Calls for German bishop’s resignation over antisemitism accusations

Gerhard Ulrich compared Israel’s security barrier, built to keep terrorists out, to the now-defunct Berlin Wall, built to keep East Germans in.

Bishop Gerhard Ulrich at Church Day Bremen 2009 in Bremen, Germany. Credit: Presse Nordelbien via Wikimedia Commons.
Bishop Gerhard Ulrich at Church Day Bremen 2009 in Bremen, Germany. Credit: Presse Nordelbien via Wikimedia Commons.

A former German Lutheran bishop recently appointed to combat antisemitism for the state of Schleswig-Holstein is scrambling to retain his job after an exclusive JNS report brought to light his antisemitic sermons attacking Jews and Israel.

David Ermes, the head of communications for the northern state’s education ministry, sent JNS a comment from Ulrich that went, “I would no longer make many of these statements today, I have to state that very clearly.

“These days I’ve been receiving concerned critical inquiries that deal, among other things, with excerpts from a sermon that I gave in Schwerin at Christmas in 2017, or even earlier in 2014,” he added.

JNS first revealed on Wednesday that cleric Ulrich denigrated Israeli Jews in 2017. Ulrich declared: “On a meeting trip with members of the Lutheran World Federation to Israel-Palestine in November, we were able to experience how the time of occupation weighs on people, deforms souls, restricts freedom; how border controls degrade people and how this all breeds new violence.”

Using “deform” to describe the souls of Jews and “degrade” for Jewish people, “smacks of old Germanic antisemitic tropes and later Nazi antisemitism,” said Rabbi Yishai Fleisher, the spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron.

Ulrich also likened Israel’s security barrier, which has significantly reduced Palestinian terrorist attacks, to the now-defunct Berlin Wall built by the East German communist state.

“Here we see a wall that is significantly higher than the Berlin Wall, and we know that walls never bring peace. In Hebron, we got the impression that terror is produced there rather than overcome,” Ulrich said in 2017. 

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told JNS that “the former bishop’s speeches on Christmas and in the wake of Israel’s 2014 reaction to the murder of three yeshiva students by Palestinians are shocking in that they present his anti-Israel political sentiment in antisemitic theological terms.” 

Cooper added, “We are happy to hear the former bishop has changed his views but it is clear that he is unfit to denounce the very antisemitism that he unfortunately legitimized and helped to spread in the mainstream of German society.”

The rabbi also questioned which government officials were responsible for appointing the bishop to the antisemitism post.

The parallel Ulrich made between the dictatorship of East Germany and Israel’s security fence is frequently invoked in post-Holocaust Germany to attack the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

Questions abound as to why Schleswig-Holstein officials did not properly vet Ulrich before appointing him in October as the commissioner for Jewish life and against antisemitism.

Ulrich also lashed out at Jews using language that recalls the Christian antisemitism of German churches before and during the Nazi era, said Cooper and other critics.  

The former bishop pinned the responsibility for the Middle East conflict on Israel, claiming, “The name ‘Israel’ is burdened with the horror and misery of this Middle East war.” 

The cleric denounced Israel for conducting war against Palestinian terrorism in the name of God, saying. “Therefore we cannot accept it when a modern state invokes this God and his promises when war is waged.”

Ulrich has refused to resign. The Jewish communities in Schleswig-Holstein issued statements in his support. 

The antisemitism scandal impacting Ulrich and the state of Schleswig-Holstein has expanded after the JNS exclusive. The German state-subsidized newspaper of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the Jüdische Allgemeine, reported on Friday about the allegations of antisemitism against Ulrich. The head of the German-Israel Association said Ulrich is not fit to be a commissioner to fight antisemitism.

Germany’s system of commissioners tasked with fighting Jew-hatred is crisis-ridden, say critics. Germans are asking on social media and in media articles why states are appointing antisemites to be in charge of fighting antisemitism.  A German court in October ruled that statements from Michael Blume, the commissioner in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg assigned to fight antisemitism, can be defined as antisemitic. JNS reported that there are mounting calls for Blume to resign due to his reported antisemitism and his attacks on a founder of the IDF, Orde Wingate. 


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