German Jewish leaders are supporting Michel Friedman, one of Germany’s most prominent Jewish officials, after he announced that he will pay a fine to close a cocaine possession investigation and is dropping out of public life.
Friedman “showed a certain human greatness” in his handling of the situation, Salomon Korn, head of the Jewish Community in Frankfurt, told JTA in a telephone interview after Friedman’s news conference Tuesday, where he admitted his mistakes and announced that he is giving up his public posts.
Friedman, 47, has been a vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and president of the European Jewish Congress. He has also moderated two TV talk shows on public affairs.
Friedman’s withdrawal from Jewish community service showed “that he has begun to learn from his mistakes and is truly prepared to measure himself using the same standards with which he has judged others. It is not just lip service,” Korn said.
Korn said Friedman’s problems had not damaged the reputation of Germany’s Jewish community.
“The case showed that the Jewish community here is not a fortress,” he said. “It had a problem and it was dealt with it openly,” the way other communities do, he said.
The news of Friedman’s transgressions broke June 11, when — prompted by testimony from two prostitutes in an unrelated court trial — police raided Friedman’s Frankfurt home and law office, confiscating evidence that they say turned out to be cocaine. Hair tests confirmed Friedman’s use of the drug, police said.
At the news conference, Friedman asked forgiveness from the public, his colleagues and his girlfriend.
Drugs are not a solution to life’s problems, Friedman said.
He accepted the charges against him and asked for “a second chance.”
“In my political and journalistic functions, I have been tough on others, also with regard to their political mistakes,” he said. “Now I have to accept that this same standard will be used to judge me, even in the case of private mistakes. So I will say in no uncertain terms, with no ifs ands or buts, that I have made a mistake.”
Friedman agreed to pay a fine of some $19,000, closing the investigation.
Friedman’s announcement was “the step of a very responsible person,” Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council, told The Associated Press.
Spiegel, who had refused to abandon his former deputy throughout the investigation, said he “regrets the loss of an important co-worker.”
Supporters said Friedman ultimately should be given a second chance to serve the Jewish community to which he has been dedicated for decades.
“He asked us to give him a second chance and I can say, after all he has done over the past 20 years for Jews and non-Jews, we should give him the chance — after he has had the peace and distance to find himself and learn from his mistakes,” Korn said.
“I think he deserves respect for what he did” in admitting his mistakes — “and help for what he did” with drugs, Rafael Seligman, a writer and commentator on Jewish life in Germany, told JTA.
Some in the Jewish community criticized Seligman’s suggestion, in a July 2 interview in Stern magazine, that Friedman should step down from his public posts. Many consider Friedman a brilliant public speaker and a chief spokesperson for the Jewish community.
Friedman, a Frankfurt attorney whose late parents were saved from the Holocaust by German businessman Oskar Schindler, has been active in the Frankfurt Jewish community since his student days. He was elected a vice president of the Central Council after the death of former council president Ignatz Bubis in 1999.
At countless public events over the years, Friedman has urged younger Germans to remember the Nazis’ sins, to teach about this history and to fight for democracy and against prejudice.
He also has strongly supported Israel — as well as the Palestinians’ demand for a state of their own.
With his reputation as a moral voice now profoundly damaged, Friedman apparently still wished to show he could use his experience to help others. His comments about the dangers of drugs were aimed, he said, “above all, to young people.”
At the news conference, Friedman thanked friends for their “round the clock” support. In particular, he thanked his girlfriend, television moderator Barbel Schafer, who publicly questioned the future of their relationship after news of the scandal broke.
In a rare personal statement, Friedman asked forgiveness from “the woman whom I love from the bottom of my heart.”
In addition, Friedman said he did not mean to play down the seriousness of his transgressions by saying he is “only human.”
“People make mistakes,” he said.
He did not answer questions after the conference.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.