One of the best ways for a person who wants his unpopular ideas discussed is to run for public office. That is what the Berlin journalist Henryk Broder is doing. He is widely known for his sharp comments and polarizing opinions and is now running for the presidency of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. It represents one hundred twenty thousands members of communities of all denominations and its main mission is to promote dialogue between Jews and non-Jews.
The election will take place next May. Broder’s chances to defeat the incumbents are practically nil but he has some influential support. One of the current vice-presidents, however, has called his intentions “a funny fantasy” and said that as president Broder would be a “fulminant miscast” since “provocation is his passion and his profession.”
Broder explained his position in the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel on October 22. He wrote that the Council should stop “acting as Germany’s good conscience and as an early warning system against political extremism” and, instead of “pettifogging megalomania” that expects more of itself than it is capable to achieve, establish a voice of its own. There was no point in trying to lecture seventy nine million Germans on how to deal with the past.
As president he would urge – and this is his most contentious suggestion – that the law that makes Holocaust denial a crime be abolished. That law had been passed with good intentions but enabled idiots to pose as martyrs. The historic fact of the Holocaust was not in doubt and German Jews should shift their focus to other genocides, like Darfur. Instead of thinking about creating new Holocaust memorials they should work towards an active policy on human rights, regardless of political or economic interests.
Broder’s last book had the title Hurray – We’re Capitulating! It was a powerful indictment of what seemed to him appeasement of Islamic demands. In his article in the Tagesspiegel, he wrote he would strive for good relations with Muslims in Germany, at least those who favoured a secular society, but not with “religious zealots and Turkish nationalists.” The present Council, he wrote, thought that the gravest danger to the Jews came from right-wing movements but he considered a “second Holocaust” more plausible “at the hands of Islamic powers.”
Broder’s views reflect the demographic shift from survivors and their children to immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Publishing his provocations in a major newspaper ensures that they will be widely discussed inside and outside the Jewish community.
The next president of the Council, whoever it is, will not be able to ignore them.