A decision by the World Jewish Congress to honor German Chancellor Angela Merkel with its prestigious Theodor Herzl Award for Zionism has sparked anger and bewilderment among Jewish leaders in the United States and Europe. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
A decision by the World Jewish Congress (WJC) to honor German Chancellor Angela Merkel with its prestigious Theodor Herzl Award for Zionism has sparked anger and bewilderment among Jewish leaders in the United States and Europe.
The WJC, founded in August 1936 in Geneva, Switzerland, to confront the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe, bestows its annual award to individuals who act to promote the goals of the late Theodor Herzl, the founder of the modern Zionist movement, “for the creation of a safer and more tolerant world for Jews.”
Critics say that Merkel, because her domestic and foreign policies have in recent years made the world less safe for Jews, is uniquely undeserving of the award. These policies include:
German government failure to combat rising anti-Semitism. A total of 1,799 anti-Semitic hate crimes — five per day, on average — were reported in Germany during 2018, according to the German Interior Ministry. This represents a 40% increase over 2013, when 1,275 such crimes were recorded. The actual number of anti-Semitic hate crimes in Germany is likely much higher. A survey produced by the Vienna-based European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found that 80% of Jews who said they were a victim of anti-Semitism did not report the crimes. Almost half of Jews living in Germany said they do not feel safe in the country and were considering emigrating, according to the FRA.
Germany is home to around 120,000 Jews. A recent survey by the University of Bielefeld found that 85% of German Jews believe there has been an upsurge of anti-Semitism in the country in the previous 12 months; 70% of those surveyed said that they avoided wearing “publicly identifiable Jewish symbols” out of a fear of being attacked; 58% said that they deliberately avoid certain neighborhoods.
Although Merkel has frequently condemned anti-Semitism, her government has been unable or unwilling to implement effective measures to tackle the problem.
German government support for mass migration from the Muslim world. The rise in anti-Semitism in Germany has coincided with the German government’s decision to allow into the country more than a million migrants from the Muslim world. The German government denies that that the two are linked. German Interior Ministry statistics, for instance, claim that 90% of the anti-Semitic hate crimes reported in Germany in 2018 were committed by “far right” persons. The University of Bielefeld survey, however, revealed that 81% of the physical assaults against Jews during the previous 12 months were attributed to Muslim attackers.
The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) found that most of the anti-Semitism in Europe today is being perpetrated by Muslim immigrants, or by the those on the political left: 30% of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe during the past five years were attributed to “Muslim extremists” and 21% to those with a “left-wing political view,” according to the report. Only 13% of the attacks were attributed to those with a “right-wing political view.” Another FRA survey found that six out of ten Jews who were victims of “violent physical anti-Semitism” attributed the crimes to “someone with a Muslim extremist view.”
German government support for anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations. In 2018, for instance, of 21 anti-Israel UN resolutions, Germany approved 16 and abstained on four others. In May 2016, Germany approved an especially disgraceful UN resolution, co-sponsored by the Arab group of states and the Palestinian delegation, that singled out Israel at the annual assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) as the world’s only violator of “mental, physical and environmental health.”
German government support for anti-Israel boycotts. Germany provides millions of euros annually to organizations that promote anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) and “lawfare” campaigns, anti-Zionism, antisemitism, and violence, according to NGO Monitor.
German government’s refusal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. After U.S. President Donald J. Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in May 2018, Merkel launched a pressure campaign to stop Central and Eastern European countries from relocating their embassies to Jerusalem.
German government support for Iran nuclear deal. Merkel has steadfastly defended the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which critics say puts Iran “on a legal glide path to the bomb.” In May 2018, President Trump withdrew the United States from the deal and re-imposed sanctions. “The JCPOA enriched the Iranian regime and enabled its malign behavior, while at best delaying its ability to pursue nuclear weapons and allowing it to preserve nuclear research and development,” Trump said.
German government’s silence and inaction over Iran’s threats to destroy Israel. On September 30, Major General Hossein Salami, head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said that Iran has created the necessary conditions for “destruction of the illegitimate Zionist regime.” In remarks published by Iran’s government-controlled Tehran Times, Salami said, “This regime [Israel] should be wiped off the world’s geography and this is not a dream anymore.” On October 1, the German Foreign Ministry described the comments as “anti-Israel rhetoric” but refused to denounce them as “anti-Semitic.”
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, the president of NGO Monitor, Professor Gerald Steinberg, said:
“The Germans, and Merkel in particular, should be the first to condemn Iran’s genocidal threats against the Jewish state as anti-Semitism. Instead, by taking refuge behind the canard that ‘anti-Israel’ language can be distinguished from anti-Semitism, they undermine the international consensus behind the IHRA [The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] working definition [of anti-Semitism]. Every aspect of Iran’s campaign to destroy Israel is anchored in hatred of Jews and Jewish national self-determination, including many of the images that echo Nazi propaganda. In the time she remains in office, Merkel should give high priority to undoing the damage she has done by failing to confront Iran.”
The head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, told the Jerusalem Post that Merkel’s “business-as-usual attitude toward Mullocracy makes a mockery of Germany’s historic responsibilities to the Jewish people after the Shoah and her assurances of solidarity with Israel.”
German government efforts to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran. In January 2019, Germany, together with France and the United Kingdom, established INSTEX (Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges), an EU barter system that would enable European companies to sidestep U.S. sanctions on Iran. The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Dr. Josef Schuster, has called for an immediate end to Iranian-German business relations, alleging that the trade benefits the Islamic Republic’s terrorism and contradicts Berlin’s pledge that Israel’s security is non-negotiable:
“It seems paradoxical that Germany — as a country that is said to have learned from its horrendous past and which has a strong commitment to fighting antisemitism — is one of the strongest economic partners of a regime that blatantly denies the Holocaust and commits human rights abuses on a daily basis. Germany has included Israel’s security as a part of its raison d’être. As a matter of course this should exclude doing business with a fanatic dictatorship that is calling for Israel’s destruction, pursuing nuclear weapons and financing terror organizations around the world.”
German government’s refusal to outlaw Hezbollah. Merkel has repeatedly dismissed calls for her to Iran-back proxy Hezbollah, which has more than a thousand operatives in Germany, according to German intelligence. Merkel appears reluctant to outlaw the group for fear of antagonizing Iran.
The WJC’s decision to present the award to Merkel — normally presented in November — has not yet officially been made public. Prominent European Jews, however, revealed that they had received private invitations to the award ceremony and the controversy has been covered by Israeli media, including by the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom.
The decision to present this year’s award to Merkel appears to be the handiwork of Charlotte Knobloch, an octogenarian Jewish woman who was saved from the Holocaust by a Christian family in Franconia, a region of northern Bavaria. She has been active in Bavaria’s Jewish community for more than 30 years and is now the head of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria (Israelitische Kultusgemeinde München und Oberbayern). She is also the WJC’s Commissioner for Holocaust Memory.
Knobloch has vehemently rejected the idea that mass migration from the Muslim world has contributed to the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany. Instead, she blames the “far right” anti-mass-migration party Alternative for Germany (AfD), the third-largest party in the German parliament.
In October 2018, German Jews established a Jewish group within AfD. The so-called Juden in der AfD (Jews in the AfD, or JAfD) is a response to the open-door immigration policies promoted by Germany’s mainstream parties, policies which have allowed in millions of Muslims and are fueling Islamic anti-Semitism in the country.
Emanuel Bernhard Krauskopf, a 69-year-old German Jew who joined the AfD in 2013, said that he founded the JAfD because Germany’s mainstream parties are not doing enough to address anti-Semitism. “Every Jew who has been murdered in Europe since 2000 has been killed by Islamofascists,” said Krauskopf, whose family fled Poland during the Holocaust and lost 50 family members in Nazi concentration camps. He added that many Jews in both eastern and western Germany were embracing the AfD because they believe that continued mass migration poses a danger to the future of Jewish life in Germany. He has been accused by detractors of being a “Jewish Nazi.”
The emergence of the JAfD challenges the long-term narrative espoused by Germany’s political establishment that the AfD is “anti-Semitic.”
In 2016, Knobloch awarded Merkel with the Munich’s Jewish community’s Ohel Jakob Medal for her work “to promote and protect Jewish life in Germany and her commitment to the State of Israel.”
Knobloch said in her presentation speech that Merkel, like no other German leader before her, “stands with the Jewish community and with Israel in the most determined and unequivocal fashion.” This was “an expression of her humanity and her sense of historical responsibility,” Knobloch said. She added:
“The safety and well-being of every Jewish person in Germany is for you part of Germany’s reason of state and something that is not negotiable. For you, these are more than empty words.”
In her acceptance speech, Merkel said that for her receiving such an award was “anything but self-evident.”
Given Merkel’s long track record of anti-Israel policies and positions, German political commentator Henryk Broder expressed bewilderment at the WJC’s decision to bestow Merkel with the Theodor Herzl Award:
“A few days ago, I found in my mailbox an invitation that was probably sent to me by mistake. The President of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, and the President of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, Charlotte Knobloch, are ‘honored’ to invite me to a festive dinner on the occasion of Her Excellency the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Angela Merkel receiving the Theodor Herzl Award.
“Why is Merkel being given the Theodor Herzl Award? Because her representative at the United Nations abstains in anti-Israel resolutions — and thereby de facto supports them? The same official who equates Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians with Israel’s demolition of the homes of Palestinian terrorists? For not relocating the German embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as the United States did, and also warning other countries against taking such a step? For all this, she gets the Theodor Herzl Award?”
The Zionist Organization of America issued a statement in which it expressed opposition to Merkel receiving the award:
“The Zionist Organization of America opposes the World Jewish Congress’s decision to honor German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the Herzl Award. The ZOA firmly believes that a foreign leader who continues to support the disastrously flawed 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which will enable the Iranian regime in time to become a nuclear weapons state, is a singularly inappropriate recipient of the WJC’s most prestigious award.”
ZOA President Morton Klein elaborated:
“By any reasonable yardstick, Chancellor Merkel has done little if anything to justify the bestowal of this award and a great deal that should disqualify her as a candidate for this award.
“Which policy she has pursued does the WJC believe distinguishes Chancellor Merkel as a worthy recipient of this award? Her refusal to close down the operations in Germany of the vicious blood-soaked terrorist group Hezbollah? Her opposition to recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? Her stubborn support for the Iran nuclear deal that is opposed on bipartisan basis in Israel? Her unabashed claim that Iran is not anti-Semitic, despite its repeated calls for the Jewish State’s destruction.
“Whatever else may be said of Chancellor Merkel, she is an entirely inappropriate recipient of an award adorned with the name of the founding father of Political Zionism.”
The publisher of the monthly German Jewish magazine, Jüdische Rundschau, Dr. Rafael Korenzecher, greeted news of Merkel’s award with a sarcastic post on his blog:
“Our wonderful Chancellor Frau Merkel receives from the highest Jewish representation the high Theodor Herzl Award for special services to the Jewish people and to Israel.
“I think she has earned it. It is to her merit and the merit of her political entourage that the exodus of Jews from Germany has finally led to a significant Aliyah (immigration) to Israel. The Zionist Organization of Germany (ZOD) could only dream of such success rates in all its decades of work in this country.
“And that is just the beginning. There is a great possibility that thanks to today’s politics Germany will become Judenrein [free of Jews]. Wir schaffen das (We can do it).”