Medea Benjamin, Co-founder of CODEPINK, Medea@codepink.org, +1 415 235-6517
Elsa Rassbach, CODEPINK Speaker in Germany, email@example.com, +49 170 738 1450
Colonel Ann Wright, CODEPINK Delegate to Bayreuth, firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 808 741-1141
On Sunday CODEPINK announced the names of the seven delegates who will travel to Bayreuth, Germany on April 15, to receive the 2016 Wilhelmine-von-Bayreuth-Prize for Tolerance and Humanity in Cultural Diversity. The Wilhelmine Tolerance prize of 10.000 ($11,000) is to be received by CODEPINK members Toby Blome, Martha Hubert, and Barbara Briggs-Letson of California; Leslie Harris of Texas; Josie Lenwell of New Mexico; Elsa Rassbach of Colorado and Germany; and Ann Wright of Hawaii.
CODEPINK is an internationally recognized U.S. peace and civil rights organization that has previously received numerous awards, including the prestigious Aachen Peace Prize in Germany in 2014.
On February 24, the members of the City Council of Bayreuth voted to confirm that CODEPINK will receive the 2016 Wilhelmine-Prize in a public ceremony in April. The city council had already voted nearly two years ago, upon recommendation of the University of Bayreuth, to designate the 2016 award to CODEPINK, and in June 2015 the city issued a press release announcing the award. Former Wilhelmine-Tolerance-Prize laureates include Madjiguene Cisse, founder of the Women's Network for Sustainable Development in Africa; Hassan ibn Talal of Jordan; and the Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim.
Earlier this month, Benjamin Weinthal, a research fellow for the neo-conservative U.S. Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), whose Leadership Council is chaired by former CIA Director James Woolsey, challenged the award to CODEPINK in an article he published in the Jerusalem Post on February 10. The Jerusalem Post articles about the Bayreuth award to CODEPINK sparked a heated debate in the German media, and Bayreuth's mayor, Brigitte Merk-Erbe, received letters from some Jewish leaders in Germany urging that Bayreuth revoke the award to CODEPINK. On February 11, the mayor issued a statement that she would ask the City Council of Bayreuth to revoke the award.
On February 19, the four parliamentary representatives to the German-Israeli parliamentary group in the Bundestag wrote to the mayor and all the city council members of Bayreuth, urging them to vote to revoke the award to CODEPINK. The German-Israeli parliamentary group is one of 54 such parliamentary groups in the Bundestag, each with one representative from the CDU/CSU, the SPD, the Greens, and Die Linke, through which the German parliamentary fractions maintain contacts with governments and parliaments throughout the world.
Behind the scenes, the Israeli Consulate in Munich also wrote letters to the mayor; the most recent letter CODEPINK is aware of is dated February 22, adds a new allegation concerning a 2013 CODEPINK protest at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and urges the mayor to persuade the city council to revoke the award to CODEPINK.
But following extended discussion in its meeting on February 24, a majority of city council members voted to immediately and fully confirm Bayreuth's 10,000 euro award to CODEPINK. The more than 40 members of the city council, representing eight political parties, voted 23-18 on the Green Party motion to confirm the award. Members of the CSU and FDP urged that the city council vote "yes" to the award for CODEPINK, and some members of all eight parties of the Bayreuth city council, including the mayor's party, voted to overrule the mayor.
Those who voted against the Green Party's motion in the city council had made alternative proposals, either to delay the decision pending further investigation, or to grant the money award of 10,000 euros while at the same time suspending the public award ceremony because of fears that it might be disrupted by CODEPINK's detractors. While a few council members criticized CODEPINK in some respects, not a single council member called for revoking the award to CODEPINK. And some members stated during the debate that they felt the attempts to exert outside pressure on them were inappropriate.
After the vote of the city council, Ms. Rassbach paid a brief visit to Mayor Merk-Erbe to convey to her that CODEPINK is dismayed that the city of Bayreuth is being subjected to such outside pressures. She said CODEPINK would work with the mayor, the city, and the university to ensure the award ceremony in April is a success.
On February 25, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli Ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, had issued a statement from the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, in which he said: "It is shocking that in Germany, of all places, a decision was taken to award, in the name of tolerance and humanitarianism, an organization which openly denies the right of the State of Israel to exist," reiterating Weinthal's allegations. "It seems that in Bayreuth," the Israeli ambassador said, "the definition of tolerance and humanitarianism means cooperating with Holocaust deniers in Iran, boycotting Jews and rejecting the right of Israel to exist."
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and co-founder of Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, told the Jerusalem Post on February 25: "Better the founders of this 'Tolerance' prize cancel it permanently, than see it and the very concept of tolerance desecrated by the bestowal of an award on those devoted to a dangerous agenda that threatens six million Jewish citizens of Israel," he said, "We call upon German leaders from the full spectrum of German life to denounce this shameful vote." And the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office urged Bavarian state legislators "to publicly distance themselves from the Bayreuth award."
Responding to these new attacks, CODEPINK's spokesperson in Germany, Elsa Rassbach, a former U.S. public television executive producer who is now an independent documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist, said on February 26: "We have already rebutted all these allegations in documents we submitted to the elected city council members of Bayreuth, who have the duty and the right to make the decision regarding the Wilhelmine-Prize."
CODEPINK's Ann Wright, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and former U.S. diplomat and delegate to Bayreuth in April, remarked: "Repeating a lie over and over does not make it true. It is sad and even a bit frightening when many in the media and even some members of the German parliament keep repeating such lies despite all the evidence to the contrary that we have provided. CODEPINK has never made statements denying the right of the State of Israel to exist. But we do insist that Israel stop its illegal policies in the West Bank and Gaza. We are firm that Israel must adhere to international law and also implement true equality for all its Jewish and Arab citizens. Many Jewish Israelis advocate the same positions."
The CODEPINK delegate to Bayreuth from New Mexico, Josie Lenwell, a photographer and psychotherapist, said: "At least half of the delegation coming to Bayreuth is Jewish. We all lost family in the holocaust and we are the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the survivors of the holocaust. How could we deny what happened? We stand with the Jewish people and the Arab people. We stand with all people and we oppose any attempt by one group to oppress another. As Jews we have a long and sad history of oppression and genocide. As Jews we will not use our oppression and genocide to justify oppression of another. We oppose Zionism, knowing full well Zionism is not Judaism. No group of people has priority or superiority over another."