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Anti-semitic Speech in Germany Prompts Lawmakers to Hold Debate

December 1, 2003
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German lawmakers will convene a parliamentary debate on how Germany should respond to anti-Semitism following a recent scandal over an anti-Semitic speech by a legislator from the Christian Democratic Party.

Proposed last week by members of the government’s coalition partners — the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party — the plan for the debate, scheduled for Dec. 11, quickly won the support pf Parliament’s other main parties.

“The idea is to have a two-hour debate on what we can and should do against anti-Semitism in Germany, and how we,” in Parliament, “are defining ourselves with respect to extremist points of view,” said Sebastian Edathy, the deputy speaker on domestic affairs of the Social Democrats, the party of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The debate comes amid debate in the European Union on how to curb anti-Semitism, which has increased across the continent since the Palestinian intifada started three years ago.

“It would be wrong to have a discussion only be about Hohmann,” said Christian Democrat representative Reinhard Grindel, referring to lawmaker Martin Hohmann, whose speech sparked the controversy.

In the Oct. 3 speech, Hohmann suggested that Jews are a “nation of perpetrators” and cited “The International Jew,” an anti-Semitic tract once disseminated by Henry Ford. The remarks sparked a debate in Germany about the penetration of right-wing extremist ideologies into mainstream parties, and Hohmann was ousted from his party as a result.

Parliament members must “draw a clear boundary between conservative views that are acceptable, and right-wing extremist views from which we must distance ourselves,” said Grindel, a co-sponsor of the call for a debate in Parliament. “And the second question is, how can we more successfully confront anti-Semitic ideas that reach into society?”

“Hohmann is only a symptom,” Edathy said. “He would not have made such a speech if he did not expect sympathy among his audience.”

Edathy said he had received numerous letters, including at least one personal threat, after he publicly criticized Hohmann. “I just filed a case against someone who actually threatened to beat me up,” Edathy said.

Grindel said most of his mail on Hohmann was from writers asking for leniency for the politician. But “we had many talks with Hohmann and he had the chance to make it clear, to distance himself from the speech,” Grindel noted.

Hohmann refused to do so, insisting he had been speaking the truth.

The announcement about the upcoming debate came as the E.U. Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia defends its decision to withhold a report indicating that most anti-Semitic crimes in Europe in the spring of 2002 were committed by Muslims.

Critics say the E.U. body was reluctant to release a report critical of Muslims.

Such reluctance is unacceptable, Grindel said, adding that anti-Semitism must be confronted “from wherever it emerges,” even when “it is related to radical Islamists of foreign origin.”

He also said it is important to make a distinction between legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and anti-Semitic statements.

The problem revealed by the Hohmann case is, he said, that too many Germans fall back on putting other people down in order to raise their own self-esteem.

“We need, if you will, a new debate about values, about national pride in Germany, and what that means,” Grindel said. “On the one hand, a clear recognition of the history and the responsibility that one takes from that history, and on the other hand, to allow a certain pride in the achievements of the postwar years.”

Meanwhile, Hohmann reportedly has decided to fight in court to retain his membership in the Christian Democratic Party.

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