"What is a Jew in Germany Permitted to Say against Israel?" Thus ran the headline to a commentary that ran in the Arts and Letters section of Germany's influential Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) last week. And -- though perfectly reflecting the tenor of the article by Patrick Bahners, the editor of the section -- a very odd headline it is. For while the subject of the piece is a court case in which freedom of speech is indeed clearly at stake, as so happens the case involves not an attempt to silence a Jewish critic of Israel, but rather the attempt of a Jewish critic of Israel to silence one of her own critics.
The Jewish critic of Israel is Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, self-identified on a recent episode of the German radio program "Hallo Ü-Wagen" (roughly "Hello from the Sound Truck!") as "an independent critic of Jewish and Israeli human rights violations" (more literally, "of Jewish and Israeli policies that violate human rights"). Hecht-Galinski is also a member of a group known as "European Jews for a Just Peace." But her real claim to fame or, at any rate, notoriety in Germany is that Ms. Hecht-Galinski is the daughter of the late Heinz Galinski. For several decades and until his death in 1992, Heinz Galinski was the president of the Jewish Community of Berlin. He also twice served as president of the semi-official Central Council of Jews in Germany. During his lifetime, Galinski was something of the bête noir of German anti-Semites and neo-Nazis. He retained this status even after his death, as witness by the repeated attempts in 1998 to blow up his gravestone in the Jewish cemetery in the Charlottenburg neighborhood of Berlin. The second attempt destroyed the monument.
In May, Hecht-Galinski appeared on an episode of "Hallo Ü-Wagen" specially organized to mark the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding. The theme: "Extremely Difficult: Talking about Israel." "Hallo Ü-Wagen" host Julitta Münch introduced Hecht-Galinski as an "author" [Publizist]. During the show, Hecht-Galinski complained that initially unidentified forces were trying to "muzzle" her and in general to prevent Germans from criticizing "Israel's criminal actions." She even brought a muzzle along to illustrate the point. As the show progressed, moreover, she became somewhat more concrete about the identity of the "muzzlers." "I know how the Israeli-Jewish lobby operates," Hecht-Galinski said, adding: "There is one [an Israeli-Jewish lobby] and there's nothing to say to the contrary. In the meanwhile, they describe themselves this way." She also referred to the Israeli security barrier as an "annexation barrier," dismissively observed that Angela Merkel's speech before the Israeli Knesset could have been written by the "Israeli propaganda ministry," and accused Israel of "playing politics with the victims of the Holocaust." (The audio file of the show is available here and a German transcript here.)