Split decision in Germany’s “kosher anti-Semitism” case
Germany’s “kosher anti-Semitism” case has ended with a partial victory for the defendant. A court in the western city of Cologne has upheld an injunction banning the prominent German-Jewish writer Henryk Broder from calling another German Jew an anti-Semite. But it said the ban only applied to his blistering personal attack on Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, daughter of the deceased former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Heinz Galinski. If it had been expressed in a more factual way, it said, the statement would have been protected as free speech.
The dispute, which the Jerusalem Post dubbed a case of “kosher anti-Semitism,” started back in May when Broder posted a letter on the website Die Achse des Guten (The Axis of Good) complaining to WDR radio in Cologne for interviewing Hecht-Galinski for a programme on Israel’s 60th anniversary. In her comments, Hecht-Galinski compared Israel’s policy towards Palestinians to Nazi policy towards Jews. Broder wrote: “Mrs EHG is an hysterical, egoistic housewife who is talking for nobody but herself and is uttering nothing but nonsense anyway. Her speciality are thoughtless anti-Semitic and anti-Zionistic statements, which are a fleeting fad once again.”
Hecht-Galinksi obtained a court injunction against him calling her an anti-Semite (which explains why the adjective “anti-Semitic” has since been xxx’ed out of Broder’s letter on the web). She argued that Broder, an active defender of Israel who has written a series of books dealing with the relationship between Germans and Jews, was trying to silence criticism of Israel. “Especially in the face of our common past, critical comments on committed injustices must be possible, also if they concern Israel,” she wrote in a letter to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Broder challenged the injunction and declined to settle out of court, telling the Jerusalem Post that he opposed a deal “allowing anti-Semites to decide what anti-Semitism is. It is as if pedophiles can decide what real love toward children is.”
In the end, the court issued a split decision that German media rated as a partial victory for Broder. The comments in question constituted offensive criticism, it ruled, so the injunction should be upheld. “A comparable statement with the necessary factual context would … be allowed,” it added. Just where the dividing line between the personal attack and free speech would have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Seeing two Jews fight over who is an anti-Semite was uncomfortable for Germans, especially for the media who often ask German Jews to comment on the news from Israel. The conservative daily Die Welt drew an interesting conclusion from the dispute. “The whole thing is shameful for a large section of the non-Jewish German media who actually prefer to let Jews do the talking so they don’t have to take a controversial position in the minefield of German-Israeli-Jewish relations,” commentator Clemens Wergin wrote. “The lesson from this affair is that it’s time for non-Jews to have a more vigorous debate about Israel and stop using German or other Jews as their representatives. Whoever believes in the power of the better argument need not shy away from disputes, and needs no Jews as a fig leaf.”
If two German Jews can’t agree on what anti-Semitism is, can a court — and a German court at that — do any better?