April 3, 2012
By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
BERLIN – A college newspaper in an east German town published a commentary defending Social Democratic party head Sigmar Gabriel’s use of the term “apartheid regime” to describe Israel’s government.
The article in the Novum, printed on March 28, is accompanied by a cartoon of Gabriel with a dog muzzle on his face, suggesting that criticism of Israel is prohibited in the Federal Republic.
The author of the article, Florian Barth, wrote that “criticism of Israel’s Palestinian policies and criticism of the Israeli state have nothing to do with each other.”
The article and cartoon unleashed criticism from the Dresden Jewish community, which is situated near Hochschule Mittweida – University of Applied Sciences, in the state of Saxony.
In a telephone conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Friday, Heinz Joachim Aris, the spokesman for the Dresden community, said the article is informed by “prejudices” against Israel. He termed the commentary “off the mark” and said Gabriel’s attacks on Israel “are not acceptable” because they are creating sentiments against the Jewish state.
Aris said the town of Mittweida is loaded with neo-Nazi activity.
Ludwig Hilmer, a professor of media communications at Mitweida who is responsible for the weekly paper, told the Post via phone on Sunday that he was in Israel during the production process of the issue and would not have permitted the publication of the commentary.
He said Barth is a young student in his early 20s who is not familiar with the history of modern anti-Semitism in Germany.
Hilmer said he spoke with Barth about the article.
According to Hilmer, the circulation of Novum is about 1,000 and the publication has a website where readers can view articles in PDF.
Hilmer was in Haifa in March to advance the cooperation between the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology and Mittweida’s university.
The controversy over the article arose when an outraged student at Mittweida read it and forwarded it to Sacha Stawski, the editor-in-chief of the Frankfurt-based media watchdog organization Honestly Concerned.
“A large part of the mainstream anti- Semitism, which has become part of our daily lives, is centered around the accusation that some magic [Jewish] lobby is trying to silence valid criticism of Israel, by claiming that the criticism is anti-Semitic,” Stawski wrote to the Post via email on Saturday.
“In fact, this is one of the most common accusations leveled against friends of Israel – most commonly by anti-Zionists and anti- Semites: The supposed swinging of the ‘anti-Semitism club.”’ The student who first forwarded the article to Stawski told the Post via phone on Sunday that he was “shocked” by the commentary, and said this type of criticism generally comes from the extreme right wing.
He said the article and cartoon spread the view that Israel is an “apartheid” state. The student wished to remain anonymous because of the presence of neo-Nazi and anti-Israel hostility in the region. He added that he is “sensitized in terms of anti-Semitism” and viewed the article and cartoon as an expression of modern Jew-hatred.
Stawski, the head of the NGO that monitors anti-Semitism in the German press, said, “The accusation being made here is that friends of Israel intimidate Israel-critics by accusing them of being anti-Semites, thereby supposedly trying to squash any criticism of the Jewish state.” He called this approach “an ideal way to avoid having to divulge into any facts.”