BERLIN, June 27 (JTA) — The leading Jewish official in Germany is denying reports that he favors tightening controls on people falsely seeking to emigrate to Germany as Jews.
Paul Spiegel, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said the author of an article in the Jerusalem Post was “mean spirited” in stating that Spiegel wanted the German government to crack down on immigrants who falsely claim to be Jewish just to get in to the country.
The article, which appeared in Monday’s Jerusalem Post, included scathing criticism of Spiegel from Israel’s Deputy Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein and Knesset member Yosef “Tommy” Lapid. Both accused Spiegel of fomenting anti-Semitism in his remarks to Der Spiegel, a German newsweekly.
Spiegel, who is on a commission designing a potential immigration law for Germany, told JTA that the Jerusalem Post reporter had distorted his comments and that the Israeli politicians had never called him to clarify his views.
Among the alleged errors Spiegel pointed out in the Jerusalem Post article is a statement he supposedly made that Germany should limit the number of Jewish immigrants to 25,000 in the next four years.
In fact, Spiegel said, he had “estimated the number of new immigrants for the next four years at up to 25,000 people.”
In addition, Spiegel said, he never suggested that would-be immigrants should have to spend two years in their home country learning German before being allowed to immigrate.
What he said is that candidates should be offered language courses to make use of the waiting period until receiving their immigration visas, “for their own benefit and a better start” in Germany, Spiegel claimed.
In addition, Spiegel said, German citizenship is not automatically given to Jewish immigrants, as the Post article states.
“Only after 6 years of living in Germany and after a successful integration, the immigrants, who remain legally refugees under the Geneva Convention in this period, can apply for the German citizenship,” Spiegel said in a letter sent Monday to the Jerusalem Post.
Commenting on Spiegel’s criticisms, the editor of the Jerusalem Post, Jeff Barak, told JTA, “The quotes attributed to Mr. Spiegel in the story we published on Monday were taken from a Reuters translation of an interview in Der Spiegel.
“At the time, we had no reason to doubt the veracity of the quotes,” Barak said. “In a follow-up story a day later, we printed Mr. Spiegel’s charges that Reuters had mistranslated his remarks and his reaction to the comments of Deputy Minister Yuli Edelstein” and Lapid.
In that follow-up article, Spiegel was quoted as calling Lapid’s criticism “disturbing and insulting” — especially since a Holocaust “survivor chose to accuse another survivor and president of a Jewish Diaspora community of collaboration and promotion of anti-Semitism.”
Spiegel also told the Jerusalem Post that the German Jewish community, like Jewish communities elsewhere, follows centuries-old Jewish law to determine who can be a member.
“If those conditions have changed recently, it would be wonderful to receive that information from a member of the Israeli government, like Mr. Edelstein, first hand,” he wrote.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, more than 120,000 people claiming Jewish heritage have immigrated to Germany.
Included in that number are some 30,000 non-Jews who used this opportunity as their big break, Spiegel told JTA.
Those people don’t join the Jewish community in Germany, as opposed to many of the immigrants who are indeed Jewish under religious law, he said.
The number of registered members of the Jewish community has grown from 35,000 to at least 90,000 in the last decade, making Germany’s the fastest growing Jewish community in Europe.
Spiegel said that in the early 1990s he had been privy to talks about Jewish emigration from the former Soviet Union among former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, former Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and Jewish community leaders, including the man Spiegel ultimately replaced as the leader of German Jewry, Ignatz Bubis.
Though the politicians knew that, according to Jewish law, one must either have a Jewish mother or convert to qualify as Jewish, they said they would accept anyone able to prove some Jewish ancestry, Spiegel said.
“They said, ‘We are letting in Jews whether they have a Jewish mother or not,’ and we said, ‘OK, we will not say anything, but we will not take them into the Jewish community,’ ” Spiegel told JTA.
“Anyone can be a citizen of Germany. But we are a religious community, not a club.”
Spiegel added that it is well known that there is a black market for Jewish identity papers in the former Soviet Union.
“Naturally, there are always people who try as criminals to make themselves Jewish,” he said. “We have discovered many and sent them back.”