Protester desecrates Bubis grave

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IGNATZ BUBIS, the veteran leader of Germany's Jewish community who died in Frankfurt on Friday, asked to be buried in Israel for fear that his grave might be desecrated by neo-Nazis. His wish was fulfilled in Tel Aviv on Sunday - and black paint was immediately sprayed on his grave by an Israeli, who claimed to be defending Jewish honour.

A spokesman for the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, called the incident in Israel "an irony of history".

Meir Mendelssohn, a 52-year-old Tel Aviv artist whose parents fled Germany when the Nazis came to power in 1933, acknowledged yesterday that he was responsible. He said Mr Bubis was a "bad man" who had exploited Germany's sense of guilt towards Jews to make a fortune as a property developer.

"I knew Mr Bubis personally for 10 years," the white-bearded artist said. "I warned him, when we met in Israel six months ago, that I would plague him, even after his death. He did things he shouldn't have done. In Frankfurt, he destroyed protected buildings, some of them more than 100 years old. He got away with it because he was Jewish."

Tel Aviv police said yesterday that they did not have enough evidence to prosecute Mr Mendelssohn. Video footage of the funeral, which was attended by the Presidents of Israel and Germany, shows paint being sprayed on the grave as soon as it was filled, though none of the mourners seemed to notice.

Mr Mendelssohn is also visible, but the camera did not catch him in the act. He insisted yesterday that he had done nothing illegal. "I am well known," he said, "as a serious person who respects the law."

Mr Bubis, who was 72 when he died, successfully lobbied in 1985 to ban a play by the German film-maker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, which portrayed a Jewish property developer exploiting post-Holocaust guilt to make his fortune. Mr Bubis denounced the play, Garbage, the City and Death, as an anti- Semitic attack on himself.

The death of Bubis leaves open the most high-profile position in the German Jewish community. As President of the German Central Council of Jews, his successor will be seen to speak for all German Jews.

Council members are expected to elect a leader within the next few weeks. All the likely contenders are from the postwar generation rather than the "survivor generation", those who lived through and could remember the Holocaust.

Part of Bubis's moral authority came from the fact that he lost his father and two siblings in the Nazi death camps and was himself a prisoner in a work camp.

The new issues for the Jewish community in Germany focus mostly on problems associated with the large number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. They are now the biggest community, forcing many Jewish groups to publish magazines and newsletters in Russian as well as German.

The integration of tens of thousands of former Soviet citizens into Germany is no mean task - many new communities across the country are majority Russian-speaking.

They also bring strong Orthodox influences, which can clash with the liberal tradition in Germany. The four most likely candidates to succeed Mr Bubis, according to the German media, are; Michel Friedman, a well- known speaker on Jewish affairs but, at 43, said to be too young; Charlotte Knobloch, 66, president of the Munich Jewish Community; Paul Spiegel, 61, Bubis's vice- chairman, seen as a compromise candidate; and Salomon Korn, 55, a Frankfurt architect close to Bubis but reported to have ruled out taking the post.