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Left party politicians on anti-Semitism top 10 list

Andreas Gorzewski / ccDecember 31, 2014

Four politicians in Germany's Left party have appeared on latest list registering anti-Semitic incidents, compiled annually by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The usefulness of such rankings is, however, disputed.

Annette Groth
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Members of the German Bundestag have appeared on the same list as the attackers who perpetrated a bloodbath in a Jerusalem synagogue. The connection was made by the Jewish human rights organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC.) Every year, the Los Angeles-based institute publishes a ranking of what it considers the year's worst incidents of anti-Semitism.

Right at the top for 2014 is a Belgian doctor who refused medical help to a 90-year-old Jewish woman with a broken rib, saying, "Send her to Gaza for a few hours, then she will get rid of the pain." Second place is taken by the attackers who killed a policeman and four people as they prayed in a synagogue.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center gives fourth place to the four German politicians Annette Groth (pictured above), Heike Hänsel, Inge Höger and Claudia Haydt from the opposition Left party. All of them, it says, "played a crucial role in stoking hatred of Israel" during what was subsequently dubbed the "Toiletgate" scandal.

'Toiletgate' scandal

Titelblatt der Top-Ten antisemitischer Zwischenfälle 2014 des Simon-Wiesenthal-Center
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has published the list since 2010

Bundestag members Groth and Höger invited journalists David Sheen and Max Blumenthal to Berlin. These two featured in the SWC's top 10 list last year, accused of agitating against the government in Jerusalem by equating Israel with Nazi Germany.

Sheen, who lives in Israel, and the American journalist Blumenthal were invited to speak in Berlin on the subject of "Israel's war crimes." What was especially problematic about the invitation was the date selected for the event - November 9. This is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, the pogrom perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews in 1938, and the day of its annual commemoration.

Setting up Israeli government policy in this way for comparison with the Nazi reign of terror provoked a massive wave of criticism. Several politicians, including Gregor Gysi, the Left Party's parliamentary group leader, prevented the event from taking place as planned.

Instead, the Left party politicians invited Sheen and Blumenthal to the party's meeting room in the Bundestag the following day. Gysi canceled their booking. The two journalists wanted to confront him, and followed him all the way to a Bundestag toilet where he was forced to shut himself behind a door: Hence the nickname "Toiletgate."

'2014: Unprecedented anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hatred'

According to the SWC Top Ten, Höger, Hänsel, Groth and Haydt "are part of a sizable group of hardcore anti-Israel Left party MPs." (Haydt, it should be noted, is not in fact a member of parliament; she is a member of the party executive.) Höger and Groth were on board the Mavi Marmara ship in 2010 when it attempted to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center researches the systematic mass murder of Jews during the Nazi dictatorship, and fights against anti-Semitism worldwide. The non-governmental organization has been publishing its list every year since 2010. The aim of the list is to denounce the widespread impact of these sorts of vilification, attacks and abuse. According to the SWC, "2014 was a year of unprecedented explosions of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hatred."

Several German names have appeared on the list in recent years, including that of the publisher Jakob Augstein in 2012 for his criticism of the Israeli government in newspaper articles. However, the publisher's inclusion in the ranking was met in many quarters with incomprehension. Even the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany at the time, Dieter Graumann, criticized the list in an interview for Focus magazine. He said that putting Augstein on a level with blatantly anti-Semitic political parties in Hungary and Greece served to downplay the serious threat these parties pose.

Usefulness of list disputed

The point and usefulness of such a list is generally disputed. Micha Brumlik, the former head of the Fritz Bauer Institute for Holocaust research in Frankfurt, doesn't think highly of it. "The standards are not set properly," he comments. Brumlik says this means the ranking doesn't do justice to the seriousness of the situation: "You can't have something like a negative hit list for crimes like these."

However, Robert Wistrich, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, believes that the Simon Wiesenthal Center's idea is a helpful one. "It's a useful index, and a reminder to people of the variety and viciousness of the incidents on the list," says Wistrich, who is also the director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism.

"It's a way of getting the attention of people who are always interested in rankings, regardless of the subject." It's not about them being scientific, he says, it's about raising awareness of the subject.

The Left party parliamentarians were not immediately available for comment. The party's press office did not wish to make any new comment on the publication of the SWC list, and referred instead to earlier explanations.

Leading representatives of the Left party have distanced themselves sharply from the four politicians and rejected any "demonization of Israel." The members of parliament Groth, Hänsel and Höger have made a joint statement in which they apologized to Gysi and to the whole party. They did not, however, comment either on their decision to invite the two journalists, or on their choice of date.