Civil servant Michael Blume defends allegations of impropriety by going on the offensive against his Jewish accusers. The established German Jewish community supports him, demonstrating a partisan rift. Now, allegations of corruption have surfaced.
By Orit Arfa, JNS
At the end of 2021, the Simon Wiesenthal Center came out with its annual “Global Anti-Semitism “Top 10” list. Germany was listed at No. 7, behind Hamas and Iran, for failing to curb anti-Semitism. It singled out the anti-Semitism commissioner of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, Michael Blume, for doing the exact opposite of his job description.
The post of anti-Semitism czar was created in 2018 for each of the 16 German federal states to hold Germany up to its historic responsibility to ensure Jewish security at a time of rising anti-Semitism.
How did Blume, according to the SWC, mar his position? On social media, Blume “Liked” suspicious anti-Israel posts, including one that lumps Zionists with Nazis. He refused to call on the state-funded Landesbank Baden-Württemberg to close the account of Palestine Committee Stuttgart, an organization that supports the BDS, a movement that Germany officially considers anti-Semitic. He has done nothing to stop the twinning of the German city of Freiburg with the Iranian city of Isfahan, whose municipality supports the destruction of Israel.
In defense of his work and reputation, Blume has the habit of lashing out against his Jewish accusers in public statements and on Twitter by concentrating them into the “right-wing” camp. He also called the SWC, a Jewish human-rights organization, a “dubious pro-Trump shop” in a “trolling” of his own.
“I would never have expected to be included in such a badly done list by the so-called Simon-Wiesenthal-Center, which previously also attacked U.S. President Barack Obama and a German ambassador to the United Nations the same way,” Blume told JNS.
He was referring to former German Ambassador to the United Nations Christoph Heusgen, who made the 2019 list for his anti-Israel voting record. Obama placed at the top of the list in 2016 for directing the unprecedented abstention by the United States on a U.N. resolution condemning Israel for settlement construction.
“Not even the Jewish communities of our State and Nation [sic]had been contacted in advance and are rightfully angry about these bizarre accusations against my nomination and our shared work,” continued Blume. “These allegations have been brought forward by a digital troll who is known for harassing Jewish & Non-Jewish Germans [sic]with numerous hateful tweets and mails. All of the listed allegations have been discussed and refuted for years. I am grateful for the broad solidarity I experienced these days in facing this attack on my personal integrity by an obviously ill-advised SWC.”
That “digital troll” is Benjamin Weinthal of The Jerusalem Post, who has been investigating Blume since he assumed his position in 2018. Jewish and non-Jewish organizations have indeed organized on behalf of Blume, including the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the publicly funded umbrella organization of German-Jewish life, which called the allegations “absurd.”
‘A superficial division between Jews and Israel’
To address the substance of the accusations, Blume referred to a feature in the Swiss daily, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, where he claimed that his Facebook account was deleted in 2019 (although screenshots of his “misdeeds” exist for the record.) As for the BDS bank account, it is illegal, he claims, to simply terminate a savings account. Nor is it in his power, he said, to terminate twin-city partnerships.
“If I would have had the legal power to close down on banking accounts and on relations with Iran, I would have made use of them,” he told JNS. “But I do think that the division of power and the rule of law in any democracy should be accepted by any secular and religious person. To me, this is what is making the main difference between the European Union, the U.S. and Israel on the one side, and our tyrannical enemies on the other side.”
According to the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of “anti-Semitism,” which Blume claims to support, anti-Semitism subsumes anti-Zionism. But the argument over what constitutes anti-Semitism and what should be the job of an anti-Semitism “czar” has been lost in the game of partisan ping-pong that the Blume affair has become.
“This Blume has never been anti-Semitic, but he’s been openly anti-Zionist and anti-Israel,” said Israeli-based German-Jewish writer Chaim Noll. “In my eyes, that’s enough to consider someone anti-Semitic, but not in German eyes. They cling to a superficial division between Jews and Israel.”
He believes that Blume—a scholar of Islam who is married to a Muslim German-Turk—is more interested in improving the standing of Islam by equating anti-Semitism with Islamophobia. The position of anti-Semitism commissioner, noted Noll, is mostly a political and cosmetic one.
“They cling to him because now it’s a matter of pride and to show us that they have their own will. Also the Jewish German communities, they’re not really pro-Israel and they’ve never been. These communities are treacherous,” he said. “They look out only for the German government.”
The publicly funded Jewish community of Baden-Württemberg came to Blume’s defense, with its spokesperson, Barbara Traub, calling him “an outspoken fighter of anti-Semitism in every form.” Traub and Blume have co-authored a forthcoming book about Jewish life in Germany.
‘Nothing came out of the plans we drew up’
But according to Martin Widerker, a Jewish community leader in Stuttgart (the state’s capital) for 40 years, Blume’s offenses go beyond those included in the SWC list and include financial malfeasance. The recent publicity over Blume has prompted him to come forward.
As chair of the Jewish community, Widerker negotiated a contract between the Jewish community and the government of Baden-Württemberg that included an elaborate plan to build what he believed were much-needed Jewish schools and programs in Stuttgart. After Widerker lost the election to Traub in 2010, his board agreed to a mediation to determine the fate of these funds, which amounted to several million euros. Traub wanted to use them towards the construction of a synagogue in Ulm, which Widerker’s team preferred to support through private donations. To that end, Widerker helped secure a separate government contribution of 475,000 euros (about $540,000) for the synagogue.
Blume, as the state’s representative for religious communities at the time, served as mediator. According to Widerker, Blume began the mediation by saying that the 475,000-euro donation would be canceled if they didn’t reach an agreement by the end of the meeting, thus weakening Widerker’s position. Days later, Widerker discovered that the donation was never cancelable and that the new leadership was already reneging on the terms of the agreement. Widerker considered legal action, but his request for the meeting’s minutes were withheld from him at Blume’s direction, thus preventing transparency. Blume rebuffed his repeated attempts for contact.
“He really lied to us,” said Widerker. “And by him lying, we had a problem because Traub—with Blume’s knowledge and approval—took the state funds that were dedicated to building the communal life we wanted and instead built the synagogue. Blume contributed to the misappropriation of state money. Nothing came out of the plans we drew up. One can say he sabotaged Jewish communal life.”
Blume dismissed Widerker’s accusation as one of Weinthal’s “fabrications.”
“I have better and more important things to do than to waste more time to trolling,” he said.
Traub has not returned comment.
After a request for comment, Felix Klein, the anti-Semitism czar at the federal level, sent his office’s generic public statement.
“The Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life and the Fight against Anti-Semitism appreciates, without reservation, the work that Mr. Blume is doing in the fight against anti-Semitism,” it read. “Dr. Klein and Mr. Blume work together in a spirit of trust.”
According to Noll, even if the German government would find Blume unfit, it would be difficult to fire him as a tenured public servant; he would need to resign or be transferred within the system. Noll believes that Blume will eventually be brought to account, as have Germans who have graced the Wiesenthal “Top 10” list before him.
“For a time, they will defend their position and become angry, but in the end,” said Noll, “as far, as I can see, they will disappear.”