This article by Dr.Gerstenfeld was originally published at INN and republished here with the author’s consent.
Studying Jewish Pimps and Prostitutes at the Berlin Center for Antisemitism
On April 1st, I received an email that there were two post-doctoral positions available for a project entitled “Jewish Pimps, Prostitutes and Campaigners in a transnational German and Britain Context, 1875 – 1940.” The announcement said that the study will be carried out jointly by researchers at the School of History at the Queen Mary University of London and the Center for Research of Antisemitism at the Technical University of Berlin. The project will begin in autumn 2020 and will last for 2.5 years.1 Funds for this have been made available by the U.K Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the German Research Foundation (DFG).
I passed the information on to an acquaintance of mine who also investigates antisemitism. I warned her that as this information came to me on April 1st, April Fools Day, it might be a prank. When I looked the study up on the Queen Mary University website, it turned out to be a genuine research project. The explanation of the background of the project said: “This project….will draw on the expertise of a project group specializing in the study of gender, antisemitism and migration to investigate the phenomenon of Jewish involvement in the sex trade….Largely neglected by historians of Jewish history, and the history of antisemitism, this research project will look beyond institutional frameworks that governed the everyday lives of Jewish prostitutes in the age of the great Jewish migration to expose a new understanding of international mobility in the era of modern globalization.”2
Berlin is Europe’s capital of antisemitism.3 A wide variety of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel attitudes are on display. They include dozens of cases of physical aggression against Jews, including rabbis. Jewish pupils have had to leave public schools after extreme abuse. Thirty-five percent of Berliners view Israelis as analogous to Nazis.4 An Al-Quds Day march takes place in Berlin annually calling for the destruction of Israel.
The Center for Antisemitism at the Technical University in Berlin (ZfA) was created in 1982. It claims to focus its activities on the multiple interdisciplinary research of antisemitism in the past and present.5 The extremely unhealthy Berlin environment provides huge challenges for an antisemitism center to study contemporary issues.
The scandal-plagued ZfA has faced major criticism over the years for instance for employing a researcher who worked for an organization that promoted an Iranian regime-sponsored rally calling for the destruction of the Jewish state. As Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Canter put it: “You would imagine something like this would be done in Iran. Set up an institute to study antisemitism and invite antisemites to work there.”6 The Center has also been criticized for equating antisemitism with Islamophobia.7
In this context, devoting financial and human resources to a study on Jewish pimps and prostitutes many decades ago is far worse than an April Fool’s Day joke. It is an act of an institution whose leadership seems to have lost entirely the moral context of the real world in the town it operates in: Europe’s antisemitism capital.
The announcement of this misconceived study came a few weeks after an article in the daily, Frankfurter Algemeiner Zeitung, by Jeffrey Herf, a distinguished professor at Maryland University. He heavily attacked an earlier article in the same paper written by the current head of the ZfA, Stefanie Schüler-Springorum. She had claimed that in order to “grasp its subject in full,” antisemitism research must be inter-disciplinary and comparative and focus on other forms of exclusion as well. Schüler-Springorum stated that antisemitism research had been torn apart by political disputes.8
Herf reacted that leading researchers in the US, Europe and Israel agree that post-World War II antisemitism stems from three sources: communism (and the radical Left), Islamist ideology and Christian right-wing antisemitism. He added that the ZfA has for decades rejected this scientific consensus and shown little readiness to tackle left-wing and Islamist antisemitism.
Herf’s hard-hitting article continued by stating that the ZfA was outside the consensus. It barely dealt with communists, radical leftists and Islamists. He pointed out that the Center was located close to the archives of former East Germany. Yet no researcher has published a study of the various types of attacks by East Germany with the aim to destroy Israel.
Herf went on to state that the one-sided blaming of Israel for the Middle East conflict which was promoted by the communist block and the radical left in Europe during the Cold War lives on today in the BDS movement’s ”selective indignation” toward Israel. This left-wing animosity toward Zionism in Israel presents itself as anti-racism. The irony of this is that the establishment of Israel reanimated the Western world’s deepest traditional anti-Jewish fear: the myth of a powerful, armed and evil nation of Jews.
According to Herf, post-Holocaust Islamist antisemitism has continued, mainly shaped by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini in the 1930’s and 1940’s; the leading ideologist of the Muslims Brotherhood Sayyid Qutb in the 1950’s and 60’s; and the Iranian Mullah regime and Hamas Charter from 1988 onward – all of whom based their ideologies on a selective reading of the Quran and the Hadiths.
This fanatic tradition has for twenty years instigated attacks on the Jews of Europe and organized openly anti-Zionist demonstrations throughout Germany. Herf concluded that international Holocaust research deals with “all three faces of antisemitism” and is therefore not torn apart by internal strife as Schüler-Springorum had claimed.9
In order to better understand the failures of the ZfA to deal with key elements of contemporary antisemitism, and take interest in “Jewish Pimps and Prostitutes” from a remote past, one has to look also at the views of Wolfgang Benz, who headed the Center from 1990 until 2011. In 2014, Benz claimed in an interview in the weekly Die Zeit that antisemitism hadn’t increased in Germany. He made this claim despite attacks on Jews and Jewish sites during the Israel operation in Gaza.10
In 2018, a reporter from the German daily Bild hung Israeli flags in so-called problem areas of several German cities. Two youths were taking down a flag and unsuccessfully tried to burn it. Bild considered it evidence of Muslim antisemitism. Benz reacted saying: “Taking down Israeli flags in the street does not make you antisemitic.”11
In a 2019 interview, Benz said only one thing about the Palestinians: “Empathy for the civil population of occupied Palestine is not antisemitism.” He didn’t feel the need to mention the major genocidal currents among the Palestinians and the glorification of the murder of Israelis including civilians. Benz also expressed the false idea that those who considered the boycott movement in its nucleus as antisemitic were fanaticized and no longer had objective judgment.”12
In a 2020 interview, Benz claimed that 95% of hate crimes against Jews were perpetrated by right-wingers and not newcomers.13 It is unthinkable that Benz, the expert on antisemitism, does not know that these German statistics are manipulated. In half of the antisemitic incidents, the perpetrators are not known. These are then assumed by the authorities to be all right-wingers.
The ZfA, located in Europe’s antisemitism capital Berlin, is in a unique position to study the new century’s explosion of antisemitism. That should include an analysis of the reasons why many millions of Germans totally falsely compare Israelis to Nazis. One out of three adults in the Berlin streets there hold these views. Instead, the ZfA wastes efforts and includes in its activities a historic project, ending eighty years ago, which at first sight looks like an April Fool’s Day prank.