential electoral strategist of the Democrats Rahm Emanuel … active member of the Jewish Orthodox Anshe Shalom congregation.”
Rupp, echoing Bax’s equation of American Jewry with neocons, asserted that “the foreign policy goals of Emanuel… are no different from the neoconservative war mongers in the Bush administration.”
A Mel Gibson-type view of American Jews resonates in Germany. Journalistic fairness would dictate the promulgation of such information as the fact that 87 percent of American Jews voted for the Democrats in the 2006 Congressional elections or that a majority of American Jews opposed the war in Iraq, but that would mean debunking the myths spread by sloppy advocacy journalism.