The premier Canadian weekly news-magazine Maclean’s, had a brief report about a big news event in Germany; the anti-Semitism of German publisher and journalist Jakob Augstein. Thanks to Macleans, Canadians as well as its American subscribers learned that a prominent figure in Germany was included by the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) in a top ten list of anti-Semites in the world. The SWC substantiated its claim by listing a number of evidently uninformed and undereducated remarks by Jakob Augstein. On the basis of this, it ranked him as anti-Semite No. 9 in the world. And the German media (the leftist side to be exact) jumped immediately to his defense. That instance as well as the way the acquittal of Augstein was putatively accomplished, are quite revealing about the tenor in what can be said to be the German main stream media.
One issue at hand is, if what Mr. Augstein says makes him an anti-Semite or just someone who is ignorant. Since there is no clear definition of the term anti-Semite, one can still address it by approximation. Mr. Augstein’s remarks, at least some of them, are listed by the SWC. They are, as mentioned above, uninformed and undereducated. Augstein uses topoi that are commonly accepted as anti-Semitic, and which were used by Nazis in the case of Germany. Jews are seen as a thread to world peace and they control the United States. Augstein also fantastically distorts Israel’s actions. Thus, one could say he is indeed anti-Semitic, or could label him with other adjectives if one fancies it.
A simple Google search shows that Mr. Augstein is preoccupied with Israel and the Jews. There are 110,000 results for “Jakob Augstein” and Israel and almost 49,800 for “Jakob Augstein” and Juden. Yet a concern for human rights and philanthropy is not the cause for this obsession by Mr. Augstein. This is easily proven by searching for similar outrage by him (in quality and quantity) towards the worst human rights offenses in today’s world. There is nothing. At least I could not find anything. Based on such discrepancy, one can rightfully draw the conclusion that a prominent figure in Germany constantly and exclusively maligns Israel and the Jews through distortions and falsehoods. Thus labeling him as an anti-Semite appears, as concluded above, not to be far-fetched but rather quite apposite.
Another issue is ranking Augstein with other people, who make hateful remarks about Jews. One can certainly criticize any type of ranking for its explanatory power and validity, but in the end, it is always symbolic and thus of secondary importance. But in this case, it is worthwhile to look at the ranking, where the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian regime are ranked at the top of the list. Then however, they are followed by a number of more or less obscure and insignificant anti-Semites. Their offense might be worse that Mr. Augstein (or not), but in the end, what is their local and global impact? Answering this question can help to understand if Mr. Augstein is fairly or unfairly thrown together with these other folks.
Mr. Augstein is a prominent figure in his country. Thus his anti-Semitism has a certain reach and impact. Is this reach and impact smaller than all other folks listed above him? Furthermore, Mr. Augstein agitates in Germany. His defamation of Israel and Jews in Germany influences the public opinion in Germany. Germany is not just a very important country in itself, but also an important ally of Israel. Thus the damage caused by Augstein is probably more significant than that of the loony Norwegian and Brazilian ranked above him. Therefore, Augstein might indeed have deserved an even higher ranking if reach and impact would have been considered.
Consequently, it is appropriate to see in Mr. Augstein someone who maligns Israel and depicts Jews negatively. To call someone like this an anti-Semite is thusly not an egregious act but a simple observation. Yet this does not conclude the issue, as there is a media reaction to the dispute between Augstein and the SWC, which is noteworthy and revealing in and of itself. The German state television, for example, dismissed the entire affair by ridiculing it and discrediting the renowned SWC. Other important German newspapers, which play a significant role in shaping public opinion, unison took a similar stance by dismissing and defaming Israel and Jews.
In the leftist Zeit, Israelis and its lobbyists were indeed called crazy. Other major news outlets on the left, like the Spiegel, the SZ, and the Tagesspiegel, similarly bypassed the issue and instead took a patronizing stance and aimed at delegitimizing the German-Jewish journalist Henryk M. Broder (who brought attention to Augstein’s actions) through character attacks. The irony thereby is that in doing so, they utilized the anti-Semitic stereotype of a transatlantic Jewish conspiracy; Mr. Augstein being blameless, and instead Mr. Broder the Jew as the conspirator and troublemaker (verbatim used in several of the above mentioned news outlets).
Even though the line of argumentation in the defense of Mr. Augstein lacks logic, one still has to consider that these news outlets are influential with the political class in shaping their opinion. For the outsider, this controversy shows the intransigence of the leftist German media in addressing anti-Semitism. While the entire Jakob Augstein confrontation with the SWC affair might not have helped (so far at least) to address anti-Semitism in the German media, it had at least the benefit of revealing the reflexive and lopsided reaction of Mr. Augstein’s colleagues.