(JTA) — A best-selling German author and philosopher apologized for saying during an episode of his podcast that Judaism bars Orthodox Jews from working, “except for a few things like diamond trading and a few financial transactions.”
The show’s moderator and co-producer, Markus Lanz, immediately agreed with Richard David Precht, saying “correct” and “accurate,” during the episode that aired Oct. 12 and focused on the Israel-Hamas war.
After a public outcry, the comment was edited out of the program, which is one of the most popular in Germany and is hosted by the mainstream broadcaster ZDF. Stereotypes of Jews not working, or only working with valuables, stem from medieval laws that restricted Jews from certain trades.
The Israeli embassy in Berlin tweeted on Saturday that those who don’t know anything about Judaism had “better say nothing about it than to rehash ancient anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.” The German-Israel Society said the two podcasters had reached “a new low.”
Precht apologized in a statement that was later tacked on before the episode. He said “we greatly regret” the “wording that caused offense and led to criticism, from among others the Israeli embassy.” He added that the comment “wasn’t even remotely meant the way it was understood.”
The broadcaster also included a written statement explaining why it had edited out the controversial statement: “Complex connections were presented in an abbreviated manner, which could be interpreted misleadingly,” it reads in part.
Precht, who is conservative and has written a series of pop philosophy books, has taken controversial positions in the past, including downplaying the threat of the coronavirus and objecting to aiding Ukraine in its war against Russia.
Journalist Moritz Post wrote in the Frankfurter Rundschau online news that Precht’s statement was not an apology: “He simply describes the misunderstanding of third parties, which he regrets.”
Criticism of religion is one thing, but “resorting to discriminatory clichés in this context to support critical argumentation insults religious feelings,” Post wrote.