Trump, Erdogan, Merkel: What Price For A Free Press?

Trump and Erdogan in Washington on May 16
Trump and Erdogan in Washington on May 16
Stuart Richardson


Donald Trump, the world's biggest cyberbully, has issued another Twitter threat. The target this time wasn't North Korea's "Rocket Man," but another favorite: the media. Yesterday, hours after NBC News aired a report claiming the president wanted a "nearly tenfold" increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Trump took to social media to retaliate. In a series of tweets, the president claimed the news outlet had invented the story in order to "demean" him.

"With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks," he continued in a subsequent tweet, "at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!"

It's no secret that the president dislikes the press. He often lambasts the "fake news' media on Twitter and at rallies. But Wednesday's outburst was the first time that Trump had threatened real retribution.

It was a comment "like one that might have been uttered by an autocratic leader of a nation without a constitutionally protected press," Philip Bump wrote in The Washington Post. In particular, Bump noted, Trump's rhetoric is inching ever closer to that of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Over the years, the Erdogan regime has developed a proven playbook for censoring the press: replacing editors with his own lackeys, prosecuting journalists for trumped-up ties to terrorist organizations, and even banning certain media outlets altogether — just the kind of tactic his American counterpart was hinting at on Wednesday.

So far, Berlin has only mustered a pathetic response.

Erdogan's crackdown doesn't seem to hurt his popularity in Turkey, but abroad, the international press has defended its own. On Tuesday, when a Turkish court convicted Wall Street Journal reporter Ayla Albayrak of engaging in terrorist propaganda, the paper's editor-in-chief Gerard Baker immediately denounced the verdict, calling it "an unfounded criminal charge and wildly inappropriate conviction."

Such condemnations, no matter how strongly worded, won't free Albayrak or other journalists imprisoned in Turkey, however. Only foreign governments have the real influence to weigh on other nations, and most seem to lack the will to take on Ankara.

Writing for the German daily Die Welt, Jacques Schuster noted that even with 11 German journalists currently sitting in Turkish jails, so far, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has only mustered a meager response. "The imprisoned are victims of an autocrat, who sees a symbol of weakness in Germany," Schuster wrote. "Erdogan can only contemptuously laugh at the neophytes in Berlin, always in fear of their own courage, and their meek threats."

Erdogan and Trump set the media up as a convenient domestic enemy. Though Merkel would never play that game, she and others should also do more to make the defense of a free press a real part of foreign policy.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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