The German Shepherd / Is Germany ready for a provocative Jewish leader?
Henryk M. Broder might not become the next president of the German Jewish Council, but his platform will not quickly be forgotten.
Known for his sharp comments and polarizing opinions, German Jewish writer Henryk M. Broder can always be counted on to start a public debate. This journalist and author has declared his favorite topics to be Jews, Arabs and Germans: an explosive mixture, indeed.
Now he has his eyes set on the highest post among Germany Jewry: President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. The council is outraged, the lay Jewish community amused and a new debate about German-Jewish relations has been sparked - just how Broder likes it.
The Central Council is the official representation of all Jews in Germany and, according to Broder, it is currently "in miserable condition."
Incumbent President Charlotte Knobloch, whom Broder dubs "Aunt Charly" seems "overburdened," he wrote in the Berlin newspaper "Der Tagesspiegel". In the same article, Broder announced his intention to run for presidency and issued harsh critique against the council, giving a vision for his future engagement.
His chances are low, as the support he boasts from two small Jewish communities are hardly likely to get him into office. In the Council's official reaction, Vice President Dieter Graumann calls Broder's intentions a "funny fantasy". As president of the Council he would be a "fulminant miscast", Graumann said, as "provocation is his passion and profession."
Broder has had every chance to be heard, but none to be president. For that he would have to engage in community work first.
In mainstream German Jewish society, constitutents look to their president above all for reassuring comments on anti-Semitism, Nazism and racism. The president's word has weight. Often, Jews turn to their president to judge what is politically correct "after Auschwitz."
But Broder sees this expectation as flawed. "It cannot be the mission of the Central Council to act as Germany's good conscience," he writes. The council should stop acting as an "early warning system against political extremism" and establish a voice of its own, rather than giving out "declarations of no objection.?
As president, he says, he can reform this "pettifogging megalomania" that expects more of itself than it is capable to achieve.
Instead - and here comes one of those contentious debates that Broder is famous for - he wants to abolish the law that makes Holocaust denial a crime.
According to Broder, this German law was established with good intentions, but "served idiots to stage themselves as martyrs in the fight for historical truth."
German Jews should shift their focus from the Holocaust - "our problem." as he calls it, of which the verity has already proven - to other genocides, like in Sudan.
He has also said Jews must stop thinking about creating new Holocaust memorials and turn to active policy for human rights, regardless of political or economical interests. These ideas deeply run against the policy of the Council so far.
Furthermore, Broder promises that as president he would strive for good relations with the Muslims in Germany, at least those who "step in for strict separation of religion and state and a secular society" as opposed to "religious zealots and Turkish nationalists".
A somewhat surprising statement, since his last two books were dedicated to the danger of too much tolerance of and appeasement toward Islam.
But this too contains sharp criticism against the council and what he considers "blind actions", like the closing of ranks with the Central Council of Muslims in Germany against "Islamophobia".
While the Council expects danger for Jews predominantly from right-wing movements, Broder thinks the danger of a "second Holocaust" has a far greater chance at the hands of Islamist powers.
The demographic of the Jewish community in Germany is shifting from survivors and their children to immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In this respect, 63-year-old Poland born Broder might represent this change just slightly more than current President Knobloch and her predecessors, all of whom part of the Holocaust generation.
Community leaders Paul Spiegel and Ignatz Bubis could bridge the generation gap with experience of life and rhetorical skills, but many see Knobloch as lacking charm and authority.
But while most prominent members of the Jewish community smile upon Broder's candidacy or call him a court jester, some do support him.
Michael Wolffsohn, historian and member of the Jewish Community in Munich said Broder was on the right track and agrees with his overall mission: "If we want to live here, we as Jewish community have to find a new relationship with the major society," writes Wolffsohn.
The Council should convince with intellectual arguments not alarmism and intimidation, Wolffsohn says. He also shares his opinion that Knobloch has been overburdened in her tenure.
Lala Suesskind, head of the Jewish Community in Berlin and member of the Councils chair considers Broder's candidacy "exciting".
She does not think he has chances to win the presidency - as this would require more seriousness than she is willing to allow him - but said: "I would even vote him onto the board myself, since he would surely revive the discussion."
The Central Council represents 120,000 members of Jewish communities of all denominations. Its main mission is to support the communities with their religious and cultural tasks, to help integrate the Jews that came from the former Soviet Union and promote dialogue between Jews and non-Jews.
A new chair is elected every four years ? the election in question is scheduled for May 2010. The council's nine members choose the president and two vice presidents. To be eligible, the candidate must be member in a management of a Jewish Community in Germany. Knobloch was head of the Munich community before she took the presidency. With the support of just two small communities and a lack of engagement in community work, Henryk M. Broder?s chances are indeed low.
The Provocateur might not become the next President but his criticism of the basic principles of the Council, and his accusation that it focuses only on the past - not to mention his statement that its president is not up to the challenges of the highest position in Jewish Germany - will not quickly be forgotten.