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German Jews Rush to Defend Leader Being Checked for Drugs

June 13, 2003
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Jewish leaders here are rushing to the defense of Michel Friedman, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who is under investigation for possible possession of illegal drugs.

Berlin state prosecutors announced Wednesday that they had found a suspicious substance in Friedman’s home and office in Frankfurt, and that an investigation was underway.

According to reports, samples of Friedman’s hair were taken for testing. Results may not be available for several days.

German media quickly picked up and highlighted the story, which involves one of the best-known — and most controversial — Jewish public figures in Germany.

Friedman, an attorney and television talk show host, has not reacted publicly to the investigation. But Paul Spiegel, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told Reuters that he still trusts his deputy and that the investigation has nothing to do with Friedman’s work for the Council.

Spiegel stressed that Friedman should be considered innocent unless proven guilty.

Salomon Korn, head of Frankfurt’s Jewish community, went a step further, saying it wasn’t in Friedman’s character to be involved with drugs. He told Netzeitung, the Internet news agency, that Friedman doesn’t smoke or drink, suggesting that “an envious person was using the opportunity to even an old score.”

Friedman, who also heads the European Jewish Congress, is known as an effective speaker against racism and anti-Semitism and an outspoken supporter of Israel.

The late German politician Juergen Moellemann said in 2002 that Friedman’s manner and message were responsible for a rise in anti-Semitism in Germany. The comment sparked outrage from across the political spectrum but resonated with many ordinary Germans.

Whatever its outcome, the investigation of Friedman is likely to fuel negative public perceptions of Jews.

“This is not good for the Jews,” one Jewish leader told JTA.

Friedman’s name reportedly came up indirectly through an investigation of a Ukrainian crime ring related to white slavery, prostitution and the smuggling of illegal weapons and other goods into Germany.

Authorities involved in the investigation emphasized that Friedman is not connected with that investigation but that his name was mentioned during a tapped phone conversation.

The Berliner Morgenpost newspaper noted that, in a separate case, a cocaine dealer in Frankfurt once named Friedman as a customer during a police interrogation, but the inquiry was dropped for lack of evidence.

Friedman reportedly has suspended production of the remaining sessions of his TV talk shows that were to be aired before the summer break.

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