Austrian defense minister Norbert Darabos and Albrecht Schröter, mayor of the German town of Jena, both Social Democrats, made their remarks as the United States and its allies were heading into negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
In an interview with the Austrian daily Die Presse, Darabos accused the Israelis of using the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon to deflect attention from their domestic problems. Meanwhile, Schröter signed a petition from the left-wing Christian peace group Pax Christi calling for a wide-ranging boycott of Israeli products in response to the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories. On Monday he expressed the same view in an opinion article in Thüringische Landeszeitung.
To his credit, conservative Austrian foreign minister Michael Spindelegger said Mr. Darabos’ position does not represent the policies of the national government, but Darabos nonetheless remains defense minister, and social democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann shows no sign of disciplining or dismissing him.
Mr. Darabos issued a lengthy statement detailing his participation in Holocaust commemoration events and efforts to combat neo-Nazism in Austria. Yet as Austrian Jewish community leader Oskar Deutsch puts it, Mr. Darabos “has problems with living Jews.”
Schröter’s critics level harsher charges at him. As Kevin Zdiara, deputy chairman of the German-Israeli Friendship Society, pointed out, the mayor’s proposal might as well reflect the Nazi-era slogan “Don’t Buy from Jews.”
In response, Schröter invoked “my uncompromising commitment against the neo-Nazis.” Though the mayor played on his anti-fascist credentials, he nonetheless showed little discomfort when the local arm of the NDP, the leading German neo-Nazi party, praised his calls for a boycott.
In a statement on the NDP website, the party praised Schröter’s campaign, declaring him to be “courageous” because “as nationalists who have to deal every day with these Jewish/left-liberal defamation tactics, we think of Goethe's Sorcerer's Apprentice, who couldn't get rid of the spirits he called.“
‘Vera Lengsfeld, a prominent civil rights activist born in the Thuringia region of what was once East Germany, and a former Christian Democratic Union deputy in the Bundestag, neatly captured Schröter’s misplaced priorities.
In a post on the popular pro-American blog” The Axis of Good,” she wrote that “the mayor failed to focus the city’s resources on preventing the delivery of weapons to a neo-Nazi terrorist group, the National Socialist Underground, and is consumed instead with criticizing Israel.”
Like Zdiara, Lengsfeld blasted Schröter for seeking to keep the city “pure from Jewish goods.” “Jena must immediately vote in a new head of the city,” she said, “because the good man can no longer govern.”
Schröter’s peculiar obsession with Israel has led him to participate in demonstrations denouncing it in the West Bank, and to deliver a lecture at a pro-Hamas conference in Bad Boll, Germany.
Other German critics charge Schröter of maintaining moral double standards. Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, head of the Middle East relief assistance organization Wadi, said “so long as one does not find a call by Pax Christi that from now on products from Syria, Iran or Saudi Arabia (to name just three examples) should come with the logo that the goods come from a country in which torture exists in violation of human rights, the action is completely anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, because Israel is issued special treatment.”
“Why does Mr. Schröter see no occasion to call for a boycott against products from the anti-Semitic Islamic Republic of Iran,” add Klaus Faber and Daniel Kilpert, two representatives of the Coordinating Council of German Non-Governmental Organizations against Anti-Semitism, “or from North Sudan, which has engaged in many massacres?”
How is it that German and Austrian leaders can expend so much energy decrying Israel, whose impact on them is negligible, and so little on Iran, a regime that mows down its dissidents on their soil, and now aims to build nuclear weapons?
Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies