Debate gottingen peace award : jewish dissent

Gottingen Peace Prize affair is about freedom of expression and representation. The Central Council does not speak for everyone.

A critic of the laureate: Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany (archive photo 2015) Photo: Stefan Zeitz/imago

No other milieu in Germany has changed as much as Judaism due to immigration. More than 90 percent of the 200.000 Jews are first- or second-generation migrants. And only half are members of a community. Only for this half can the Central Council of Jews speak in its role as the ceremonial counterpart of politics and the majority society.

It seems useful to me to look at the controversy surrounding the Gottingen Peace Prize, which will be awarded on Saturday to Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East, from the perspective of representation. It is by no means only about which strategy against the Israeli occupation is legitimate. But it is about freedom of opinion: How divergent are Jews allowed to think?? And in the land of the Shoah, the only way to represent Jewish concerns is for an official voice to speak and to define the framework of what can be said?

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council, called the planned award "a slap in the face of the entire Jewish community in Germany and Israel". The formulation raises a logical problem, because the laureates also belong to this community as Jews; some are even members of congregations. But you will not be thought of (neo-German "read") as a Jew by Schuster. Strangely enough, the opponents from the majority society also acted as if this was not about Jews at all (partly Israelis at the same time) – as if these were not people for whom the Shoah and all anti-Semitism has an existential meaning.

A co-founder of Jewish Voice, the writer Ruth Fruchtman, registered with the Jewish Community of Berlin, describes in her novel "Jerusalemtag" what it means for a Jew of her generation (she is over 70) to fight against the occupation. What inner struggles it entails, possibly for a lifetime, to position oneself in a way that is sometimes not understood even by one’s own family.

Who speaks?

So who speaks for whom and to whom? The Jewish Central Council is more representative than the Muslim body of the same name, but it is not the voice of all Jews. Its representatives must be able to withstand opposition without defaming it.

It is understandable if the older generation of West German Jews wants to hold on to a position that was formed after 1945. The small band of survivors who settled in the land of the perpetrators at that time, against the will of the international Jewish organizations, was isolated for a long time. When the Allies stopped their denazification policy with the emerging Cold War, the Jews lost their most important ally. They remained virtually alone with the federal government and gradually became crown witnesses of German purification, singled out like a symbolic substitute for those who were erased. In return, the community’s representatives enjoy public status and media resonance; so it is to this day.

Circumstances are changing, a Jewry that has become diverse now lives in a polyphonic society

But circumstances have changed, a diversified Jewry now lives in a polyphonic society. "Jews and Jewish women do not form a community, neither religiously nor ethnically," judges Jewish lyricist Max Czollek rigorously. They are more diverse than their "public usefulness" allows, and should resign their role in the theater of memory.

The attitude of community leaders not to allow intra-Jewish dissent to become public is now criticized by younger people as "dominance culture"; it prevents democracy, suppresses diversity. So it was no coincidence that the journal Yalta was founded after the president of the Central Council called for an upper limit on refugees. The project marks an end to the postwar order because it seeks to end the old dichotomy: here the hidden inner-Jewish discourse, there the strategic address of the majority society. Instead: Making dissent visible, and being different without fear.

Are we ready?

Applying this slogan to dealing with Israeli politics is probably the hardest thing to do. Nevertheless, I think it is wrong for historian Moshe Zimmermann to call "Diaspora Jews" "hostages of Israeli politics". Hostages have no choice, they don’t choose to be hostage. Every Jew is free to criticize the occupation; to remain silent about it is also a determined attitude, and it does not come about under blackmail. It is not threats from the outside that have moved Israeli leaders so far to the right. And it is not due to acute anti-Semitic danger if the official Jewish spectrum of opinion in Germany is so narrow. These are decisions, and they are changeable.

A look at the USA: The majority of American Jews have been distancing themselves from Israeli agitators for some time now. Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, until now Benjamin Netanyahu’s ally through thick and thin, now reacted with irritation to his electoral alliance with an extremist party that advocates the deportation of Arab Israelis. Criticism from the liberal group J Street, which has gained much following among the younger generation of U.S. Jews, was predictably more severe.

Is it only because of the greater number of American Jews that a plurality of views is as normal among them as religious diversity?? Certainly not. It also takes a social environment that can deal with it. An environment that sees Jews not as figurines for the display case, but as real people with whom one can argue. Are we ready?

Error on discovered?

Gladly as reader comment under the text on or via the contact form.

  • 6. 3. 2019

Commentary by

Charlotte Wiedemann

is a freelance writer who became known for her travel reports from Muslim countries. In March 2017, she published "The New Iran. A society steps out of the shadows" (dtv).


more from

Charlotte Wiedemann

Daily special pages on winners and losers, sports and politics. Subscription including donation to Human Rights Watch.

Full column below article

More on the subject

The comment function under this article is closed.

This is how you can comment:

Please register and adhere to our netiquette.

Do you have problems commenting or registering?

Then please email us at [email protected]

Reader comments

    09. 03. 2019, 15:06

Excerpt from a conversation with Andreas Zumach:

"Is the debate polemical and dishonest?

It is not only polemical and dishonest, but also harmful in several ways. Because Josef Schuster and Felix Klein, with their inflationary accusations of anti-Semitism against critics of Israeli government policy, trivialize the real existing hostility towards Jews in Germany and make it more difficult to fight it. With the infamous equation of an economic boycott to overcome injustice with the Nazi call "Don’t buy from Jews", Schuster and Stein also trivialize the Holocaust and mock its victims. Schuster wrongly claims to speak in the name of all Jews in Germany. At the same time, in an extremely undemocratic way, he refuses to engage in public discourse with people -Jews and non-Jews alike- who disagree with him."

Just another prize from "Israel critics for "critics of Israel"’, that hits the spot.

"But it is about freedom of expression" – one of "Israel critics frequently used argument. And as usual, it is also wrong here. Nobody denies the "Jewish Voice the right to express their opinion. But it is a question of whether this opinion is worthy of being awarded a prize, and possibly with the help of public resources.

Now that the city, the university and the savings bank have withdrawn, it is only a question of a prize from "critics of Israel" for "critics of Israel. Let them do it, who cares?

    07. 03. 2019, 20:10

@75026 (profile deleted) "City, Uni and Sparkasse" are also really very much suspected of being particularly courageous and progressive. ^^^

@75026 (profile deleted) whereby of course the withdrawal of the Sparkasse is particularly painful.

    07. 03. 2019, 18:00

@christine rolke-sommer Sure, that’s where the money came from.

The essence of the comment is merely the truism that there is no one who can speak authoritatively for all Jews, and that Judaism is not a monolithic bloc, but that Jews hold all sorts of opinions.

But this is true for all other groups of people as well.
And it doesn’t change the fact that an anti-Semitic position (BDS support) is anti-Semitic even if it is held by Jews. There are z. B. There are also heaps of women who hold anti-women positions, and their positions are generally criticized as anti-women without anyone getting upset about it.

How the comment of Mrs. Wiedemann would have turned out, if the group "Jews in the AfD a prize would have been awarded?

"Judaism has always been extremely diverse, sometimes violently divided and far from being a unity. This was already evident in the Roman province of Judea, when several religiously and politically diverse groups were fighting each other. Even today there are z.B. ultraorthodox groups who reject Zionism and the state of Israel and who fight for their views if necessary.
"The Jew was not the Jewish reality, but the enemy image created by the Christians in Europe.
If today the Central Council of Jews thinks it can speak for all Jews, it is welcome to do so. If the Jewish voice for a just peace in the Near East expresses itself one-sidedly to the Near East conflict, it may do that just as naturally. And when the two sides fight, that is also legitimate.
The Jewish community mentioned by certain people and the author is a construct. Who is part of this community or not, cannot be decided from the outside; not by Mr. Schuster and not by Mrs. Wiedemann. One may leave that gladly to the concerned ones.
These sometimes strange texts about Jews only show that the image of "the Jew" has always been extremely diverse still haunted around: the Jew is first a Jew and only then other identities come into play. No one would make such attributions of idetity to a Christian.

    07. 03. 2019, 11:52

@ecox lucius Thanks for this comment.

The "Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East" is an association of "women and men of Jewish origin in Germany, in order to make visible that we know from the historical experiences of our ancestors about the degradation and the pain that is inflicted on people when they are systematically excluded and disenfranchised. No nation may rise above another nation and no human being may rise above another human being. All men are born equal in rights."Anyone who criticizes this credo as anti-Semitic against the backdrop of contemporary German history and in the name of Germany, of all people, not only does a disservice to the defense of the state of Israel, but also presumes, as a non-Jew, to take sides unilaterally in the internal Jewish dispute over an Arab policy that would secure Israel’s long-term existence. To accuse German Jews of anti-Semitism as Germans is quite brazen and presumptuous, as if there were not enough to sweep in front of one’s own front door.

At the right end of the political scale in this inner-Jewish dispute are such movements as the theocratic Kach party (banned in Israel) and its offspring Otzma Yehudit. This is in the programmatic tradition of the Jewish Defense League, a racist, religious-fundamentalist, ultra-nationalist, vulgo right-wing extremist movement once founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane ("a Jewish Nazi" – SPON). Their ideological essentials include u. a. the notion of God-given superiority of the chosen Jewish people above all others, the prohibition of sexual mixing of Jews and non-Jews, the expansion of Israel to the entire historical "Holy Land" and ethnic expulsion of all non-Jews from that territory, the rejection of Western liberalism and democracy as "un-Jewish," "godless," and "Hellenistic," etc. The Likud has now entered into an electoral alliance with Otzma Yehudit.

    06. 03. 2019, 19:36

@Reinhardt Gutsche When asking questions about the Middle East conflict, it is always helpful to look at how differentiated the situation is assessed.
A look at the self-portrayal of the Jewish voice shows the classic distribution of roles: Palestinians as pure victims, Israelis always in the role of perpetrators.
Whoever breaks down a complex conflict to such a simple formula is indeed not worthy of an award.
Also one may not complain, if this position with "the Jews are at everything to blame" and thus the accusation of anti-Semitism is raised.

@Reinhardt Gutsche Except for the following paragraph, I’m with you all the way: "As a German, to accuse German Jews of anti-Semitism is quite brazen and presumptuous [. ]."

Everyone has the right to express his opinion. No matter who, no matter what. One does not disqualify oneself by one’s uncaused ancestry, but if applicable. Through his choice of words, reasoning o.a.

Like this post? Please share to your friends:
Leave a Reply

;-) :| :x :twisted: :smile: :shock: :sad: :roll: :razz: :oops: :o :mrgreen: :lol: :idea: :grin: :evil: :cry: :cool: :arrow: :???: :?: :!: