The head of Germany's largest Jewish organization has said the Turkish president's last comparisons with National Socialism insult the memory of Holocaust victims. It's the latest salvo in an incendiary war of words.
The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan disrespected the memory of the victims of the Third Reich in accusing German Chancellor Angela Merkel of using "Nazi methods."
"The comparisons between today's Federal Republic of Germany and National Socialism, which we have heard in recent days, are not only insulting and absolutely false - they also relativize the Nazis' rule of terror," Schuster said. "The comparison is monstrous and denigrates the suffering of the victims of the Shoah."
Erdogan made his remarks on Turkish television on Sunday after a Kurdish political rally in the city of Frankfurt. The Turkish president accuses the German government of hindering political events in Germany in support of changes to the Turkish constitution that would give him broad new powers. Those changes are subject to a popular referendum on April 16, in which expatriate Turks in Germany can vote. On March 21, representatives of Erdogan's party said that they would stage no further events in Germany.
Schuster said comparing Merkel with the Nazis willfully ignored actual manifestations of anti-Jewish sentiment today.
"In a time in which anti-Semitism and right-wing populism are on the rise, this completely inappropriate comparison and the trivialization it entails of the horrific deeds of the Nazis downplay the true threats," Schuster objected.
Erdogan has repeatedly used Nazi comparisons against his perceived enemies in Germany and the Netherlands while comparing Turks today to Jews in the Third Reich. He told a Turkish newspaper that Europeans would "revive gas chambers if they weren't ashamed." And in the past he has repeatedly compared Israel with Nazism.
Criticism of the government
The German government has rejected the comparisons and said the Nazi jibes must stop. At the same time, the chancellor's office and the government ministries' desire to de-escalate the situation have led to a wait-and-see approach.
That's not nearly enough for journalist Henryk M. Broder, one of the country's leading Jewish-German voices.
"It's not the job of Jews to save the honor of the German government," Broder told Deutsche Welle by email. "At least not as long as the German government puts up with anything and everything instead of breaking off diplomatic relations with Turkey."
Spokespeople for the Chancellor's Office and the Foreign Ministry said on Monday that Germany was taking a measured stance because there was no option to continue dealing with Turkey and because it didn't want to inadvertently help Erdogan ahead of the referendum.
"Who benefits, if we answer with the same sort of language the Turkish president uses?" Foreign Ministry spokesman Schäfer said. "My answer would be: It benefits the Turkish president. Our impression is the harder we strike back, the more we fall victim to the tactics of the governing party in Turkey."
Billions for insults?
Broder emphatically rejects that reasoning, saying no amount of reserve will influence Erdogan to moderate his words or actions.
"He's not going to stop, whatever is done," Broder said. "And that's not the point. The point is we shouldn't be rewarding him for his behavior by sticking billions of euros up his (rear end)."
Broder was referring, among other things, to the deal between Turkey and the European Union, in which Ankara receives three billion euros ($3.2 billion) in return for stepping up efforts to prevent illegal migrants from reaching Europe.
It is politically very important in an election year for the German government to show it has migration under control. Turkey has recently threatened to suspend the deal in response to what it perceives as affronts from Germany and other EU member states.
A self-created Achilles' heel
Not all Jewish Germans share Broder's view that Germany should terminate diplomatic relations with Turkey, but others, too, think that their government should be taking a far harder line. Rafael Seligmann, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Jewish Voice from Germany, says that Berlin should make it clear that under Erdogan Turkey has no chance of ever joining the EU.
He adds that Germany needs to find other approaches, focusing on other countries, to the refugee issue to reduce its dependence on the Turkish president.
"We need to solve the refugee problem ourselves," Seligmann told DW. "We're creating our own Achilles' heel. We need to be more innovative. We can't make ourselves hostage to Erdogan."
And Seligmann agrees with Broder that since Erdogan is unlikely to change whatever Germany does, treating him with kid gloves is a mistake.
"Resisting him doesn't build him up - it sends a clear message," Seligmann said. "A provocateur doesn't need any objective reasons. It's a duel with different weapons. One side has a constitution and a code of behavior and the other has a cudgel in his hand. History tells us what happens with such authoritarian politicians. We shouldn't wind him up. But we should say: 'With this sort of politics, you have no business in the EU.'"