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German court acquits COVID denier who compared Israel to Nazi Germany

‘The court decision is a sad example of how antisemitism is played down in the judiciary and not combated consistently enough,’ said Felix Klein, the federal government’s antisemitism commissioner

(JTA) — A German microbiologist known for repeatedly spreading misinformation about the coronavirus was acquitted on Tuesday of incitement to hatred for comments about Jews and Israel.

In a 2021 campaign video for the fringe political party die Basis (The Basis), Sucharit Bhakdi, 74, a well-known critic of Germany’s pandemic restrictions, had said that the Jews had learned evil under Hitler and are utilizing it in Israel to spread more evil.

“The people who fled from this land where the arch evil was, and have found their land, have turned their own land into something even worse than Germany was,” Bhakdi said in the video. “That is the bad thing about the Jews. They learn well.”

“There is no people who learn better than they do,” Bhakdi added. “But they have learned evil now, and put it into practice. That’s why Israel is now living hell.”

Prosecutors at the Plön district court had argued that Bhakdi’s comments could lead to the targeting of Jews in Germany. But a judge concluded that it couldn’t be determined without reasonable doubt that Bhakdi had been spreading antisemitic hatred toward Jews, rather than a specific criticism of the Israeli government and its vaccination policies, German newspaper Tagesspiegel reported.

“The court decision is a sad example of how antisemitism is played down in the judiciary and not combated consistently enough,” Felix Klein, the federal government’s antisemitism commissioner, told Tagesspiegel.

“The court is legitimizing pure antisemitism here,” said Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Germany has strict laws about Nazi-themed hate speech. The ruling in Bhakdi’s favor can be appealed.

Bhakdi was the head of the Institute of Medical Microbiology and Hygiene at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz from 1990 to 2012. In 2020, the university released a statement condemning his false statements, fearmongering and spread of misinformation about the coronavirus.

The following year, his publisher, Austrian company Goldegg Verlag also severed ties with Bhakdi, saying, “we are deeply affected and clearly distance ourselves from right-wing ideas and anti-Semitism, both as a publisher and as people.”

“We cannot tolerate anti-Semitic, xenophobic or right-wing extremist views,” the company said in a statement.

Die Basis, the party for which Bhakdi appeared in a video, emerged from the Querdenker anti-lockdown movement during the COVID-19 pandemic. The party is known for promoting conspiracy theories, according to RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.In 2020, multiple groups found that some right-wing protesters against pandemic restrictions in Germany spread conspiracy theories about Jewish involvement in the creation of the virus.

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