What do Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, British soccer fans, a Brazilian cartoonist and a Ukrainian party all have in common? They are included in the Simon Wiesenthal Center's annual list of “Top Ten Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Slurs”, released last week.
While no one raised a voice of dissent over the inclusion of Ahmadinejad in the ignominious list, voices are being raised in Germany in opposition to the inclusion of one person on the list: journalist Jakob Augstein, editor of the weekly Der Freitag and a columnist for Der Spiegel's online edition.
Augstein, step-son of Der Spiegel's owner and founder Rudolf Augstein, was placed ninth in the list of top ten anti-Semites due to his anti-Israeli views. This wasn't viewed favorably by many Germans, Der Spiegel reported. Some have called for a distinction to be made between holding anti-Israeli positions and espousing anti-Semitic views, expressing astonishment at his inclusion in the list for merely opposing Israeli policies.
The report released by the Simon Wiesenthal Center cites a number of quotes aimed at explaining why the center decided to include Augstein on the list. For example, the report quotes Augstein as saying of Gaza that "Israel incubates its own opponents there." Referring to its relationships with U.S. presidents, Augstein wrote that "the Netanyahu government keeps the world on a leash with an ever-swelling war chant." The report also cites Augstein as writing that "Jews also have their fundamentalists, the ultra-orthodox Hareidim," who are "cut from the same cloth as their Islamic fundamentalist opponents." On one occasion, he said of the Israeli government that it was insane and unscrupulous.
In addition, Augstein published articles in support of the German poet and Nobel laureate Günter Grass, after he was denounced for being an anti-Semite last year when he published an anti-Israeli poem in which he claimed that Israel was a danger to world peace, Der Spiegel reported. Augstein wrote in an article that Grass was correct in his assessment and that he should be thanked for it. He wrote of the Iranian nuclear program that "no one knows whether or not Iran was working toward such a bomb."
This list of critical writing has earned Augstein the ignoble place on the Wiesenthal Center's annual list, to the dismay of many Germans. "The choice of Jakob Augstein for ninth place on the list of the 10 worst anti-Semites is a serious intellectual and strategic error made by the Simon Wiesenthal Center," wrote, for example, the influential conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "Not only has a critical journalist been placed in a group into which he doesn't belong, the nine other people and groups who have justifiably been pilloried can now exculpate themselves by pointing to such arbitrariness."
The Central Council of Jews in Germany also defended Augstein. "I never had the impression that what he wrote was anti-Semitic," Central Council Vice President Solomon Korn said.
Augstein himself responded with a statement that said he respected the Simon Wiesenthal Center, but was sorry that they were defaming "critical journalism" with claims of racism or anti-Semitism, Der Spiegel reported.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center refused to back down from its decision. "Just because he is a journalist, we are not giving Mr. Augstein license to say what he wants and to hide behind journalistic integrity," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the center, adding, "His statements are incorrect and baseless."