A regional court’s affirmation this month of a decision asserting that the arson at a synagogue in the city of Wuppertal in July 2014 was not motivated by antisemitism but was merely a plea by three Palestinians to criticize Israel catapulted the deficiencies of Germany’s judicial system into the spotlight.
While some mainstream political parties, such as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, have classified the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement as antisemitic, and German banks have pulled the plug on BDS accounts, judges in the Federal Republic have moved in a radically different direction.
A series of recent court cases has raised the profoundly disturbing impression that German justice is stacked in favor of alleged antisemites. Commenting on the Wuppertal case, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday: “One of the facades of antisemitism is being anti-Israel. We recommend not to fall into this trap. Any attempt to link a sovereign state that wants to defend itself with religion is a double-edged sword that can become quickly dangerous as well for other groups of society.”
The Wuppertal lower court decision defended the reasoning of the three men – Muhammad E., 31, Ismail A., 26, and Muhammad A., 20 – who, according to the judiciary’s opinion, sought, via torching a synagogue, “to clearly draw attention to the blazing conflict between Israel and Palestinians” during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Volker Beck, a Green Party deputy, told the Post that “to connect the arson at a synagogue with criticism of the State of Israel is a classic case of antisemitic anti-Zionism.” Beck said it is pressing that the judicial system cultivate a “sensitivity to antisemitism,” to prevent a recurrence of the decision.
Social media was abuzz with criticism of the ruling. Col. Richard Kemp, a former British Army commander in Afghanistan, issued a scathing criticism of the Wuppertal decision on Twitter: “As in 1938 they blamed the Jews for attacks against the Jews. The likes of Dr. Roland Freisler would approve,” he said, referencing the top Nazi lawyer and judge during Hitler’s reign.
The view that a large number of German judges are an out-of-touch clique that has failed to embrace a modernized definition of antisemitism has gained traction. Jutta Ditfurth, a German sociologist and a politician for an ecological party, told the Post there is “a lack of knowledge about antisemitism in educated circles.”
Ditfurth, who spearheaded a fight to stop BDS within radical left-wing groups, criticized Jürgen Elsässer, a pro- Iran regime and right-wing extremist journalist, as a “glowing antisemite.” In response, Elsässer filed a defamation suit against Ditfurth in Munich.
Elsässer allegedly traffics in antisemitic conspiracy theories and offered Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier and genocidal antisemite, a “congratulatory” wish on his reelection in 2009. In the same year, Elsässer expressed support for the annual Al-Quds Day rally in Germany, which calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and is filled with Hezbollah activists, supporters of Iran’s mullah regime and neo-Nazis.
Ditfurth, who is an expert on the convergence of radical right-wing, leftist and Islamic antisemitism, appealed the Munich court’s ruling in favor of Elsässer’s claim of defamation to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The Munich regional judge, Petra Grönke-Müller, who stymied Ditfurth’s free speech rights and refused to recognize new forms of Jew-hatred, issued a second scandalous decision in November 2016.
Charlotte Knobloch, the chairwoman of Munich’s Jewish community, said an obscure anti-Zionist blogger is “notorious” for his antisemitic statements. For example, the anti-Israel blogger had used Nazi terminology to call an official in Israel’s Foreign Ministry a Blockwart. A Blockwart was a low-level Nazi functionary who served as a contact for Germans who wished to denounce Jews and political dissenters.
After information about the blogger’s antisemitism and his connections to the EU- and US-designated terrorist entity Hamas were presented to the Commerzbank, the financial giant closed the account for the blogger’s anti-Zionist website in June 2016. Commerzbank had also pulled the plug on the Islamic-animated antisemitic website Al-Quds Day in Germany in September 2015.
In response to Knobloch’s allegation, the anti-Zionist filed a defamation lawsuit.
Judge Grönke-Müller ruled in his favor. (Knobloch appealed the Munich court ruling.) One German judge cut against the grain of the mainstream anti-Israel bias of the courts in 2015. Taylan Can, a German Turk, yelled “Death and hate to Zionists” at an anti-Israel rally in Essen.
“‘Zionist’ in the language of antisemites is a code for ‘Jew,’” Judge Gauri Sastry said in a groundbreaking legal decision ignored by judges in Munich and Wuppertal.
Can argued that he, without doubt, hates Zionists and wishes their death, but that is only a punishment of God.
The court said Can violated anti-hate crime laws in Germany, fined him €200 and sentenced him to three months’ probation.
Sastry said: “When in the past year you called for the death of, and hate to Zionists, you meant the State of Israel and Jews. It was the State of Israel that found itself at war.”
There are no studies to gauge antisemitism in the German judicial system. There is, however, a consensus among many experts on contemporary antisemitism that “guilt-defensiveness antisemitism” is widespread in Germany. According to this form of antisemitism, many Germans, particularly establishment elites, are filled with a pathological guilt about the crimes of the Holocaust and disguise their loathing of Jews by turning Israel into a human punching bag. The goal is to purge guilt over the Shoah and elevate one’s moral status. Hence, intense criticism of the Jewish state in the media and public discourse has become a national pastime in Germany, something akin to the country’s enthusiasm for soccer. All of this helps to explain that a seemingly objective institution – Germany’s judiciary – is not insulated from a perverse response to the Holocaust.
Israeli psychiatrist Zvi Rex famously remarked with biting sarcasm: “The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.”
Rex’s quip, it can be argued, has morphed into: Germans will never forgive Israel for the Holocaust. Put simply, Israel now embodies the collective Jew for large segments of the German population.
A third legal case is meandering its way through the court system in the state of Lower Saxony. Sara Rihl, a student and social democratic city councilwoman in the city of Oldenburg, termed the public school teacher Christoph Glanz, one of Germany’s leading BDS activists, a “well-known antisemite.” Glanz seeks to quash Rihl’s right to free speech, prohibiting her from labeling him an antisemite.
A regional court in Oldenburg issued a temporary restraining order against Rihl’s use of the phrase “well-known antisemite.” The court issued the ruling, which was condemned as deeply flawed by experts in modern antisemitism, in the absence of Rihl’s presence at the court. She was not able to attend the court session, because of an illness. An appeals court in Hannover will review the case.
Glanz has earned a reputation as a hard-core antisemite in Germany over the years. Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor, told the Post in 2015 that Glanz’s behavior mirrors the anti-Jewish crimes of the Nazi era. In response to a pro-BDS event with Glanz in Munich, Knobloch said: “The BDS campaign disguises the socially unacceptable ‘Don’t buy from Jews!’ as a modernized form of Nazi jargon by demanding ‘Don’t buy from the Jewish state.’” The Hannover court will have fresh evidence to consider. German Social Democratic politicians, who are well versed in combating neo-Nazism and antisemitism, have termed Glanz an unambiguous antisemite. The Bundestag deputy Michaela Engelmeier told the Post: “BDS is, to the core, antisemitic,” and Glanz is a “racist and antisemite.” Her party colleague in the Lower Saxony parliament Michael Höntsch told the Post: “I share completely the statements of my friend and comrade Michaela Engelmeier.”
One of the world’s leading human rights organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, cited Glanz on its list of the top- 10 worst outbreaks of Jew-hatred and anti- Israel incidents in 2016. It said Glanz, a “fanatic opponent of the Jewish state” who “has tried posing as a Jew to avoid charges of antisemitism, recently called for the eradication of the State of Israel and relocation of its Jews to southwestern Germany.” Glanz garnered fourth place on the center’s list of haters.
In a January interview in the monthly German Jewish magazine Jüdische Rundschau, Rihl said she started to address the topic of antisemitism connected to Israel when she was a teenager in the youth organization of the Social Democrats. She served as a spokeswoman for the anti-fascist group of the young socialists (Jusos) in Munich in high school.
It is a topsy-turvy period in Germany.
In 2016 private German banks (DAB, Commerzbank, the Bank for Social Economy) shut down the accounts of pro-BDS organizations that were accused of stoking antisemitism. The private sector has ostensibly recognized the damage that the antisemitic BDS movement causes to its economic health. Public courts, however, have largely failed to embrace modern criteria for post-Holocaust expressions of antisemitism.
Germans seeking to reform a judicial system plagued by anti-Israel prejudices will – to invoke a quote from Rudi Dutschke, a leading spokesman from the 1960s German student movement – need to be prepared for the “long march through the institutions.”
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal.