Time to focus: the enemy is Iran, not critical Journalism!

A friendly response to Prof. Bauer

Yehuda Bauer wrote on 4 March 2009 in the JPost on the Berlin center of research on anti-Semitism (ZfA), and accused Berlin based JPost correspondent Benjamin Weinthal of blaming this center to equate “Islamophobia” with anti-Semitism. Well, Bauer is of course a very good and important historian and I read his books, especially on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, always with great interest. It was a big honour to get his applause at the Maiersdorf Faculty Club at SICSA as I spoke for the first time at Hebrew University – on Germany and anti-Semitism – in December 2002.

First of all it is astonishing that Bauer accuses Weinthal. Why? In the JPost four articles appeared on that Berlin conference, held on 8 December 2008. Two of these articles (Op-Eds) were written by myself, including the initial one, even before the conference, on 3 December 2008. Why is he not mentioning my articles as well? I am also criticizing the Benz center in the JPost.

The ZfA is a very influential institution with currently more than 50 doctoral candidates, two full professors, Prof. Wolfgang Benz, historian and director, and sociologist Prof. Werner Bergmann, three assistants, one academic co-worker, more than 15 employees working in projects, not including seven fellows in an academic project dealing with anti-Semitism in Europe from 1879 until 1914. The ZfA is also usually known as resource for interviews if an anti-Semitic incident happened in Germany. But in the case of Weinthal they rejected several times to give him an interview. Bauer says the conference does not equate anti-Semitism with Islamophobia. That is not true. In the announcement for this conference, consisting of an introduction, four lectures and four commentators, and a final panel discussion, the ZfA writes, that the “paradigm” of accusations against the Muslims are known from the “history of antisemitism”. Most of the lectures had been published before in the yearbook of the institute.[i] For Angelika Königseder, member of the ZfA, the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy in 2005/2006, is describes as pure “hatred”[ii] of those Danish cartoonists. Peter Widmann, also essential part of the ZfA, is accusing Henryk M. Broder of being a “discourse strategist of the right”.[iii] While Königseder and Widmann at least try to follow scholarly standards (but fail), another contributor to the conference, Yasemin Shooman, did not even try to argue in a more or less balanced way. She focuses mainly on one single German Homepage, which was already known before for its racist tendencies against Islam (mostly deriving of the Christian background of that Homepage, “Politically Incorrect”). For she this is a proof how racist and anti-Muslim the www is. This has nothing to do with scholarly research.[iv]

But what about Prof. Benz himself? He wrote an introduction to his yearbook and did also speak at the beginning of the conference. Without any contextualization he begins his introduction by saying: “Since September 11, 2001, anti-Islam resentment is fashionable on a world wide scale. The killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in November 2004 activated emotional reactions, which grew to what we now call Islamophobia.”[v]

In this view van Gogh is not the subject of empathy. Rather poor Muslims, though the murderer of van Gogh was member of an Islamist terror group. Even more frightening is Benz’ view on 9/11 if we remember what he said some days after this unprecedented mass killing in the United States since the Second World War. In his view skyscrapers are a symbol of “of pride and wealth and arrogance”.[vi]

It was not by accident that Benz reacted that way, and it was also not by accident that Benz held the Islamophobia conference. As soon as 2002, in a big volume edited by him in honour of the 20th birthday of the ZfA, he compared the situation of “foreigners (asylum seeking people as well as residents)” in Germany of the 1990s with the situation of Jews in the times of crisis at the end of the 19th century.[vii] Honestly Benz and his center declair that they are not interested in special research on anti-Semitism (consequently he plays down the anti-Semitic ideology of Nazi Germany in an attack on Daniel Goldhagen[viii]), they prefer to compare all kinds of “prejudices”, like the situation of native Americans in Bolivia, or social deprived people[ix] etc. They miss to analyze the specific of anti-Semitic ideology which is the core of the anti-Jewish worldview.

Native Americans of Bolivia might have problems with nationalism, ethnocentrism or what ever – and this is sad enough – in Bolivia, but no one in Norway or Japan or Canada makes anti-native American Bolivian propaganda. Contrary, anti-Semitic propaganda is spread worldwide, especially today via satellite, internet, tv, immigration etc.

Benz and his followers see anti-Semitism as nothing as a “paradigm” for stigmatization, prejudice and discrimination.[x]

This shows the continuity of the Islamophobia conference. It was by intention and not by accident that Benz and the ZfA now equate Islamophobia with anti-Semitism.

The way the ZfA people reacted shows something else: by singling out Weinthal by saying he has nothing but a personal motif – of course “money”[xi] – and therefore produces “torrent of hatred”[xii] for an Israeli journal is such a disgusting way of ‘argumentation’, that it is still hard to believe that it happened that way. Worse, this anti-Semitic reaction – and it is a downright anti-Semitic reaction – follows the first reaction of Benz himself, in early December. Confronted with first criticism of his conference, some days before the event, he told a newspaper, that both an Israeli embassador, Ilan Mor, and the chairwoman of the Jewish community Berlin, Lala Süsskind, stood behind his idea to have a conference on Islamophobia. It turned out a few days later that this was a lie.[xiii] Why says an internationally known elderly historian that “the Jews” stand behind him? Without argumentation he thought that Jews as witness are always the best, in terms of dealing with anti-Semitism.

Probably Yehuda Bauer is not aware of these facts. He probably has not been informed of the flyer which announced the conference by clearly making a parallel of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. He was also probably not informed that the center did lie already before the conference, that some Jews stood behind them. And he was probably not informed that the ZfA singled out Weinthal (because besides Weinthal several other critics appeared, like in the Wall Street Journal Matthias Küntzel, or in Germany well-known Henryk M. Broder) and accused him with lies.

To be clear: the enemy of today is not the ZfA, but Iran, Islamic Jihad, global anti-Semitism and anti-Western resentment, especially anti-Americanism and anti-Israel hatred. Weinthal wrote extensively about Germany and its ties to Iran. He and several colleagues in Germany like Stop-the-bomb want to stop Iran producing a nuclear bomb.

The ZfA is welcome to join this campaign against Iran! This proposal was also essential part of an open letter of ScholarsForPeaceintheMiddleEast/German chapter (SPME), some weeks ago.

But to keep quiet during Gaza or even to play down the anti-Semitic rallies during the Gaza operation as Werner Bergmann did in an interview for the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung, is not helpful.

Of course it is not just the ZfA which failed. The Western world fails day by day by ignoring the genocidal threat deriving of Islamic Jihad. Fashionable philosophy like that of Italian Giorgio Agamben, compares American reactions to Jihad after 9/11 and the situation of some Taliban or other criminals in Guantanamo with the situation of Jews in German concentration camps during the Holocaust. Such anti-Semitic trivialization of the Shoah goes along with the denial of the threat of Muslim anti-Semitism.

If the ZfA says Weinthal is writing a “torrent of hatred” this is not true. They can find torrent of hatred produced in Teheran, for example. And they have to learn to focus. Iran has to be the focus. Not an American Jewish journalist writing about Germany and its ties to Iran.


[i] This article was first published on 7 March, 2009 on http://www.achgut.com/dadgdx/index.php/dadgd/article/clemens_heni_a_friendly_response/ . Wolfgang Benz (ed.) (2008): Jahrbuch für Antisemitismusforschung 17, Berlin: Metropol Verlag.

[ii] Angelika Königseder (2008): Feindbild Islam, in: Benz (ed.) 2008, pp.17-44, here p. 32, in German she describes those cartoons as „Hetzwerk“.

[iii] Peter Widmann (2008): Der Feind kommt aus dem Morgenland. Rechtspopulistissche „Islamkritiker“ um den Publizisten Hans-Peter Raddatzz suchen die Opfergemeinschaft mit den Juden, in: Benz (ed.) 2008, pp. 45-68, here 67f.

[iv] Yasemin Shooman (2008): Islamfeindschaft im World Wide Web, in: Benz (ed.) 2008, pp. 69-96.

[v] Wolfgang Benz (2008a): Vorwort, in: Benz (ed.) 2008, pp. 9-14, here p. 9.

[vi] “Benz has been criticized in the past for seeming to justify the motives of the 9/11 terrorists with what some perceived as anti-Americanism. Der Spiegel journalist Henryk M. Broder cited a quote from Benz in his 2002 book No War, Anywhere, addressing the outbreak of anti-Americanism in Germany following the September 11, 2001 attacks. At the time, Benz commented that the Twin Towers in Manhattan „are symbols of pride and wealth and arrogance. Building such buildings is extreme arrogance, and so vulnerability is built in. And the attacks on these buildings, with these attacks one could erase feelings of helplessness and one’s own humiliations and turn them into the opponent’s helplessness and humiliation. And that provokes the drastic and dramatic reactions and the martial reactions, and that’s what makes it so dangerous and devastating to attack and destroy these particular symbols.“ http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?apage=1&cid=1228728130041&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull , Benjamin Weinthal, Berlin Center ignores Iranian threat, Jerusalem Post, December 10, 2008.

[vii] Wolfgang Benz (2002): Antisemitismusforschung als Vorurteilsforschung, in: Wolfgang Benz/Angelika Königseder (ed.) (2002): Judenfeindschaft als Paradigma. Studien zur Vorurteilsforschung, Berlin: Metropol Verlag, pp. 15-21, here pp. 18-19.

[viii] Wolfgang Benz/Werner Bergmann (1997): Einleitung. Antisemitismus – Vorgeschichte des Völkermordes?, in: Wolfgang Benz/Werner Bergmann (ed.) (1997a): Vorurteil und Völkermord. Entwicklungslinien des Antisemitismus, Freiburg/Basel/Wien: Herder, pp.10-31, here p. 11. Benz and Bergmann go so far to claim without proof, that even the success of the NSDAP in the late Weimar Republic was no result of the antisemitism of that Nazi party, see ibid., p. 13. Martin Ulmer from the University of Tuebingen most recently finished his PhD in Cultural Studies, proofing that antisemitic agitation was very important for the NSDAP at that time. Ulmer can proof in his case study that the NSDAP clearly showed their anti-Semitic worldview by proclaiming at most of their party events between 1930 and 1933 on their posters „Jews are not not welcome“, see Martin Ulmer (2008): Antisemitismus im öffentlichen Diskurs und im Alltag in Stuttgart 1871-1933. Eine Lokal- und Regionalstudie, Dissertation, Fakultät für Sozial- und Verhaltenswissenschaften der Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, p. 451. See also the following chapter on „antisemitic codes“ during the campaing for the election of the major of Stuttgart in spring 1931.

[ix] See Benz/Königseder (ed.) 2002, pp. 273-279, resp. 250-264.

[x] Wolfgang Benz (1996): Feindbild und Vorurteil. Beiträge über Ausgrenzung und Verfolgung, München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, p. 19. He explicitely says, that „antisemitism“ is the same as „Fremdenfeindlichkeit“ („xenophobia“), and that instead of „the Jews“ other „minorities“ or „people“ („Volksgruppen“ – by the way a rather right-wing extremist term for homogenous people!) could be set.

[xi] See the monthly newsletter of the ZfA, the January 2009 volume http://zfa.kgw.tu-berlin.de/newsletter/news-09-01.pdf . Responsible for the newsletter is Prof. Benz, the editor was Dr. Juliane Wetzel, long-time co-worker at the institute.

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