BERLIN (JTA) — The American Jewish Committee is urging Germany to reconsider bestowing an honor on a harsh critic of Israel.
In a letter sent Monday to President Horst Koehler, the AJC urged him to reconsider the award to attorney Felicia Langer, whose “attacks are not based upon criticism of actual Israeli policies, but upon her demonization of Israel."
Langer, 79, was selected to receive the nation’s Order of Merit by the mayor of her adopted hometown, Tubingen, to recognize her humanitarian work.
Critics charge that Langer, an Israeli, has called Israel an apartheid state, praised the anti-Semitic speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Geneva in April and suggested that Israeli leaders be tried for war crimes at the international court in The Hague.
The letter, which also criticized Langer’s membership in the Israeli Communist Party and her support for the former Soviet Union, was signed by AJC Executive Director David Harris and three senior AJC staff members, all of whom have received the same honor from the Federal Republic of Germany.
They expressed "astonishment at the decision to honor an individual who for many years was an apologist for a regime which brought untold fear and misery upon the citizens of eastern Germany."
"Why on earth would they reward such a person?" Deidre Berger, head of the AJC’s Berlin office, said in a telephone interview with JTA. "What kind of atmosphere is there across the political spectrum in Germany, when people would think of her criticism of Israel as courageous?"
Undersecretary of the State of Baden-Württemberg, Hubert Wicker, in presenting the award July 16, praised Langer for her "tireless efforts to reach her goal of building a bridge between Israelis and Palestinians."
Langer, who fled to the Soviet Union to escape approaching Nazi forces, reportedly used her acceptance speech to decry conditions for the Palestinians. She said the Holocaust had taught her to feel empathy with victims and to reject injustice.
Israeli officials told the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot that they were "astonished and disappointed" by the decision to recognize Langer. They said it was even more surprising because Koehler, who gives his seal of approval to such awards, has been a strong supporter of Israel.