BY BENJAMIN WEINTHAL

BERLIN – Horst Köhler, the president of the Federal Republic of Germany, issued on Thursday the ‘Federal Cross of Merit, first class,’ the most prestigious award in Germany, to Israeli attorney Felicia Langer, a vociferous critic of Israel, who lives in the city of Tübingen in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg.

Langer frequently compares Israel with apartheid in South Africa, and praised the anti-Semitic speech of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Geneva at the Durban II UN conference on racism. When asked about the award and her comparison between Israel and South African apartheid, she told the Jerusalem Post that the Federal Cross of Merit is a “recognition of my work,” and “what Israel is practicing in the occupied territories is apartheid.”

In an interview with the junge Welt, a radical anti-Zionist Germany daily, she termed Israel, “the apartheid of the present” and refers to the Jewish state as “the Israeli regime.” Asked about her interview with the anti-Israeli website Muslim Markt, in which she argued that Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as well as other leading Israeli politicians and generals, should be charged and convicted with war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Langer told the Post that she considers Israeli officials “war criminals” and stands by her comments. She said the “official translation” of Ahmadinejad’s threat to “wipe Israel off the map” did not contain a statement seeking the obliteration of Israel.

When asked why President Köhler, who delivered a speech in the Knesset in 2005, awarded Langer with Germany’s highest distinction, his press spokesman, Stefan Schulze, declined to comment and deferred the matter to the State Ministry in Baden-Württemberg.

In an e-mail to the Post, Uwe Köhn, a spokesman for the state of Baden-Württemberg, wrote, “the honor bestowed on Felicia Langer recognizes her humanitarian service, independent of political, ideological or religious motivation. Most important is her dedication to people in need, regardless of nationality or religion, given her own background as massively affected by the Holocaust. The decision to present the Order of Merit was made on the recommendation of the Lord Mayor of Tübingen, where Ms. Langer lives, with confirmation from all the usual departments involved in bestowing such honors, including the Foreign Ministry. The honor will be conferred by President Köhler and presented by Undersecretary [Hubert] Wicker.”

A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry told the Post that the Ministry’s involvement in the award process is being reviewed and could not issue an immediate comment. Tübingen Mayor Boris Palmer could not be reached for a comment regarding his support for Langer.

According to Langer, the Christian Democratic Union party governor of Baden-Württemberg, Günther Oettinger, praised her work in a letter and congratulated her on receiving the Federal Cross of Merit.

However, Germany’s Jewish community had a different response to Langer’s prestigious award. Dr. Dieter Graumann, Vice President of the 120,000 member Central Council of Jews in Germany, could not fathom the German government’s decision to award her the Federal Cross of Merit. She is a “militant and fanatical hater of Israel,” said Graumann.

“An aggressive verbal attack on the Jewish state is rewarded for the first time by the German state. Is that really the intention?” Graumann wrote in an e-mail to the Post.

“Fact-based critique of concrete Israeli policies is of course always legitimate – and one hears it most loudly in Israel itself. But Ms. Langer is known particularly for entertaining a mean-spirited, militant hatred of Israel, which only succeeds in getting such effective public attention because she does this as a Jewish person – as she herself stresses.

“And Ms. Langer just a few months ago called the German Chancellor’s positive attitude toward Israel ’scandalous’. Now Langer is suddenly getting a Federal Cross of Merit- that’s a fatal signal, recognizing and legitimizing her fully one-sided agitation against Israel,” he continued.

“The reasoning provided by the state government is that Ms. Langer’s political engagement is linked with her past and with the Holocaust, a connection that is decidedly insensitive, unwise and unfortunate, to put it mildly. Is this the introduction of a new fashion? Whoever criticizes Israel the loudest – especially if they are Jewish – is first in line for the Federal Cross of Merit?” Graumann asked rhetorically.

Responding to Graumann’s criticism, Langer told the Post that “the Central Council of Jews in Germany is a branch of the Israeli Embassy. The Council is doing nothing good for Israel and the peace movement.” She said that he is “denigrating” her because he “does not have an argument.”

Peter Weidner, Upper Austrian Chairman of the Federal Freedom Fighters and member of the Victims of Fascism Organization, told the Post that Langer agreed with Ahmadinejad’s speech in Geneva. Weidner had reported on an event at the Linz City Hall, in which Langer ignored the Iranian president’s anti-Semitism, compared Israel with apartheid South Africa and described Hamas elections “as the freest democratic elections to have taken place in the Middle East.”

The Vienna-based online Jewish magazine Die Jüdische (www.juedische.at) and its chief editor, Samuel Laster posted Weidner’s report covering the Linz City Hall event in late April. According to Weidner, Langer described “Israel’s politics as racist.”

Critics in Austria and Germany assert that Langer’s efforts to delegitimize Israel by comparing Israel with apartheid in South Africa and terming the Jewish state as racist meet the criteria outlined in the European Union’s working definition of anti-Semitism.

President Köhler’s office and the State Secretary declined to further comment on the content of Weidner’s report and allegations against Langer.