Can You Call Someone 'Anti-Semitic' on a Blog? Not in Germany

In a tortuous ruling that threatens to have a chilling effect on discussions of "new" German anti-Semitism, the District Court of Cologne recently upheld a restraining order that forbids author Henryk Broder from describing the discourse of a virulent critic of Israel as "anti-Semitic" in a post on a popular German blog.

The case opposed the famously caustic Broder, one of Germany's best-known political commentators, and Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, the daughter of the late Heinz Galinski, one of the leading figures in Germany's small postwar Jewish religious community. (For background, see my earlier article, "What Is a Jew in Germany Permitted to Say Against a Jew in Germany?") Some (see, for instance, here in the Jerusalem Post) have called the ruling a "partial victory" for Broder, since the court allowed that he might still describe Hecht-Galinski's remarks as anti-Semitic in other contexts, provided the grounds for the description are "sufficiently" explained. But until such time as this qualification has been put to the test, it is hard to see it as much more than a legal fig leaf designed to cover up the seriousness of the court's infringement of free speech rights.

Thus the court's own press release underscores that, "by virtue of this ruling, the statement that the plaintiff makes anti-Semitic remarks has not been prohibited outright. A similar statement that is sufficiently well grounded [mit dem erforderlichen Sachbezug] would be permissible." It then goes on to specify, however, that whether a charge of anti-Semitism is sufficiently sachbezogen -- literally, "objectively oriented" -- is up to the courts to decide on a case-by-case basis. In light of the potential costs involved -- Broder was required to pay some €3600 in court costs, to say nothing of legal fees and lost time -- who under such circumstances will be prepared to run the risk of uttering the charge?

In an open letter to Germany's WDR public broadcasting service published in May on the popular collective blog Die Achsen des Guten [The Axis of Good], Broder had written that Hecht-Galinski's "specialty is intellectually vapid anti-Semitic anti-Zionist phrases [antisemitische-antizionistische gedankenlosigkeiten]." The text now appears on the blog with the word "anti-Semitic" replaced by "xxxxxxxxxxxxx." Under the terms of the court order, should Broder restore the original version, he would incur either a €250,000 fine or a six-month jail sentence.

To help non-German-speaking readers appreciate what is at stake in the court's ruling, here are two samples of recent statements by Ms. Hecht-Galinski:

I know how the Israeli-Jewish lobby operates. There is one [an Israeli-Jewish lobby] and there's nothing to say to the contrary. In the meanwhile, they describe themselves this way. (WDR radio, May 3, 2008)

[The] Jewish-Israeli lobby and its networks are at work ... [around] the whole world and thanks to America the power [of the "lobby"] has become so great. (Deutschlandfunk radio, March 9, 2007)

(Longer quotes are provided in "What Is a Jew in Germany Permitted to Say Against a Jew in Germany?")

Ms. Hecht-Galinski has also defended two German bishops who compared the West Bank to the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, where Nazi authorities herded the Jewish residents of Warsaw during the German occupation of Poland. In an interview with the German public radio station Deustchlandfunk, Hecht-Galinski described the bishops' comparisons as "very moderate [sehr moderat]" and regretted the fact that the head of the German Bishops Conference, Cardinal Lehmann, had apologized for them. Hecht-Galinski has indeed herself repeatedly ventured such comparisons between Nazi Germany and Israel and even suggested that it is somehow urgent to do so. Moreover, when asked to introduce herself on the WDR radio program that was the original subject of Broder's letter, Hecht-Galinski described herself as a "critic of Jewish and Israeli policies and human rights violations." Jewish and Israeli: making as clear as possible that Ms. Hecht-Galinski considers herself to be a critic not only of the state of Israel but also of, well, Jews.