BERLIN (JTA) — Jewish groups are ramping up pressure to have a prestigious German prize withdrawn from a Palestinian pastor who is accused of making anti-Semitic statements.
The Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem is one of four recipients of the German Media Prize to be presented Friday. He has said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, among others, has no rightful claim to a Jewish heritage.
"It is outrageous to consider Raheb a partner for peace as long as he engages in anti-Israel invective," Deidre Berger, head of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee, told JTA.
A German Media Prize spokesperson told JTA on Tuesday that the event will take place as planned. Former German President Roman Herzog will make the presentations.
Jewish groups including the AJC, the German-Israel Society and B’nai B’rith International have called for the prize to be withdrawn. At the very least Herzog should make his criticism clear, Berger said in a letter to the ex-president.
Raheb is "known for his radical theology that has both racist and to some extent anti-Semitic traits," Berger wrote. "By contesting Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state he negates one of the most important pillars of German foreign policy."
In a speech to the 2010 Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem, Raheb discounted Jewish roots in Israel and said that Palestinian Arabs share DNA with King David and Jesus, but that Netanyahu does not. The speech was removed Tuesday from the conference’s website.
In late January, B’nai B’rith Executive Vice President Daniel Mariaschin wrote to Media Control, the firm based in Baden-Baden that sponsors the prize, underscoring that Raheb "is distinguished by an extensive record of highly offensive statements that, any positive work notwithstanding, make him ill-suited to receive the endorsement implied by a prestigious German honor that has been bestowed on the likes of Helmut Kohl, Hillary Clinton, Rudolph Giuliani, Angela Merkel and the Dalai Lama."
Other recipients of this year’s prize are Sakena Yacoobi of Afghanistan, Stanislaw Petrow of Moscow and Denis Mukwege of Congo.