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Anti-semitic Campaign Tactic May Have Hurt German Opposition

Jewish leaders are celebrating the results of Germany’s national elections as a sign that anti-Semitic campaigns do not pay.

As the results from Sunday’s election came in, one politician — Jurgen Mollemann, vice president of the Free Democratic Party — paid for his negative campaign with his job.

Mollemann, who long has expressed sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers, roiled Germany earlier this year when he said that Michel Friedman, a vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, helped provoke anti-Semitism by his manner and behavior.

Though xenophobia and right-wing populism are rising in other parts of Europe, Mollemann’s party was hurt by his statements, which many saw as anti-Semitic. His party’s poor showing cost the opposition Christian Social Union/Christian Democratic Union a chance to build a governing coalition.

Instead, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party will remain in power with its partner of four years, the Green Party.

The election was described as the closest in Germany’s postwar history.

“The most important result is that if you bring anti-Semitic ideas into an election campaign in this country, the people don’t accept it,” Friedman said in a telephone interview with JTA.

Earlier this year, Friedman called Mollemann’s anti-Israel statements one-sided and anti-Semitic.

Paul Spiegel, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said Monday he is pleased with Mollemann’s resignation.

He was “thankful that the attempt to win with anti-Semitic slogans has failed,” Spiegel said in a statement “The voters showed clearly that German democracy is healthy.”

Mollemann was not the only German politician to step down after the election results came in. Schroeder said Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin had announced she would not seek another term in the post.

Last week, Daeubler-Gmelin was reported to have said that President Bush’s saber-rattling on Iraq was similar to what Hitler had done to divert attention from domestic issues.

She later denied having made the comment.

Mollemann’s attacks continued to the final days of the campaign, despite FDP leader Guido Westerwelle’s attempts to silence him.

In the tumultuous post-election hours, when it was clear the FDP had destroyed the opposition’s chances of unseating Schroeder, Mollemann resigned his vice presidential post. But he said he would not give up his role as head of the party in his home state, North-Rhine Westphalia, where the FDP managed to beat the Greens.

Friedman said he is “relieved” by Mollemann’s resignation.

“But I don’t believe this is solving the real problem, which is that 25 percent to 30 percent of the German population holds anti-Semitic beliefs,” he said. “We had an election campaign that was anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist and anti-American.”

He added that there should now be a public debate in Germany about such issues, “because we are speaking about the foundations of German democracy.”

The Greens became the tie breaker in the election, which left the Social Democrats and CSU/CDU with exactly 38.5 percent of the vote each.

The Greens barely beat the FDP, 8.6 percent to 7.4 percent. The reconstituted communist party, the Party of Democratic Socialism, ended up with 4 percent of the vote nationwide.

Other parties from the far left to the far right pulled in less than 3 percent combined.

Some warn that the post-election teeth-gnashing over anti-Semitism could have negative consequences.

“There is a danger when Jewish topics are considered to be the pivotal factor in an election in a country with less than 100,000 Jews,” Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee’s office in Berlin, told JTA.

While “there was a lot of discomfort with comments made by Jurgen Mollemann,” she said, “I still think the party should look elsewhere” to explain its failure.

Berger said it was “certainly of significance for the Jewish community” that the Greens’ leader, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, will probably remain in office under a continued coalition between the Social Democrats and the Greens.

“He has shown a remarkable commitment to Israel and the Jewish people,” she said.

At the same time, she added, “The incremental shift in Germany’s policy toward Israel has less to do with specific parties than with a younger generation coming to power.”

Friedman, who is a member of the Christian Democrats, pointed out that the Greens “were 100 percent kosher in the debate” about anti-Semitism during the campaign.

In fact, Fischer was one of the first political leaders to condemn Mollemann’s campaign tactics as anti-Semitic.

Friedman decided not to respond to the most recent of Mollemann’s attacks, which included a flier in the final campaign week criticizing Friedman and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“It was a very tough time in the second period of the campaign not to say anything, but I wanted to show that” Mollemann’s tactic “is not dependent on my reactions,” Friedman said. “I was only the symbol for the Jewish community itself.”

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