Dozens of Jewish scholars have signed a letter in support of Peter Schäfer, the former director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum forced out over criticism of a tweet linking to a pro-Israel boycott article.
According to the report by JTA, the letter – signed by 45 academic Talmud scholars – is “unprecedented among the Talmudist community”, which normally “tends to shy away from commenting on current affairs”.
The letter, co-organised by Tel Aviv University-based Ishay Rosen Zvi, and Princeton University Professor Moulie Vidas, follows on from a separate letter signed by “a broader group of Jewish studies scholars”, protesting that Schäfer’s reputation had been “smeared in public”.
As noted by JTA, “before becoming director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum, Schäfer was known as perhaps the preeminent Jewish studies scholar in Germany”.
The Talmudists’ letter states: “For those of us who know Prof. Schäfer and his work, it is shocking to hear the claim that he is not committed to Jewish causes and the fight against antisemitism.”
We are deeply concerned about the growing censorship of free speech and the shrinking possibility of criticizing or even questioning government policies which are manifested in these recent developments
the letter added.
Schäfer’s resignation on Friday came after backlash to a tweet from the museum’s official account on 6 June, linking to an article concerning opposition from some 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars to a German parliamentary resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Critics claimed that merely by linking to the article, the museum was undermining anti-BDS efforts.
Israel’s ambassador to Germany described the museum’s tweet as “shameful”, adding: “The Jewish Museum is supposed to be a cultural body but is highly political when supporting the boycotting of Israel and in effect criticizing the Bundestag for condemning antisemitism!”
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Rosen Zvi said the episode reflects a trend of people trying “to erase differences between criticism of Zionism, criticism of Israel, criticism of the policies of the government of Israel and anti-Semitism.”
“This is a person who has dedicated his whole life to the study of Judaism, and the understanding of Judaism, and the training of students,” Rosen Zvi told JTA. “To accuse him of anti-Semitism, it’s so outrageous that everyone joined in.”