What are the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory? A shadowy group of anonymous people who are said to wield enormous influence behind the scenes. By this token, the left-wing Israeli academic Ofri Ilany has just added a new conspiracy theory to the list. According to a piece Ilany wrote for “Haaretz”, a group calling themselves “Antideutsche” has hijacked German public opinion on Israel. Listen:
“The atmosphere now pervading Berlin, once the capital of the Third Reich, is particularly instructive when pondering the state of discourse about anti-Semitism (…) According to the new version of the Holocaust, Hitler was merely the precursor of Ali Khamenei, and Benjamin Netanyahu is the contemporary personification of Anne Frank.” Indeed, “intellectual and academic discourse in Germany today is consistently skewed toward the Israeli right. When the subject is Israel, the most distinguished media and academic platforms publish items that look like they could have been culled from the Israeli right-wing site Mida.” This is because the “Antideutsche want everything having to do with anti-Semitism to be subjected to their uniform and dogmatic line. Paradoxically, ideas and opinions that can be voiced in Israeli academia with no special problem, foment a huge ruckus in Berlin. Incensed Germans, some of them descendants of Nazis, don’t hesitate to attack Jewish and Israeli left-wingers. Scholars who have devoted their lives to Jewish studies tread carefully for fear they will say something that is not consistent with this absurd conception of reality.” (…) But it’s not just Berlin and Germany: “It looks like no one is able to stop the madness of the Antideutsche. (…) Because the Nazi past and the Holocaust constitute the foundation of postwar German identity, they are intent on projecting their selfhood onto the whole world.”
Yes, dear reader, you have read correctly: The ultimate goal of the mad Antideutsche, who already control public opinion in Germany, is to dominate the world, ideologically at least.
Who are these powerful people?
But who are these dangerous people? Do they have banks at their disposal? Or do they at least control media outlets? Do they have professorships, seats on academic boards? Ties to the political parties and the government?
In fact, Ofri Ilany names just two people: One “Thomas”, whom he met ten years ago as a raving Leftist at a pro-Israel demonstration, and who “has since become an academic and an editor of an influential cultural column in a German paper”; and Thomas Thiel, who recently wrote an article critical of the Jewish Museum Berlin in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”. It’s not clear whether the two Thomases are one and the same person. But it is to be suspected, as Thiel is the only Thomas I know who might be accused of belonging to or sympathizing with the sect and who is at the same time – as the editor of the paper’s University section – in any way “influential”. As far as I know, however, Thiel doesn’t have an “influential column”. OK, so that’s one or two possible “influencers”. How could they (or he) possibly create the pro-Israel atmosphere “currently pervading Berlin”, how could they “consistently skew academic discourse to the right” and hope to “project their selfhood onto the whole world”?
Ah, there’s the rub. But a good conspiracy theorist doesn’t bother with details. “Indeed, the Antideutsche number a few thousand activists at most. But in the current global political climate, the marginal becomes central and the central, marginal.” Yeah, right. That figures. So the fact that there are at most “a few thousand activists” (more like a few hundred I’d say, most of them students) actually becomes proof of their incredible influence. Because of the “current global climate” (and he’s not talking about temperatures).
And once again the Jewish Museum …
So, without any proof, without naming any names, without describing any institutions or connections, this academic – who should be subject if not to the strictures of academic proof, at least to the rules of serious journalism, part of which is providing evidence for what you say) – goes on to claim that “Antideutsche sympathizers are now the driving force behind journalistic and social-media attacks on institutions in Berlin, notably those dealing with Jewish history and even anti-Semitism research. Thus, the Jewish Museum Berlin became the object of a particularly ugly offensive. The institution’s director, Peter Schaefer, a Jewish studies scholar, was vilified by pro-Israel activists to the point where he was compelled to resign last June. (…) Subsequently, the denunciations focused on another senior official of the institution, Yasemin Shooman, who was accused of having dared to compare anti-Semitic attacks to attacks on Muslim migrants.”
Now as one of the journalists who were critical of Schaefer’s directorship and thus kept tabs on what was published about him, I do not recall Schaefer being “vilified” anywhere. If Ilany has any proof of vilification, let him come forward and present it. I also do not recall “pro-Israel activists” being at the forefront of the criticism, although Schaefer did claim on public TV that his many critics belonged to “circles close to the Israeli government” – a vilification for which he was unable to induce a shred of evidence, because it was a blatant lie. If Ilany knows of any “pro-Israel activists” who brought Schaefer down, let him name names and present them here. In fact, Schaefer resigned not because he was vilified by “pro-Israel activists” but after criticism from the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland, the body representing the Jews in Germany, which had tried to stay studiously neutral for years, before the Zentralrat’s President Josef Schuster finally had enough and said publicly that one had to ask oneself whether the Jewish Museum was in fact Jewish.
But facts don’t bother a true conspiracy theorist. Ilany goes on to claim: “Subsequently, the denunciations focused on another senior official of the institution, Yasemin Shooman, who was accused of having dared to compare anti-Semitic attacks to attacks on Muslim migrants.” Actually, there were no “denunciations” of Ms. Shooman. Criticism focussed not on the fact that “she dared to compare anti-Semitic attacks to attacks on Muslim migrants”. Criticism of the Museum’s Academy, which Shooman ran, focussed on the fact that she had repeatedly invited very vocal critics of Israel – including people credibly described as sympathizers if not members of the Muslim Brotherhood – as speakers and panel members at events staged by the Academy, whereas she had never invited anyone who defended the Jewish State and its policies. So much for the assertion that in Berlin today “intellectual and academic discourse in Germany today is consistently skewed toward the Israeli right”.
Shooman was also criticized for allegedly denying or playing down the fact that every Jew living in Berlin can, if she so wants, experience every day: that there is an Antisemitism problem within the Muslim community in Berlin. (She denies this accusation.)
Also, the criticism of Ms. Shooman did not follow on the resignation of Schaefer, as the adverb “subsequently” implies. By the time Schaefer resigned, Shooman had already accepted an academic post at the Technical University in Berlin. Indeed, in a statement published by her new employer, Shooman herself denies that she left the Jewish Museum because of the criticism of her work there. And, on a more personal note: As Ms. Shooman was in a very difficult personal situation when the criticism of the Museum’s policies came to a head, I for one did my best not to mention her at all. The one time I did – citing an academic article she had written, in which she denied that there could be such a thing as anti-German (!) racism among Muslim immigrants, because they lacked positions of power, and inferring from this position that Shooman would by the same logic deny the existence of Antisemitism within the Muslim community – she immediately took me to court. She lost.
“Jews in the crosshairs”?
One more thing. “Haaretz” titled: “Germany’s pro-Israel Left Has a New Target in the Crosshairs: Jews”. Now I know as an author that authors do not always control what headline editors choose to use. So I am not blaming Ilany for the fact that whoever wrote that headline didn’t notice that the article does not name a single Jew who has been “in the crosshairs” of the “Antideutsche” or any other “pro-Israel Left”. Whereas Jews in Halle were recently literally in the crosshairs of a right-wing terrorist.
However, Ilany writes: “Incensed Germans, some of them descendants of Nazis, don’t hesitate to attack Jewish and Israeli left-wingers.” This is true, though the verb “attack” implies violence; I’m sure that “Antideutsche” publications (which as it happens I don’t read) are critical of elements of the Israeli and especially Jewish Left. Think Noam Chomsky for instance. But is Ilany implying that “descendants of Nazis” do not have the right to support the Israeli Government and criticize its critics? If taken seriously, this would amount to muzzling the freedom of expression in Germany in exactly the way Ilany claims is happening now: Whereas now (counter to what he claims) people on the Right and the Left constantly complain that “You aren’t allowed to criticize Israel”, it would seem that Ilany would welcome a situation in which you wouldn’t be allowed not to criticize Israel.
Now I have been consistently critical of the “Antideutsche” who have crossed my path in the past 20 years, and anybody who wants to can google my articles. As a result, some of them have indeed “vilified” me, though strangely enough I haven’t been forced into silence by this immensely powerful shadow group. I agree with Ilany’s description – and criticism – of their one-dimensional ideology. But when he claims that “Antideutsche sympathizers are now the driving force behind journalistic and social-media attacks on institutions in Berlin, notably those dealing with Jewish history and even anti-Semitism research”, I take issue. This is guilt by association. “Antideutsche” criticize certain institutions; I and others do, too, thus we are either “sympathizers” (a catch-all phrase from the McCarthy era) of the “Antideutsche” or useful idiots (Lenin) being “driven” by these ideologues with their fantasies of world domination.
This is bullshit. Ilany – and Haaretz – should apologize for the sheer stupidity – let alone perniciousness – of this article.