Qantara – which is Arabic for “bridge” – is a website funded by the German Foreign Office; according to its own description, the site “represents the concerted effort of the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Center for Political Education), Deutsche Welle, the Goethe Institut and the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations) to promote dialogue with the Islamic world.”
Unfortunately, I have repeatedly had the impression that Qantara’s idea of promoting dialogue with the Islamic world includes promoting the hatred for Israel that is so prevalent among Muslims. Given the site’s government backing and its prestigious partner organizations, it could be a very worthwhile project to study their coverage of Israel in detail. But a cursory examination of Qantara’s offerings on Israel seems to indicate a preponderance of articles that are hypercritical, if not outright hostile to the world’s only Jewish state. Occasionally, Qantara will even stoop to giving a platform to professional anti-Israel activists like Ben White – who fittingly started his career with a post explaining that he can “understand” why some people are Jew-haters. What is arguably even more worrisome is that at a time when antisemitism in Europe is widely seen as growing alarmingly, Qantara will publish a truly hair-raising piece downplaying antisemitism – and just to be on the safe side, this piece is of course authored by a Jew who feels that “Anti-Semitism has never made much etymological sense” and that it’s a bit unfair that “Jews have been getting exclusive use of the term for quite some time.” But in any case, Qantara’s Jewish antisemitism expert thinks it’s not quite appropriate to talk of antisemitism when an Islamist terrorist kills Jews in a kosher deli in Paris, because anything short of “systemic extermination by national decree” shouldn’t really be called antisemitism and it is also “no wonder some may see a Jewish person or site as an extension of the Israeli policy they detest.”
How would Qantara like an article arguing that it is ‘no wonder some may see a Muslim person or site as an extension of the Saudi/Iranian/ISIS policy they detest’?
Qantara’s recent offerings include a post that promotes BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) against Israel together with the BDS goal of the ultimate elimination of Israel as a Jewish state. The post, presented as a review of a recently published book by veteran Israel-bashers Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe, echoes a similar review (by a different author) previously published at the Electronic Intifada, which has long provided anti-Israel activists with variations on the Nazi motto “The Jews are our misfortune.” Nowadays, it is of course the Jewish state that is presented as mankind’s misfortune, and the Qantara post indeed urges the site’s readers to understand that anti-Israel “activism has now become a duty – at international level.”
When I saw that this post was authored by regular Qantara contributor Emran Feroz, I remembered that I had come across this name before. Indeed, it turns out that Feroz – who describes himself on his Twitter profile as an Austro-Afghan journalist and blogger – is an ardent admirer of Max Blumenthal. It is thus hardly a surprise that he happily announced his satisfaction that his Qantara post “made many Zionists angry.” Perhaps Feroz hopes to have as many Jew-hating fans as Blumenthal?
In any case, it seems that Feroz came to admire Blumenthal after “toiletgate”, i.e. the infamous incident last fall when Max Blumenthal visited Germany with his fellow anti-Israel activist David Sheen and they both chased the leader of the Left Party through the corridors of the German Parliament all the way to the toilet, demanding he explain his decision to cancel an event that had been organized for them by some Left Party members. Feroz apparently admired Blumenthal’s and Sheen’s disgraceful conduct, and tried very hard – and ultimately successfully – to meet Blumenthal and interview him about his exploits and his views on Israel. The result was published in the Electronic Intifada under the title “Germany made Palestinians ‘indirect victims of Holocaust,’ says author Max Blumenthal.” In his introductory remarks, Feroz claimed:
“Some German politicians have tried to muzzle debate about Israel by denouncing its critics as ‘anti-Semites.’ The American journalist Max Blumenthal — author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel — faced such a smear on a recent speaking tour in Germany.
A number of elected politicians alleged that a scheduled talk by Blumenthal and his colleague David Sheen in a Berlin theater would serve ‘to promote anti-Semitic prejudice.’ This was deeply ironic: both Blumenthal and Sheen are themselves Jewish. The politicians denouncing them failed to produce any evidence that they are hostile towards fellow Jews.”
Well, if Feroz wants evidence of Blumenthal’s antisemitism, he can find a link to some 60 pages of it here. And since he seems to know very little about antisemitism, he might also want to check out this short introduction to “Anti-Semitism 101.”
It is of course very regrettable that a government-funded site intended to serve as Germany’s “bridge” to the Islamic world employs a regular contributor who downplays antisemitism, admires professional anti-Israel activists and has started to publish on the sites that cater to these activists. In addition to his Electronic Intifada contribution, Feroz has also recently published a post at the hate site Mondoweiss that has been shown to promote antisemitic material.
But it would be wrong to think that this affects only the coverage of Israel. As I have often argued, anti-Israel attitudes tend to come as a package deal, combined with anti-American and generally anti-Western resentments and a host of pseudo-progressive poses. It is thus hardly surprising that Feroz responded to a complaint of the notorious Electronic Intifada contributor Rania Khalek about the German media coverage of Blumenthal’s “toiletgate” with his own complaint about how apparently unpleasant it is to be a writer in Germany. Naturally, Max Blumenthal was sympathetic to Feroz’s plight.
In addition to the already mentioned article promoting BDS and the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, another of Feroz’s recent contributions to Qantara illustrates his eagerness to promote material popular among the anti-Israel crowd. In late March, Max Blumenthal published a vicious attack on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and sure enough, two months later, Qantara published an article by Feroz that faithfully recycled many of Blumenthal’s smears. It is somewhat heartening to see that a Qantara reader who claims to be Muslim took the trouble to post a response in defense of Hirsi Ali. But among the anti-Israel activists Feroz admires and promotes, voices that are critical of Islam and urge wide-ranging reforms are generally viewed with hostility – which is only natural when leading activists openly favor Islamist and jihadist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
A particularly offensive paragraph in Feroz’s piece denouncing Hirsi Ali recycled some previously refuted lies that she “absolved” the right-wing Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik “of all blame;” and for good measure, Feroz also threw in a reference to the German-Jewish writer Henryk M. Broder, trying to implicate him somehow as not only a fan of the supposedly vicious and mendacious Hirsi Ali, but also as an inspiration for Breivik. Qantara editors apparently liked that so much that they opted to illustrate the article with a picture of Broder, including a caption explaining that he is “one of the best known critics of Islam in Germany” and that he “was in the front row applauding Ayaan Hirsi Ali at an event held at the Axel Springer publishing house in Berlin in 2012.”
So unfortunately, it seems that some of the building blocks for Germany’s “bridge” to the Islamic world include the downplaying of antisemitism, the recycling of anti-Israel propaganda popular among activists devoted to eliminating the world’s only Jewish state, and even vilifying a German Jewish writer as a fan of supposedly vicious Islam critics and an inspiration to a mass-murdering Muslim-hating far-right extremist. One might wonder if Qantara has perhaps a rather low opinion of the Islamic world or if the site is just trying to cater to its basest instincts?
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This is a very belated cross-post from my JPost blog.