Leading Jews play down Rifkind row

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The Independent Online
Leading Jews in British political life yesterday sought to damp down the row over a German newspaper's description of the Foreign Secretary as "der Jude Rifkind" - the Jew Rifkind.

Greville Janner, Labour MP for Leicester West and a member of the Inter- Parliamentary Council against Anti-Semitism, joined with Sir Ivan Lawrence, Tory MP for Burton and a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, to try to quell the row.

Mr Janner said: "My colleagues and I are going to say to the Germans: 'Look, you should handle this. German anti-semitism or apparent anti-semitism or fascist remarks are matters for you to deal with.' And I believe they will do so."

Sir Ivan said: "The point will no doubt be brought home to the German ambassador in London." A formal protest by the British government would be unnecessary, and would only invite more publicity, he said.

However, there is no mistaking the distress felt at Westminster that Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - one of Germany's most respected newspapers - should have described the Foreign Secretary as "the Jew Rifkind". While linguistically correct - the Rifkinds are a Jewish family who migrated from Lithuania to Scotland last century, the term is powerfully reminiscent of Nazi Germany, and usually avoided by Germans.

Mr Rifkind came under attack from the Frankfurt-based paper, which is sympathetic to the German government, for urging Chancellor Helmut Kohl to delay European Union progress towards a single currency.

Michaela Weigel, a 28-year-old reporter, wrote in the newspaper that "der Jude Rifkind" had ended his Bonn speech by quoting the German founder of the Reformation, Martin Luther: "Here I stand. I can do no other." Her defence is that the Foreign Secretary is not a Protestant, but he quoted one.

Mr Janner added: "Malcolm Rifkind is a political opponent of mine, but he has the right to speak his mind without being attacked in this way, and he is a person whose integrity I respect." Sir Ivan commented that "the age of the journalist might mean that she is not as sensitive as an earlier generation", and industry insiders in Bonn agreed that perhaps Ms Weigel had not been told the construction "der Jude" is offensive to Jews, because of its Nazi connotations.

German newspapers would not utter an anti-semitic remark on purpose, but the episode confirms that the German media can at times be remarkably unaware of lingering suspicions and sensitivities abroad.