Jacob Heilbrunn

German Jews, Israel, and Kristallnacht

November 9 is a portentous historical date. World War I ended on November 9. Hitler staged his beer hall putsch on that date in 1923--an attempt to overturn the Weimar Republic that the alleged "November criminals" had foisted upon the German people. And Reichskristallnacht--the orgy of violence against Jewish businesses and synagogues that was instigated by Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels and that took place after a German diplomat named Ernst vom Rath was assassinated in Paris by a young Polish Jew named Herschel Grynzspan--transpired in the night of November 9.

Now Germany is mired in a fresh controversy over an annual ceremony devoted to marking the Kristallnacht. In Frankfurt the distinguished political scientist Alfred Grosser will deliver a speech about it at St. Pauls Church in Frankfurt. But his talk will also contain criticisms of Israel. This has caused the Zentralrat der Juden--the central Jewish council--to denounce his selection as the keynote speaker.

Grosser and his family fled Germany during the 1930s--several of his family members died in Auschwitz--was instrumental in the postwar era in promoting reconciliation between France and Germany. In recent years he has become a critic of Israel's settlement policies. Indeed, Israel has just announced that it will construct several thousand new homes in East Jerusalem.

According to the New York Times, Grosser is being denounced for having the temerity to criticize Israel's actions:

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post,
Israel’s deputy chief of mission in Germany, Emmanuel Nahshon, said that Frankfurt’s decision to invite Mr. Grosser to speak at the memorial “casts an unfortunate and unnecessary shadow on the event.” He also said that Mr. Grosser’s criticism of Israel was “illegitimate and immoral,” and suggested that his “extreme opinions are tainted by self-hatred.”  

Mr. Grosser responded by telling the Post that “criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism have nothing to do with each other. It is rather Israel’s policies that promote anti-Semitism globally.” He also told the Israeli newspaper that he plans to criticize Israel during his speech on Tuesday and will refer to the founding father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, to support his argument that there should be “no discrimination by sex and religion” in Israel.

In essence, the battle between Grosser and his critics is a product of older battles over the meaning of Zionism. But that debate has reached truly pathological levels when a Holocaust survivor is denounced by younger Jews for being an inappropriate person to commemorate one of the most evil events in human history that he himself experienced. It would be hard to think of a more appropriate speaker than Grosser.