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Strange Days in Germany

This is a guest post by Karl Pfeifer

I am an 81 year old survivor of the Holocaust to whom strange things happened last week in Germany.

I was invited to give a lecture about racism and Antisemitism in Hungary in Bielefeld (November 19) by Antifa AG of the university of Bielefeld a group of antifascists.

My lecture should have taken place in the autonomous youth centre (AJZ) Bielefeld and those responsible for it have announced this three weeks before the lecture. Only two days before my lecture a few persons in the AJZ vetoed my giving there a lecture alleging that my military unit (I served at the time in Palmach, second and ninth regiment) had participated at a massacre in a Palestinian village and that I myself participated in it. Those accusing me did not name the place where this alleged massacre was committed and they themselves said that their information is not reliable. But one could hear comments: “He is a Zionist…”

And those vetoing my lecture on the premises of AJZ – presumably aged 30 – 40 – also declared that events with members of Black September are also unwanted and therefore the ban on my lecture is comprehensible. They demanded that I should distance myself from this not specified alleged massacre.

Of course nobody of those excluding me has asked me about this story. And the cowards are not ready to answer the questions of German journalists why they excluded me.

At least those inviting me found another hall where my lecture was applauded by 50 German students, who were shocked to hear about my exclusion.

I had been already once accused without any evidence of having caused the death of a Professor who was employed before his suicide at Bielefeld Fachhochschule.

I was from 1982 to 1995 the editor of the official magazine of the Vienna Jewish community. In February 1995 I have published a commentary criticising Dr. Werner Pfeifenberger who had written an article alleging that the Jews had declared war on Germany in 1933 and which trivialised the crimes of the Nazi regime.

The professor brought defamation proceedings against me. I stood trial in three Vienna courts and was ultimately acquitted in May 1998 when the courts found that my criticism constituted a value judgment which had a sufficient factual basis.

In April 2000, criminal proceedings under the National Socialism Prohibition Act were brought against Pfeifenberger by the Public Prosecutor of Vienna on account of his article. He committed suicide shortly before his trial.

In an article from June 2000, the extreme right wing weekly Zur Zeit referred to the commentary of the “Jewish journalist Karl Pfeifer”, alleging that it had unleashed a manhunt which had eventually resulted in the death of the victim. I’ve brought unsuccessful defamation proceedings against the publishing company that owned Zur Zeit. While the first-instance court had found that the statement was defamatory, in October 2001 the appellate court found that it was a value judgment which was not excessive.

Meanwhile, in February 2001 the chief editor of Zur Zeit (Andreas Mölzer MEP for the extreme right FPOE) had addressed a letter to the subscribers asking them for financial support and claiming that a group of antifascists was trying to damage the weekly by means of disinformation in the media and by instituting criminal proceedings and civil actions.

The letter stated again that I and a number of other people were members of a “leftwing hunting” association which had chased the professor to his death. I’ve brought a second set of defamation proceedings. My action was dismissed in August 2002, as the appellate court held that the principles and considerations set out in its previous judgment of October 2001 applied.

I have lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights on 7 April 2003.

Relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), and complained that the Austrian courts failed to protect my reputation against defamatory statements made by the chief editor of Zur Zeit.

Decision of the Court on November 15, 2007 Article 8

The Court held that a person’s right to protection of his or her reputation was encompassed in Article 8 as being part of the right to respect for private life.

However, the statement here at issue went beyond the right to freedom of expression under Article 10, claiming that I had caused the professor’s death by ultimately driving him to commit suicide. Although it was undisputed that I had written a critical commentary on Dr. Pfeifenberger’s article in 1995 and that years later, in 2000, he had been charged under the National Socialism Prohibition Act in relation to this article and had committed suicide, no proof had been offered for the alleged causal link between my article and the professor’s death. By writing that, Andreas Mölzer’s letter overstepped acceptable limits, because it in fact accused me of acts tantamount to criminal behaviour.

Even if the statement were to be understood as a value judgment, it lacked a sufficient factual basis. The use of the term member of a “hunting” association implied that I was acting in co-operation with others with the aim of persecuting and attacking Dr.Pfeifenberger. There was no indication, however, that I, who had merely written one article at the very beginning of a series of events and had not taken any further action thereafter, acted in such a manner or with such an intention. Moreover, it had to be noted that the commentary written by me, had not transgressed the limits of acceptable criticism.

The European Court of Human Rights was therefore not convinced that the reasons advanced by the domestic courts for protecting freedom of expression outweighed my right to have my good reputation safeguarded. There had accordingly been a violation of Article 8.

Only two years later Bielefeld persons who wish to remain anonymous accuse me of having committed a „massacre“ saying that I am a „Zionist“. Enough reason, for not excluding me from their AJZ.

Antisemitic bigotry is no less morally deplorable when camouflaged as anti-Zionism. This was the case in Bielefeld AJZ where after hearing the comment that I am a „Zionist“ an assembly of young German antifascists agreed to exclude me.

Usually the onus of proof is on the accuser. Accusing me of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by others without any proof seems to be part of their bigotry.

To compare my service in Palmach with the murderous terrorism of Black September is making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, allegations about me, is applying double standards by requiring of me – a Jewish journalist – a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other person, that I should prove my innocence.

To accuse me, to have participated in a “massacre” is part of a projection customary in many German circles. The best-known and by far the most widely held example of projection of guilt is the defamation of Israel as the “Nazis of today.” This is one of the most objectionable forms of Antisemitism after Auschwitz.