BERLIN (JTA) — Amid controversy in Germany, the Simon Wiesenthal Center defended its characterization of German journalist Jakob Augstein as an anti-Semite.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was in Berlin on Thursday to discuss the center’s inclusion of Augstein’s writings in its 2012 list of Top 10 anti-Semitic slurs. The list generated fierce debate in Germany because many share Augstein’s views on the Middle East conflict, Israel and Israeli Jews and do not believe that those views are anti-Semitic.
Speaking at a news conference organized by the Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin, Cooper said the Wiesenthal Center included Augstein because of his unbalanced depiction of Israel as war-mongering when in fact Israel is constantly on the defensive. By failing to apologize for his commentary, Augstein has entered the zone of the anti-Semites, Cooper said.
In a debate with German Jewish leader Dieter Graumann published in Spiegel Online on Jan. 16, Augstein said he found "the notion of an apology… odd. Who should I apologize to?"
Graumann, addressing the Spiegel interviewer, said if he "were to rate the cold contempt with which [Augstein] treats Israel on a scale from 1 to 10, I would give him a solid 13."
Later in the interview, after Graumann was asked whether he recommends therapy for Augstein, he answered that it was not his place to do so. Augstein responded that he was "glad to hear that. All Germans probably belong in therapy — and probably all Jews as well." At which point Graumann said: "The Jews who live in this country are Germans as well."
Cooper said Augstein’s writings cross the line to anti-Semitism as defined by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky: double standard, demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state.
Cooper said he personally was most disturbed by Augstein’s generalizations about haredi Orthodox Jews, which reflect "classic medieval Jew hatred." In a column in Spiegel Online last November, Augstein wrote that haredim "make up 10 percent of the Israeli population" and are "cut from the same cloth as their Islamic fundamentalist opponents. They follow the law of revenge."
The decision to place Augstein on the Top 10 list was based in part on the influence he has, said Cooper, who lives in Los Angeles. "I don’t read the L.A. Times. I read Spiegel Online. This is a global village and the impact is great."