LONDON: The German government has reversed its decision to honor an Israeli Holocaust historian in response to his alleged denial of Bosnian Muslims in 1995.
Berlin had come under harsh criticism for its decision to award Gideon Greif, an expert on the history of the Auschwitz concentration camp, with a high-level award.
“The proposal to award Professor Greif the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany was withdrawn. This was done by the previous federal government,” the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday, referring to the government of former Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Foreign Ministry pointed to work conducted by the commission on Srebrenica — where the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims was carried out — on behalf of the Serbian semi-autonomous region within Bosnia and Herzegovina. That commission’s conclusions, the Foreign Ministry said, “contradict the case law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Court of Justice and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.”
In a letter sent to a Bosniak Islamic scholar and cited in Bosnian-language media, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier linked the award reversal to Greif’s position as head of the commission, which is said to have minimized the death toll of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide by Serbian nationalists.
The commission also contested claims that the Srebrenica killings constituted an act of genocide. Swathes of the ethnically diverse Balkan region descended into vicious communal violence following the dissolution of the Yugoslavian Republic in 1992.
Berlin’s decision to strip Greif of his award, added the Foreign Ministry, “does not, however, reduce the recognition of the services that Professor Greif has earned in researching the Holocaust and the German Jews who emigrated to Israel.”
Greif told Israeli newspaper Haaretz Thursday that he had been unofficially informed he would not be receiving the award — and said Bosnian Muslim Brotherhood members were responsible for ruining his reputation.
“The fact that I am Jewish and an Israeli scholar is the reason for such violent, vicious personal attacks,” he said, blaming “Islamic Brotherhood organizations” in Bosnia for orchestrating a smear campaign against him.
“It’s a black stain on Germany. They are murdering the Holocaust victims for a second time,” the historian added.
The award reversal was welcomed in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.
Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic told Haaretz in a statement that “no one should be allowed to minimize events that have been judicially and legally established in international courts.”
She added: “Denial of the Holocaust and the Srebrenica genocide empowers perpetrators, which results in the glorification of the convicted war criminals and threatens the repeat of the most horrendous events in our history.”
Menachem Rosensaft, associate executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress, told Haaretz: “The German government’s decision not to honor Gideon Greif with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany is wholly appropriate.
“Gideon Greif has emerged as the poster child for Srebrenica genocide denial, and honoring him, even with respect to his prior academic work … would have been tantamount to endorsing his wholly specious and both morally and jurisprudentially offensive distortion of the facts regarding the slaughter of Bosniak Muslims.”