by Benjamin Weinthal
Special to the Jewish Week
The debate has been raging for weeks in the major German media about whether anti-Semitism can be compared with Islamophobia. Advocates of the parallel see a mirror image of hate. Wolfgang Benz, the controversial Director of the Berlin Center for Research on Anti-Semitism , ignited the debate in early January , and argues that „The fury of the new enemies of Islam parallels the older rage of anti-Semites against the Jews.“ Benz’s credibility has taken a beating, however, after it was disclosed in late January that he honored his Nazi doctoral supervisor, an energetic ideologue of the Hitler movement.
Yet the affinity for the anti-Semitism-equals-Islamophobia equation still has a devoted mainstream following. On the other hand, critics of the parallel see a playing down of lethal anti-Semitism, a marginalization of the Holocaust, and an excuse to justify radical Islamic terror. The debate carries enormous currency in this country, largely because Germany employed eliminationist anti-Semitism to obliterate European Jewry. The marriage between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia is part of a larger trend of obfuscation. As was previously argued by Professor Dovid Katz in the Guardian the efforts to conflate the Holocaust—the end result of revolutionary anti-Semitism—with the former Soviet Union’s occupation of Eastern Europe, is a form of historical obfuscation
Benz and his journalistic fans fail to see that their defense of Islamophobia insulates political Islam against sharp criticism and creates political obfuscation. The term Islamophobia“ emerged from the Islamic Republic of Iran following the revolution in 1979 and was introduced as a response to international criticism of such practices as the forcing of women to wear headscarves, persecution of gays and other violators of „Islamic morality.“
By lumping anti-Semitism with Islamophobia, the proponents have put the issue of their motivation in the public eye. The Israeli psychoanalyst Zvi Rex neatly captured the state of post-Holocaust anti-Semitism with his sharp sarcasm: “The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.” That helps to explain the drive to water down the crimes of the Shoah by pooh-poohing the murderous nature of anti-Semitism.
While discussing the mushrooming comparisons between the anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau , Chairman of Yad Vashem’s council and former chief Rabbi of Israel, told me in Krakow at the commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz 65 years ago , “It is not wise to analyze anti-Semitism and to a make a comparison between anti-Semitism and Islam. I do not believe a comparison of this kind can happen It does not bring in my mind that the behavior against the Jews before the Holocaust and during the Holocaust could reappear in any way against Muslims. “
His main point is the all encompassing energy of revolutionary anti-Semitism—whose whose final aim is to obliterate all Jews–distinguishes anti-Semitism from bias against Islam. That helps to explain why many Jews and non-Jews in Germany are outraged by the comparison because the comparative analysis plays down the significance of the Shoah and at the same time ignores rising German anti-Semitism. This past month the prominent German-Jewish historian Julius Schoeps, Director of the Moses Mendelssohn Center in Potsdam, termed Benz’s comparison “dangerous.”
A 2009 study by Bielefeld University showed a spike in Jew-hatred in Germany and unsettling high amounts of modern anti-Semitism. According to the study, 41.2 percent of Europeans agreed with the statement that Jews are exploiting the Holocaust to advance their own interests, and 45.7 percent of respondents supported the contention that Israel in general „is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.“ Last week’s release of the Jewish Agency’s report on anti-Semitism showed the largest outbreak of Jew-hatred since the Hitler movement.
The vehement opposition to equating anti-Semitism with Islamophobia does not revolve around a sufferer’s competition;rather, a historical understanding of radical anti-Semitism. The state of anti-Semitism research—and the understanding of Jew-hatred— in Germany has reached a nadir with the current revisionist attempt to conflate anti-Semitism with discrimination against Muslism.
Without question, Germany needs to improve its anti-discrimination laws in the areas of employment, housing and access to public services for Muslims. The United States equal opportunity legislation could serve as good model. Yet the bogus parallel between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia advances the agenda of radical political Islam at the expense of combating bias and hatred against Muslims.
Benjamin Weinthal is the Jerusalem Post Correspondent in Berlin,Germany.