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Germany

Israel Critic Withdraws Application to Join German Party

The Free Democratic Party says Syrian-born Jamal Karsli, an outspoken Israel critic, has withdrawn his application to join the party. But a key state party leader remains in the hot seat.

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A defiant Jürgen Möllemann announces the departure of the Arab-German he championed.

Officials with the free-market Free Democratic Party (FDP) on Wednesday announced a face-saving solution to the controversy over admitting a new member who has been a lightning-rod of criticism because of his outspoken statements against Israel.

FDP Chairman Guido Westerwelle announced Wednesday that Jamal Karsli had withdrawn his application to join the party. Mr. Karsli, a Syrian-born politician and naturalized German citizen, is a former Green and member of the North Rhine-Westphalia state parliament. He recently bolted from his party because he didn't support its pro-Israel policies and sought to become a member of the FDP.

"A political witch hunt"

Jürgen Möllemann, the FDP's chairman in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, set out the compromise that may have settled the row. Mr. Karsli will now be allowed to sit with the FDP group in state parliament, but he will have no official party affiliation. At his own press conference Wednesday, Möllemann accused the German "political classes" of having conducted a "public witch hunt" against Karsli.

Karsli drew widespread criticism for a published article in which he compared the methods used by the Israeli government during its occupation of Palestinian-controlled areas to those of the Nazis. In another interview, he lambasted the media-influence of the "Zionist lobby" in Germany.

Mr. Möllemann, his chief supporter and the head of the German-Arab Society, has stood steadfastly behind Karsli from the beginning of the controversy. His own political future fell into question last week, after he accused Michel Friedman, vice president of the Central Council of Jews, of fueling the spread of anti-Semitism in Germany with his "intolerant, hateful style."

Trouble at the polls?

The comments sparked outrage over Möllemann within the Free Democrats and without, and led many to worry that the scandal would vaporize the party's chances of securing key ministerial posts - including the foreign ministry - if it becomes part of a coalition government after the September 22 national elections.

International attention to the row has been particularly embarrassing for party chief Westerwelle, who is planning a trip to Israel next week.

On Wednesday, Westerwelle, who has sought to distance himself from Möllemann's statements, took his own shots at Friedman, saying the Jewish leader had "no higher moral authority to accuse the FDP of anti-Semitism or to go after people who think differently with the 'Nazi card.'"

"Can the Israeli government be criticized?" Westerwelle asked. "Yes, of course it can be criticized. May the critic be labelled an anti-Semite? I think not."

FDP member arrested in Israel

In an apparently unrelated incident, the German Foreign Ministry revealed on Wednesday that police in Jerusalem had searched the home of the head of the local office of the FDP-aligned Friedrich Naumann Institute and briefly taken him into custody. The Israelis, the official said, believed he had acted "against the interests of Israel."

Police alleged that Burkhard Blanke possessed maps of army checkpoints that could be used in attacks against Israeli interests. However, following the intervention of Tuesday of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said no further action would be taken against Blanke.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Michaelis told reporters the government did not see any link between the scandal over anti-Israeli statements made by FDP members in Germany and the incident. "That is just wild speculation," he said.

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