Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

Many in Turkey and Jordan seek to drive out millions of Syrians, who may flee to Europe

August 15, 2019

I’ve been in Iraqi Kurdistan for the past few days, and am about to go to a conference in Europe, so I am doing a limited number of dispatches at the present time. (Above: Photo of me from Sunday in the mountains near Silemani (in Kurdish; in Arabic: Sulaymaniyah), fairly close to the Iranian border.)



[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach two pieces below, the first on Turkey, the second on Jordan. They discuss the growing political tensions in those countries over the Syrian refugee issue and the demands from wide sections of both societies to drive millions of Syrian refugees out.

It is not clear if President Assad will allow Sunni Arabs back into Syria in any sizable numbers as he continues to try to cleanse the country of what was the majority Sunni population, at the behest of Shia Iran.

If the crackdowns in Turkey and Jordan gather pace, refugees in Turkey (and perhaps also in Jordan) may have little choice but to flee into Europe.

Both Turkey and Jordan argue that they have been unfairly burdened with a very large number of refugees from a conflict that could gave been thwarted, or at least severely curtailed, had President Barack Obama not overridden the advice of his own intelligence and military chiefs and of his then secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and reneged on his “red lines” in 2013.

There are now 3,614,108 registered Syrians in Turkey, officially adding 4.4% to Turkey’s population of 82 million. (In addition there are an estimated 1.5 million unregistered Syrians in Turkey.)


According to polls, 68% of Turks say they want the Syrians to leave. It is the one issue in Turkish politics uniting both supporters and opponents of President Erdogan, who are sharply divided on pretty much everything else.

A Turkish subscriber to this Mideast list, who I interviewed for this dispatch, tells me:

“The actual number of Turks who want all Syrians to leave is closer to 80 or 90 percent.

“Many Syrians are working for under the minimum wage, causing economic disruption to working-class Turks. Syrians are also alleged to have carried out a disproportionate number of crimes, including sexual crimes against children. Whether true or not this is the perception, fuelled by both regular media and social media.

“There is also historical antipathy between Turks and Arabs. Many Turks are tolerant to other newcomers, for example, to recently arrived African migrants in Turkey, just as we were welcoming to Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. But when it comes to Arabs, attitudes by both Turks and Turkish Kurds are different.

“After eight years of doing our best to help the Syrians, our patience has run out, with the high level of criminality among the refugee population and the EU only providing a portion of the money it is costing us to house them.”

“Erdogan, on the other hand, wants them to stay and to give them Turkish citizenship because he is confident they are mostly Islamists and will vote for him.”



The second article below examines the situation of Syrian refugees in Jordan. More than 1.4 million Syrians in Jordan now represent 14 percent of the population. This influx has created massive socioeconomic problems for Jordan.

Camps such as the Zaatri refugee camp, home to up to 150,000 people, have witnessed riots in part as result of harsh desert and weather conditions. They have also become an incubator for diseases that had been eliminated in Jordan including tuberculosis and hepatitis.

The plight of the refugees in Turkey and Jordan is quite separate from the continuing bombardment by the forces of Assad, Russia and Iran, of large numbers of internally displaced Syrians in Idlib province in northern Syria. (See, for example, my first note in this dispatch from May.)

-- Tom Gross



Growing anti-Syrian sentiment in Turkey
By Soner Cagaptay and Deniz Yuksel
The Washington Institute for Near East policy
August 5, 2019

Refugees are being blamed for the country’s economic and social troubles, resulting in online hate speech, vigilante violence, and further pressure on the government to change the status quo in north Syria.


On June 22, the office of provincial governor Ali Yerlikaya announced that Syrian nationals who are not registered in Istanbul would have to leave the city by August 20. The area is now closed to further registration of such nationals, half a million of whom reside in Istanbul city alone. Coming from the office of an official appointed by the central government, the announcement highlights the country’s growing political tensions over the refugee issue.


According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Turkey currently hosts 3,614,108 Syrians. This figure constitutes nearly two-thirds of the entire Syrian refugee community worldwide, and a 4.4% addition to Turkey’s population of 82 million citizens as of 2018. For the most part, the government has cared for these refugees using its own resources, with some assistance from the European Union.

The Istanbul governor’s decision comes at a time of increasing public resentment toward these Syrians, whom the central government does not formally recognize as refugees, classifying them as “under temporary protection status” instead. In a poll conducted earlier this year, 68% of Turkish respondents expressed discontent with the Syrian presence, compared to 58% in 2016.

Turks are sharply divided on many issues, with one bloc tending to oppose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies and an equal-size bloc ardently supporting him. Yet dissatisfaction with the decision to welcome Syrian refugees since 2011 is a rare exception to that rule, garnering majority criticism across party lines. Around 60% of those who back Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) express discontent with the Syrian presence, together with 64% from the AKP-allied Nationalist Action Party (MHP); on the opposition side, the figures are 62% from the IYI Party, 71% from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and 83% from the Republican People’s Party (CHP).


The arrival of Syrian refugees is Turkey’s most significant demographic shift since its “population exchange” with Greece in the 1920s. According to official Turkish figures, only around 100,000 of them remain sheltered in camps; the vast majority have settled in cities and towns among the broader population. Most of them (3.2 million, or 88%) are concentrated in fourteen of Turkey’s eighty-one provinces: namely, the Syrian border provinces of Gaziantep, Hatay, Kilis, Mardin, and Sanliurfa; the nearby southern provinces of Adana, Mersin, and Kahramanmaras; and the demographically and economically larger provinces of Ankara, Bursa, Istanbul, Izmir, Kayseri, and Konya.

Istanbul has the largest number—547,479, or nearly 4% of the province’s 2018 population. Yet the demographic impact on the country’s smaller southern provinces is even more significant. Syrians equal 27% of the population in Hatay, 22% in Gaziantep, 21% in Sanliurfa, and a whopping 81% in Kilis.


Although these “protected” Syrians enjoy basic public services like healthcare and education, their temporary status does not allow them to work legally in Turkey. Ankara has long hoped that they will one day go back to Syria and has therefore shied away from taking steps that might help them become permanent residents. Syrians are encouraged to apply for residency permits to obtain legal employment, but the accompanying bureaucratic requirements and restrictions make this very difficult. So far, only around 200,000 refugees have been granted citizenship, residency, or work permits allowing them legal employment.

Consequently, many of the 2.1 million working-age refugees have resorted to informal and irregular employment, usually for scant pay far below Turkey’s minimum wage. According to a July study by the Brookings Institution, between 500,000 and one million Syrians continue to provide informal labor despite poor working conditions and rampant exploitation, mostly in the textile, services, construction, and education sectors.

Last year, the Germany-based Institute of Labor Economics found that this influx of Syrian workers did not drive down wages outside Turkey’s informal and part-time labor sectors. Nevertheless, many citizens believe that Syrians are to blame for rising unemployment and low wages across all sectors. Unemployment was at 14% as of March, up from 9% in 2011. Put another way, the number of jobless Turks has nearly doubled to 4.5 million since the government first began admitting Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, sharp increases in consumer prices have dramatically increased the cost of living for the average citizen. Inflation held just under 20% in March after reaching a record 25% last year, and wage boosts have not compensated for the price spike. For at least some citizens whose earnings have been hit hard, the meager 120 lira ($20) per month in aid given to registered Syrian families looks increasingly like unfair treatment, especially for those who wrongly believe that this and other EU-financed programs are funded by Turkish taxpayers. According to a July report by Al-Monitor, some locals also claim that Syrians have unfair economic advantages because they can open unlicensed businesses, and because they are not subject to the tax requirements imposed on citizens.


The Syrian presence is also being blamed for many of Turkey’s social troubles. Emerging opinion leaders with large online followings have been especially important in normalizing anti-Syrian attitudes. Dismissed MHP parliamentarian Sinan Ogan, who boasts over a million Twitter followers, attracted thousands of interactions with a July post claiming that Syrian and Afghan refugees rape women and boys, and that “chopping heads” is a part of Syrian culture. Similarly, a recent article by popular opposition journalist Yilmaz Ozdil alleged that Syrians are “invading” Istanbul “street by street,” causing disturbances and forcing Turks to move out of their neighborhoods. He also accused them of setting up illegal businesses, forming gangs, and stockpiling prescription drugs, claiming that “Syrians are free to commit crimes.”

Yet official statistics cited by Euronews indicate that Syrians were involved in only 853 of 32,553 criminal incidents in Istanbul last year. In other words, the city suffered 153 incidents per 100,000 Syrians, significantly less than the 210 incidents that occurred per 100,000 Turks.

Despite these numbers, widespread incitement has produced a dangerous cycle of online hate leading to violence offline. Popular accounts often disseminate such statements with the hashtag “#SuriyelilerDefoluyor” (“Syrians get out”). And accounts owned by public figures or anonymous individuals frequently spread false stories about Syrians harassing, raping, and even murdering Turkish citizens.

Some consumers of this content have used social media to organize and carry out violence against Syrians, with attacks against individual refugees increasingly erupting into mass violence. This February, for example, an argument between residents and refugees in Istanbul transformed into large-scale clashes. And on June 29, dozens of vigilantes attacked Syrian businesses in Istanbul’s Kucukcekmece district after a Syrian man was falsely accused of molesting a young girl.


Turkey’s growing anti-Syrian sentiment appears to be one of several factors eroding public support for President Erdogan, even to the point of bringing the pro- and anti-Erdogan blocs together. Well aware of this trend, Erdogan is doing whatever he can to repatriate as many refugees as possible back to Syria. The government has already transferred hundreds of thousands of refugees to Turkish-controlled enclaves in northwest Syria. Attempting to further this model, Erdogan has been pushing Washington to create a joint “safe zone” in northeast Syria and repatriate more refugees there. He may even be willing to strike a grand bargain with the Assad regime, recognizing it as Syria’s legitimate government in return for Damascus allowing refugees to return to their homes. At the very least, he would likely demand that Turkey retain control over its enclaves in north Syria in order to facilitate the return of more refugees.



The End of the Syrian Civil War
How Jordan Can Cope
By Mohammed Bani Salameh and Ayman Hayajneh
Middle East Quarterly
Summer 2019

The Syrian civil war produced one of the largest, longest, and most complex humanitarian crises of the twenty-first century. More than twelve million people have fled to Arab and Western countries since June 2011, including over 1.4 million to Jordan, equivalent to 14 percent of the Jordanian population.

This influx has created massive socioeconomic problems for the Hashemite Kingdom, including increased poverty, unemployment, budget deficits, and pressure on health and education infrastructures. This migration has had far-reaching political and security effects, notably erosion of Jordanian national identity, curtailment of the country’s democratization process, and progressive unravelling of its social fabric due to increased violence, extremism, and corruption.

How have the Jordanian authorities addressed this formidable challenge, and is there light at the end of the tunnel now that the Syrian civil war seems to be drawing to a close?


Located in the heart of the Middle East, Jordan remains vulnerable to migration during regional conflicts and has a long experience dealing with refugees. As early as the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, the territory that was to become Jordan received waves of immigrants from Chechnya and Circassia, fleeing the Russian occupation of the Caucasus.[1] After the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the imposition of the French mandate on Syria, Jordan experienced the first wave of Syrian immigrants, including a large number of politicians such as Ali Reza Alrekabi, who later became Jordan’s prime minister, and members of the Syrian Independence Party, who occupied important political positions.[2]

During the Palestinian Arab violence of 1936-39, Jordan was a safe haven for many guerillas fleeing the British mandatory authorities. In 1948, following the outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli war, some 600,000 Palestinians emigrated, and Jordan received the lion’s share.[3] In 1967, Jordan was surprised by a new wave of Palestinian refugees following Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.[4]

In the late 1970s, the country hosted Lebanese refugees fleeing the civil war there, and the following decade it hosted Iraqi refugees of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). With the expulsion of some 400,000 Palestinians from Kuwait after the emirate’s liberation from Iraq’s brutal occupation (August 1990-February 1991), Jordan witnessed a third wave of Palestinian refugees that placed considerable strain on its infrastructure, demographic composition, and national identity.[5]

With the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Jordan became the largest host of Iraqi refugees, with the one-million-plus arrivals amounting to some 20 percent of the kingdom’s population.[6] At the start of the so-called Arab Spring, Jordan accepted thousands of Egyptian, Libyan, and Yemeni refugees.

Finally, with the eruption of the Syrian revolution in 2011, Jordan was at the forefront of countries that opened their doors to refugees fleeing the horrors of the war. The number of Syrians has now reached over 1.4 million, approximately 650,000 of whom are officially registered.[7]


During the Arab uprisings, the Jordanian political regime was able to maintain its status quo and avoided making meaningful concessions.[8] It exploited the Syrian crisis and the influx of refugees to remind local protesters and reformers of the possible adverse consequences. This curbed the Jordanian population’s appetite for deep political change. Protests diminished and then nearly ceased for a time; the process of reform and democratization retreated, and despotism and absolute rule became institutionalized under a regime of parliamentary and partisan pluralism.[9]

Zaatri camp, established in 2012 to host Syrian refugees, saw a dramatic increase in population to become the world’s second largest refugee camp behind Dadaab in eastern Kenya. At one point, it hosted some 150,000 refugees.[10] Movement out of the camp is loosely restricted, and many refugees have fled, though it is unknown to where and for what purpose. Even without intentions to do harm, these escapees pose a threat to Jordanian society.[11] The camp has seen increasing crime, including prostitution and drug dealing, and numerous riots have erupted as a result of harsh desert and weather conditions. The camp has also become an incubator for diseases that had been eliminated in Jordan including tuberculosis and hepatitis.[12]

With the influx of Syrian refugees, freedoms have been curtailed and the security services have expanded their control over public life to ensure quiet and stability.[13] Thus, for example, the regime adopted a policy of restricting political parties and civil society organizations, similar to that practiced vis-à-vis the unified Jordanian Front Party and the Islamic Action Front Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, over the past few years. This could have serious long-term implications for Jordanian politics and civil society.

The refugee crisis also increased demonstrations and protests, with Jordan undergoing some ten changes and reshuffling of governments. In 2018 alone, the country witnessed unprecedented changes in government leadership and policy in response to widespread public demonstrations against proposed economic reforms and increasingly vociferous demands for more transparency and better government services. Public administration declined, government effecttiveness weakened, and corruption increased. International bodies such as the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, Freedom House, and others have confirmed the decline in political stability in Jordan during the Syrian civil war.[14]


The Syrian crisis also led to declines in security. Syrian missiles and artillery shells landed several times in Jordanian cities and towns while Jordanian border posts were attacked by terrorist organizations resulting in Jordanian deaths and injuries. Increased smuggling and infiltration of weapons and contraband intensified the burden on the security services.[15] This in turn raised the state of alert regarding dormant terror cells as well as increased tension within Jordanian society.

To address the security issues, militarization of Jordan has increased as the ruling elites concluded that maintaining security and stability could only be achieved by the military and that other social institutions could be dispensed with. The ineffectiveness and corruption of the civil state apparatus has been highlighted, including in the education and health sectors. These sectors were subject to a campaign of doubt, leaving only the military as an institution with a good reputation. The results include an increase in military spending: Jordan now ranks fourth in the Arab world and eighth at the international level in military spending relative to national income,[16] with military expenditure accounting for 20 percent of government spending.


Jordan relies heavily on foreign aid, especially from the United States, the European Union, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. This has been a constraint on its foreign policy, which has often adapted to those of donor states.[17]

As a result of the Syrian refugee crisis, Jordan has become even more dependent on the foreign aid necessary for economic development and for coping with the burdens of the Syrian refugee crisis. Pressure by the Gulf states for Jordan to intervene in the Syrian civil war and to take an anti-regime position has been particularly strong.[18] This has placed Amman in a tight situation. On the one hand, it does not want to anger the Gulf states, but on the other, it has its own concerns about the Syrian rebellion, the opposition, and the transformations in the Arab world. Cautiously treading the tight rope in its increasingly volatile neighborhood, Amman had to accommodate a complex set of interconnected, and often contradictory, interests of allies and regional influences. Finding the right balance between those calling for the overthrow of the Assad regime and those supporting it—internally, regionally, and internationally—has proved a particularly demanding task.

Jordan’s external relations have also been stalemated with such pivotal countries as Turkey and Iran. Syria is Jordan’s only land crossing to Turkey and Europe. Even worse was the closure of the Iraqi border for several years, nearly isolating Jordan for a time. The country’s dependence is also illustrated in its policies toward Islamists. The Gulf states have placed the Muslim Brotherhood on their lists of terrorist groups, increasing the pressure on Jordan to do likewise. As a result, the Hashemite regime has been unable to maintain its traditional relationship with the Brotherhood, which it regards as being under control, while balancing its interests with the Gulf states, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Amman thus sought to Jordanize the local Brotherhood by demanding that it be separated from the Cairo-based Global Guidance Bureau, the Brotherhood’s highest decision-making body. The regime also called for a separation from Hamas, with the group’s Jordanian headquarters closed on the pretext of being unlicensed and its political and social activities placed under siege.[19]


National identity is one of the most sensitive and complex issues in Jordan. Since its creation in 1921 until recently, Jordan adopted a pan-Arab orientation at both state and society levels,[20] but the Syrian crisis saw a surge of distinct Jordanian nationalist sentiments. Jordanians expressed dissatisfaction with the Syrian migration wave, which adversely affected their lives on many levels and which underscored the weakness of national, religious and social links between them and their Syrian “brothers.” The crisis thus heralded the end of Jordan’s pan-Arab orientation. Having hosted revolutionaries from Syria and Palestine in the 1920s and 1930s, the kingdom retreated to its narrow tribal and local affiliations. Despair has spread among Jordanians as they stopped believing in the idea of “Arab nationalism.”[21]

The rapid influx of Syrian refugees has also increased Jordanians’ fear of becoming a minority in their own country. From 1948 to date, including the recent Syrian arrivals, the number of immigrants has exceeded that of indigenous people. According to U.S. ambassador to Amman Alice Wells, as a result of successive waves of immigration, the indigenous proportion of the total population is as low as 27 percent. This caused a stir in Jordanian society, but at the same time raised the question of national identity to new heights. Jordanians are becoming paranoid because they feel outnumbered. Furthermore, since tribal identity is an essential driver of Jordanian society, Jordanians are less receptive to outsiders and subcultural identities.[22]

A number of Syrian refugees in Jordan have no desire to return home. Settling these refugees in Jordan will intensify as a result of international pressures, but such settlement will exacerbate the crisis of Jordanian national identity, which has maintained its Transjordanian distinctiveness despite the regime’s efforts to develop a hybrid identity encompassing both the indigenous tribes and the Palestinian population that has settled in the kingdom after the 1948 and 1967 wars. Preserving Jordanian national identity will require reconsidering the policy of open borders. But the inability of the state to control its borders marginalizes the role of civil society in the face of successive refugee waves.[23]


Jordan experienced extremism and terrorism before the Syrian revolution, notably the Amman hotel bombings in 2005. The Jordanian state sought to combat the threat by targeting youth at risk for multiple reasons such as poverty, unemployment, the failure of development projects, the absence of social justice, and the spread of corruption.[24]

During the Syrian revolution, terrorist organizations managed to spread extremist ideology. The Islamic State (ISIS), through its media apparatus, mobilized hundreds of Jordanians to its ranks. The number of Jordanians in a variety of extremist groups in both Iraq and Syria is estimated at three thousand,[25] and the security forces are pursuing dozens of people accused of joining or sympathizing with such organizations.

It was long believed that the majority of these recruits were uneducated, marginalized, and poor, mainly from hardline and non-Jordanian families. But the intensification of the Syrian civil war has radicalized young people from different backgrounds—from the middle class or the bourgeoisie; from groups that historically have been bastions of regime support, and from different regions of the country. Through the spread of jihadism in mosques, schools, and universities, extremist groups have become attractive to different groups and classes of society. Some have embraced jihadist ideology and have been trained and used in combat in Syria and Iraq.[26]


Corruption is one of the foremost challenges facing Jordan, with a highly negative impact on reform policies, development, and stability. Combating corruption is a top priority for King Abdullah II, but the regime has had little success to date.[27]

The Syrian crisis has led to an unprecedented spike in the scope of corruption, penetrating all aspects of political, economic, and administrative life.[28] Perhaps one of the most prominent effects is the weakened prestige of the state as a result of individual corruption, especially by civil servants and among those in high official circles, what is known as “grand corruption.”[29]

Corruption has also been made more prevalent by the blatant state’s favoritism of a small and cohesive ruling elite and its failure to carry out the necessary socioeconomic reforms to widen the national distribution of resources.[30] The government’s ability to provide the basic requirements of life for citizens, such as food, water, housing, health care, education, and legal services, has declined, while poverty, unemployment, marginalization, injustice, corruption, lack of oversight and accountability, have become widespread. Access to public services has become the main concern for citizens, but the ruling elite believes that relative privation prevents citizens from raising the level of demands. This sterile thinking has made the situation a ticking time bomb, with spreading poverty, unemployment, economic crises, low wages, and high prices creating an environment conducive to corruption.

Corruption in Jordan is practiced in broad daylight, and efforts to combat it have evaporated.

Finally, with the decline of the democratization process, the political will to combat corruption has weakened, and the ability of government officials to act with little accountability has increased.

Corruption is practiced by the influential in broad daylight, and efforts to combat it have evaporated. This is confirmed by the reports on world corruption indicators.[31]


Whatever the economic and social costs of the Syrian refugee crisis, they are secondary to its adverse political effects on the Jordanian state and society: The kingdom’s hesitant drive toward reform and democracy has been curtailed and its national identity has been eroded. Fighting violence and extremism has become an all-consuming preoccupation with corruption skyrocketing to unprecedented heights. These are exorbitant and far-reaching consequences, which will reverberate throughout Jordan way beyond the end of the Syrian civil war and which cannot be reckoned with quickly or impulsively.

No less importantly, the refugee crisis has exposed the fundamental flaws and distortions of Jordanian society and the political system, notably the fragility of the democratic experiment, weakness of national identity, and lack of trust in the state and its institutions due to their longstanding marginalization of large segments of society and their exclusion from the national decision-making process.[32]

Nor does Jordan, for all its historical experience with refugees and asylum seekers, have an effective national strategy to deal with the Syrian refugee problem. Most of the policies have been reactive, leading to decreasing public confidence in the state and prompting widespread demand for ending the country’s open door policy.

What is needed, therefore, is a new comprehensive approach that:

1. Brings Jordanian politicians, intellectuals, academics and decision-makers to the discussion regarding a refugee policy.

2. Encourages the media to address the problem in an open manner and with no fear of retribution.

3. Demands that the international community recognize Jordan’s critical role in alleviating the Syrian refugee problem (with the attendant financial and material assistance), while stressing the need for a postwar repatriation of the refugees.

4. Reconsiders the national strategy to combat extremism, terrorism and corruption, including the incorporation of clerics into this effort.

5. Promotes greater democratization and political reform in Jordan by advancing participation, transparency, and accountability, and by combating corruption and renouncing violence and extremism.

This may well be a tall order for the Jordanian polity. But failure to make a sharp break from past practices is an assured recipe for disaster.

(Mohammed Bani Salameh and Ayman Hayajneh are members of the political science department at Yarmouk University, Irbid, Jordan.)



[1] For more information, see Jordanian Chechen Site.

[2] Philip S. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 1920-1945 (London: I.B.Tauris, 1987), pp. 220-7.

[3] Efraim Karsh, “How Many Palestinian Arab Refugees Were There?” Israel Affairs, Apr. 2011, pp. 224-46.

[4] Adnan Abu-Odeh, Jordanians, Palestinians and the Hashemite Kingdom in the Middle East Peace Process (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 1999), pp. 133-6.

[5] Mohammed Bani Salameh and Khalid Edwan, “The identity crisis in Jordan: Historical pathways and contemporary debates,” Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity, Oct. 2016 .

[6] Ahmed al-Shiyab, “The Legal, Economic and Social Conditions of Iraqi Residents,” Refugees, Displaced and Forced Migration Research Center, Yarmouk University, Irbid, Jor., 2009, p. 8.

[7] “Syria: Regional Refugee Response—Jordan,” UNHCR (U.N. Refugee Agency), 2017.

[8] Mohammed Bani Salameh, “Political Reform in Jordan: Reality and Aspirations,” World Affairs Journal, May 2018.

[9] Mohammed Bani Salameh and Azzam Elananzah, “Constitutional reforms in Jordan: A critical analysis,” Digest of Middle East Studies, Fall 2015.

[10] BBC News (London), Apr. 6, 2014.

[11] Andrew E. Szparga, “The Effects of the Syrian Refugee Crisis on Jordan’s Internal Security,” Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection, SIT Study Abroad, Fall 2014.

[12] Asharq al-Awsat (London), May 19, 2013.

[13] Hasan Barari, “Reform and the Dynamics of Instability in Jordan during the Arab uprisings,” Perceptions, Center for Strategic Research of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, Winter 2015, p. 73.

[14] “Jordan: Political Stability,” The Global, 2019.

[15] Al-Jazeera TV (Doha), June 21, 2016.

[16] “Jordan: Military Expenditures,” Index Mundi, Charlotte, N.C.

[17] Laurie Brand, Jordan’s Inter-Arab Relations: The Political Economy of Alliance Making (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), p. 38.

[18] Mahmoud Khalid Waleed, “Where does Jordan stand on the Syrian crisis?” Middle East Monitor, Jan. 24, 2014.

[19] Jacob Amis, “The Jordanian Brotherhood in the Arab Spring,” The Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C., Dec. 27, 2012.

[20] Betty S. Anderson, Nationalist Voices in Jordan: The Street and the State (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005), pp. 70-7.

[21] Curtis R. Ryan, “Jordanian Foreign Policy and the Arab Spring,” Middle East Policy Council, Spring 2014.

[22] W. Haynes, “Jordanian society’s responses to Syrian refugees,” Military Review, Jan.-Feb. 2016.

[23] Salameh and Edwan, “The identity crisis in Jordan.”

[24] The Jordan Times (Amman), May 17, 2016.

[25] “From Jordan to Jihad: The Lure of Syria’s Violent Extremist Groups,” Policy Brief, Mercy Corps, Portland, Ore.

[26] Mohammed Abu Roman, “Riwayat Daesh al-Jurduniya,”

[27] “Jordan,” Corruption Perception Index, Transparency International, Berlin.

[28] The Jordan Times, Jan. 26, 2017.

[29] Robert Satloff and David Schenker, “Political Instability in Jordan,” Contingency Planning Memorandum, no.19, Council on Foreign Relations, New York, May 2013.

[30] Curtis R. Ryan, “Political Opposition and Reform Coalitions in Jordan,” British Journal of Middle East Studies, 2011, no. 3.

[31] The Jordan Times, Jan. 26, 2017.

[32] Mohammed T. Bani Salameh and Sadam Darawsheh, “Human Rights in the Jordanian Constitution: Between Theoretical Texts and Practical Application,” International Journal of Human Rights and Constitutional Studies, May 2018.


* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook

Communist paper attacks Corbyn’s antisemitism (& YouTube again censors criticism of antisemitism)

August 05, 2019


[Note by Tom Gross]

Below is an article from The Morning Star, the official newspaper of the Communist party of Great Britain.

What is unusual about it is the robust attack on Jeremy Corbyn and others on the British far left (including in The Morning Star) for their promotion of, or tolerance of, anti-Semitism. Corbyn, the leader of the previously center-left British Labour party, is the first Labour leader in the UK to have been endorsed by the Communist party.

The article also examines the left’s historic antisemitism, which it notes is not “a fiction manufactured by the Israeli government” as antisemitic conspiracy theorists today allege, and predates the independence of Israel by decades.

The piece notes that the British labour movement, including prominent trade unionists, saw migrant Jewish workers as aliens, and their demands for controlling Jewish immigration led to the 1905 Aliens Act which was specifically aimed to stop what they called the Jewish “eugenically polluted” influx, following a wave of pogroms in what is now Ukraine, Russia and Romania.

The Morning Star writers note that many on the left (and one might add the far right too) held an “utterly illogical dual representation of the Jew on the one hand, as penniless racially impure vermin, and on the other, his depiction as a blood-sucking capitalist financier.”

In very similar language to the social media posts of many Corbyn supporters today, in December 1891 Keir Hardie’s paper, the Labour Leader, printed: “Wherever there is trouble in Europe, wherever rumours of war circulate and men’s minds are distraught with fear of change and calamity, you may be sure that a hooked-nosed Rothschild is at his games.”



Before that, I attach a short article from the (London) Jewish Chronicle (July 24, 2019) concerning myself, headlined:

“YouTube admits mistakenly designating video about antisemitism as ‘hate speech’ – again: Journalist Tom Gross’s upload of recent BBC Panorama documentary on Labour antisemitism taken down for violating the site’s rules on extremist content.”

This was the second time in under a month that YouTube has done this. (For the first time see here: YouTube forced to restore video critical of Holocaust denial (June 26, 2019)



Regarding this new second act of censorship by YouTube (of BBC Panorama for what they defined as “hate speech”), one could perhaps give YouTube the benefit of the doubt and assume that the initial ban was a mistake caused by a badly set computer algorithm.

But in their second email rejecting my appeal, it sounds as though a human being read the appeal and reviewed the Panorama program, so the claim to the Jewish Chronicle by the press department of Google (which owns YouTube) that the rejection of the appeal was also a ‘mistake,’ sounds disingenuous.

What is their process for removing videos? What happens when someone complains about, for example, Claude Lanzmann’s masterpiece ‘Shoah,’ because it also discusses antisemitism, and he is no longer alive to ask for it to be reinstated?



Also upsetting were the warnings to me by YouTube that – were I to post another video against antisemitism (but then YouTube wrongly labels it anti-Semitic) – my whole YouTube channel will be marked with a negative ‘strike’.

This would include items such as my interview with a schoolgirl kidnapped by Boko Haram and the wife of imprisoned and lashed Saudi liberal writer Raif Badawi.

And the video tributes on my YouTube channel to my late father John Gross from his memorial service from persons such as Martin Amis, Barry Humphries and George Weidenfeld.



One Facebook user wrote under my removed video that “Orwell must be turning in his grave”.

The video has now again been restored following media intervention – but not everyone being censored for speaking out against racism and antisemitism has the ability to have a newspaper intervene on their behalf.

(Original dispatch of July 12, 2019) Worth watching: The program that many in the UK are talking about



A number of people have asked what I think of Boris Johnson’s premiership.

For those interested, here is a short clip of a TV interview I did about an hour before he became British prime minister on July 24.



An update to the dispatch earlier today “The life and tragic death of...” (& Some experts even compared Wilkomirski to Primo Levi)

As soon as I posted this earlier dispatch today, a number of German journalists I know wrote to say that the Irish Times story had distorted the matter, and that Hingst knew exactly what she was doing and that Spiegel gave her ample time, before publishing, to apologize, or to provide an explanation, or to withdraw her newly published illustrated book about her alleged Jewish family Holocaust history, or to make clear her own book was fiction.

But instead, in a very determined way, she made systematic threats both against the Spiegel journalists and against Holocaust historians who doubted her.

There is a short (and badly translated by Google translate) explanation from Der Spiegel in an update on my website at the foot of this previous dispatch.

In any case, of course, her suicide is a tragedy.

-- Tom Gross



YouTube admits mistakenly designating video about antisemitism as ‘hate speech’ - again

Journalist Tom Gross’s upload of recent BBC Panorama documentary on Labour antisemitism taken down for violating the site’s rules on extremist content

By Ben Weich
Jewish Chronicle
July 24, 2019

YouTube’s ongoing issues in misidentifying hate speech were highlighted once more as it wrongly removed the BBC’s Panorama exposé of Labour’s antisemitism crisis for violating its policy on extremist content.

A spokesman for YouTube admitted the tech giant had “mistakenly removed” Tom Gross’s upload, saying that it usually makes exceptions for content with “sufficient educational, documentary, news, scientific or artistic value”.

Mr Gross, a freelance journalist who has served as Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, unsuccessfully appealed its removal.

But after being contacted by the JC, YouTube reinstated the video.

John Ware’s documentary, which aired on July 10, revealed the extent of interference by Jeremy Corbyn’s office in the handling of antisemitism allegations against party members.

It was the second of Mr Gross’s videos to be removed by YouTube in less than a month.

The first, a clip of investigative reporter Carole Cadwalladr criticising Google for suggesting antisemitic search terms, was taken down for breaching YouTube’s policy on “harmful content and hate speech”.

Mr Gross told the JC: “One could give them the benefit of the doubt that the initial ban was a mistake caused by a badly-set computer algorithm. The rejection of the appeal seems deliberate.”

A YouTube spokesman said the company uses a “combination of technology and people” to enforce its content guidelines.



The socialism of fools: anti-semitism in the Labour Party?

With a 2,000-year history, anti-semitism has made its way into all parts of society – including the left. We should do all we can to deal with it, not stigmatise those who raise concerns.

By Mary Davis and Phil Katz
The Morning Star
July 27, 2019

IS THE charge of anti-semitism in the Labour Party a fiction manufactured by a conspiratorial alliance between the Israeli government and anti-socialist forces seeking to discredit Jeremy Corbyn, thereby undermining the prospect of a left-led Labour government?

Many writers in the Morning Star and many pro-Corbyn left activists accept this view. They argue that anti-semitism has been “weaponised” and thus vehemently deny all anti-semitic indictments as politically motivated and mendacious.

However, we have a problem. The fact is that the leadership of the Labour Party itself has acknowledged that there is an anti-semitic element within its ranks.

This is why the Chakrabarti inquiry was established in 2016 and why several Labour members have since been disciplined and in some case expelled. It is why the party adopted, in 2018, a Code of Conduct on anti-semitism.

It is why left-wing leaders of the party like John McDonnell have recognised that anti-semitism is “clearly” a problem.

In March 2019, he said that while the number of anti-semites in Labour’s ranks was small, anti-semitism was a real issue and that he did not want “one anti-semite in our party… [nor] …one piece of evidence of someone being anti-semitic.”

He went on to say: “We have got to eradicate it from our party because our party has got to be in the lead with others in eradicating it from our society.”

This leaves us with a predicament. Is there a contradiction in asserting that anti-semitism has been weaponised while at the same time acknowledging, as the Labour Party itself has done, that it is clearly a problem?

The argument offered here is that these two statements are not mutually incompatible.

Far from acknowledging that, as the Labour leadership does, that anti-semitism might exist in its ranks, the dominant narrative is to target those who seek to expose it as part of a duplicitous, right-wing conspiracy in league with the Israeli government.

Clearly the ruling class of this country will do all in its power to discredit and undermine the socialist project.

Why would they choose anti-semitism as their preferred weapon? Jews in this country are not important electorally, there are only a quarter of a million of us.

So, perhaps the strategy of the right is to sow maximum ideological confusion among the left.

If we understand that anti-semitism is not only a practice, but also a millennia-old ideology, then perhaps we can get to the root of the seeming contradiction between the “weaponisation” of anti-semitism and its existing phenomenal form.

Anti-semitism as an ideology arose with the birth of Christianity. It thus pre-dated racist ideology, but in common with the latter, both have had ample opportunity to penetrate deeply into dominant popular discourse.

The left is not exempt from absorbing the divisive ideologies of race hatred and Jew hatred.

The 19th and early 20th centuries are replete with examples of anti-semitism and racism in the British labour movement.

This is perhaps unsurprising. The last quarter of the 19th century witnessed a great expansion, formally and informally of the ideological apparatus of the state which was both prompted and facilitated by the rise in literacy.

The significance of this expanded mass culture (via the popular press, Empire Day pageants and so on) was that it coincided with the new mass ideology of racist jingoistic imperialism.

The empire, and its supposed benefits in the form of social imperialism, powerfully articulated the new nationalistic racism as an antidote to the emerging socialist consciousness of the 1880s which inspired the growth of New Unionism.

This period also witnessed a wave of mass Jewish migration to Britain. Penniless Jews fleeing from anti-semitic pogroms in the Russian empire settled in London’s East End and other large cities.

Far from receiving a welcome from the labour movement, the TUC and prominent trade unionists, like Ben Tillett, saw migrant Jewish workers as aliens, and associated them with unsanitary living conditions and “sweated labour.”

This helped legitimise demands for controlling Jewish immigration and led to the 1905 Aliens Act which was specifically aimed to control the Jewish “eugenically polluted” influx.

In tailoring and bakeries, Jews resorted to forming their own unions, which were only integrated into the mainstream after WWI.

But, strangely, at the same time, Jewish migrants, despite their impoverished condition, were also seen by some on the left as anti-working-class.

This inconsistency is explained by the utterly illogical dual representation of the Jew on the one hand, as penniless racially impure vermin, and on the other, his depiction as a blood-sucking capitalist financier.

This trope, later employed by the nazis, was popular in Britain at least half a century before Hitler.

In December 1891, Keir Hardie’s paper, the Labour Leader, printed: “Wherever there is trouble in Europe, wherever rumours of war circulate and men’s minds are distraught with fear of change and calamity, you may be sure that a hooked-nosed Rothschild is at his games…”

Hardie was not a Marxist, but this classic anti-semitic sentiment gained currency even on the “Marxist” left — notably the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), led by HM Hyndman.

The SDF paper Justice regularly represented the “Jewish financier” as the archetypal “international capitalist.”

This then justified the SDF’s pro-Boer sentiment during the Boer war 1899-1902, based, as it was, on their dislike of “Rand capitalists” who were frequently referred to as “financial Jews.”

Eleanor Marx, proud to call herself a Jewess, was vehemently opposed to racism and anti-semitism. She broke with the SDF and with William Morris formed the Socialist League in 1885, an organisation which embraced the principle of internationalism; a principle central to Karl Marx’s class analysis.

So, does this historical background throw any light on the current crisis?

First, it is hardly surprising that anti-semitism, over its 2,000-year history, has penetrated deeply into mainstream thinking.

Second, labour history shows, anti-semitism, like racism, has also permeated and been an uneasy bedfellow within socialist thought.

But does this mean that this divisive false consciousness is still prevalent within the labour movement today?

After all, most socialists avow that they are anti-racists and that this stance precludes the possibility of anti-semitism.

Additionally, the argument runs, that in comparison to overt displays of anti-semitism in many European countries, Britain is remarkably free of Jew-hatred.

Yet attacks on Jews continue to rise and anti-semitism is headline news for the first time since the 1930s.

Anti-Muslim racism is the main focus of groups on the far right. While it is true that anti-semitism in this country does not generally present itself in its most extreme physical form, its covert ideological expression still remains an issue even on the left.

It is this ideology, (excluding for the now the contested relationship between anti-zionism and anti-semitism), that we must unpick.

HM Hyndman claimed to be a Marxist. Like many would-be Marxists today, his understanding of capitalism was flawed.

Today, while most socialists accept the labour theory of value, many fail to understand that as a mode of production, capitalism cannot be analysed simply in terms of the actions of rapacious individuals whose greed is also seen as the root of imperialism.

Such a voluntarist, in contrast to a materialist, conception of capitalism can then easily lead to the interpretation of capitalism as synonymous with a coterie of very rich individual financiers, some of whom can be identified as Jews.

Thus Jews, by sleight of hand, can be associated with capitalism, and because the left is, quite rightly, anti-capitalist, it’s easy to see how suspicion of Jews can be confused with capitalist conspiracy.

The Labour Party’s code of conduct on anti-semitism recognised that this was a problem. It condemns “stereotypical and negative physical depictions/descriptions or character traits, such as references to wealth or avarice and — in the political arena — equating Jews with capitalists or the ruling class.”

There are some examples of Labour members having been disciplined for breaching just this. Anyone who has been on the internet recently will have no difficulty recognising such stereotyping.

Rather than condemn those who wish to apply the code, or vilify those who have spoken out, the Labour Party should show it’s not afraid to use its own procedures swiftly and without fear or favour.

Stalling on its own rules simply plays into the hands of those who wish to weaponise anti-semitism. Socialists can only counter this with action that shows they both understand and recognise the specific nature of anti-semitism as a religio/ethnic form of racism.

It is obvious there are those who seek to hold back the advances in the Labour Party in recent years. Labour is an arena of struggle between progressive and reactionary ideas much as anywhere is in capitalist society, including unions.

Those who have chosen anti-semitism as their weapon must not be allowed to deflect us from the fact that it exists and is real.

And that hesitation in combatting it is then played out as resistance to dealing with it.

This hesitation explains the reaction of many in the Jewish community. However, Labour’s recently launched education programme designed to counter anti-semitism ( is an important step forward.

Can anti-semitism be defeated in the labour movement? We argue it can, but it requires recognition of the issue, not stigmatising those who raise it.

Action needs to be firm and consistent. But above all combatting anti-semitism has to be part of the battle of ideas, where wrong thinking, if not corrected, serves the interests of the rulers and not the ruled.


* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook

“The life and tragic death of...” (& Some experts even compared Wilkomirski to Primo Levi)

Above: Marie Sophie Hingst at an awards ceremony for her writing.

“This does damage to us because people immediately begin to think, ‘Is he telling the truth?’” Tomi Reichental, an elderly Czech-Jewish survivor of Bergen-Belsen, who lives in Dublin and educates about the Holocaust at Irish schools, told The Irish Times.



[Note by Tom Gross]

Below is a tragic and sensitively written story from the Irish Times. (I emailed it to some people a week ago but didn’t have time to send it on this list until now.)

Marie Sophie Hingst was a German writer who won the “Golden Blogger” award for her popular writings about her family Holocaust history. An investigation by Germany’s Spiegel magazine in June revealed she had invented it all (including her supposed Jewish background). She committed suicide in Dublin, at age 31, on July 17.

In 2013, Hingst sent 22 pages of testimony for nonexistent people to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and archive, before going on to write in detail about them in her popular blog over the last six years.

Her story reminds me of an article about an even more shocking Holocaust fraud that I wrote in 2002 for the Wall Street Journal, which I attach as the second article below.

A writer who masqueraded under the name “Binjamin Wilkomirski” took in some of the world’s leading Holocaust scholars, including Daniel Goldhagen and Deborah Lipstadt.

Lipstadt, author of “Denying the Holocaust,” even assigned Wilkomirski’s fraudulent work, “Fragments,” to her class reading list. The U.S. Holocaust Museum made the man “Wilkomirski” a guest of honor at a $150-per-plate luncheon at New York’s Hotel Carlyle, while in France he was awarded the Prix Memoire de la Shoah.

By a macabre twist, the first doubts as to his authenticity came not from Holocaust experts, but from a neo-Nazi Holocaust revisionist who posted the inconsistencies in Wilkomirski’s story as a readers’ review on

-- Tom Gross


Update (August 5, 2019):

As soon as I posted this dispatch a number of German journalists I know wrote to say that the Irish Times story had seriously distorted the matter, and that Hingst knew exactly what she was doing and that Spiegel gave her ample time, before publishing, to apologize, or to provide an explanation, or to withdraw her newly published illustrated book about her alleged Jewish family Holocaust history, or to make clear her own book was fiction.

But instead, in a very determined way, she made systematic threats both against the Spiegel journalists and against Holocaust historians who doubted her.

There is a short (and badly translated by Google translate) explanation from Der Spiegel at the foot of this dispatch.

In any case, of course, her suicide is a tragedy.



The life and tragic death of Trinity graduate and writer Sophie Hingst
By Derek Scally
The Irish Times
August 1, 2019

I met Sophie Hingst for the first and last time almost seven weeks ago, on a balmy Sunday afternoon in Berlin.

Waiting at the train station opposite the glistening waters of the Wannsee Lake, she crept up behind me like a cat. She didn’t say hello and her brown eyes, owlish behind large round glasses, avoided my gaze. Her cheeks were flushed and her long hair, originally brown but going grey and ragged at the roots, was pulled back in a ponytail.

Murmuring to herself, she began walking on ahead of me. I followed, tried to make small talk and wondered where this was going. Now, I finally know.

For three hours that day we sat, walked and talked. The 31 year old told me about her childhood in eastern Germany, her studies in Berlin, Lyon, Los Angeles and Dublin, and her love of literature – in particular the literary master Heinrich von Kleist.

And she explained how, in the previous week, the new home she had made in Ireland had been turned upside down by an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine.

“This is what comes about when you’re skinned alive,” she said, as we sat staring out at the gentle waves of the Havel river that flows into the Wannsee. “This is about a publishing house hanging someone out on a fence to dry.”

The real story is not that simple. Nine days previously, on May 31st, I received advance notice that Der Spiegel was running a report the following day on a blogger and history doctoral graduate of Trinity College Dublin (TCD). The magazine claimed Sophie had invented 22 Holocaust victims, many in her family, and had lodged documents memorialising them with Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.

Der Spiegel journalist Martin Doerry, whom I’d met once before briefly, explained to me on the phone his weeks of work picking apart her blog, Read On, my Dear, Read On.

In the blog, mostly reportage with literary ambitions, a figure Sophie called “Fräulein Read On” wrote about her life in Ireland and in Germany, but also about her Jewish identity and family.

A regular figure was her beloved grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor who held annual parties for other elderly survivors. Every year on November 9th, she wrote how her grandparents remembered Kristallnacht – the 1938 Nazi-organised pogrom against Jews. They would stop the clocks and sit in the growing darkness, she wrote, waiting for relatives who never returned.

When researchers, and later readers, challenged her on apparent inaccuracies and problematic details in her blog, Sophie attacked them and dismissed their queries, in one case, as “outrageous slander”. Last December a researcher contacted Der Spiegel and, slowly, a complicated story began to emerge.


Starting in September 2013 Sophie sent to Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial 22 “pages of testimony” forms, most filled in by hand, detailing people lost to the Holocaust. Most people in the forms had Jewish-sounding names – Cohen, Rosenwasser, Zilberlicht – but most had no record of ever existing.

Combining the Yad Vashem documents with Sophie’s own blog writings, Doerry stitched together her conflicting, contradictory narrative and flawed family tree. While she claimed many relatives were murdered in Auschwitz and only a handful survived, none were noted in any civil or Holocaust records. And the handful who existed were not Jewish, as she claimed, but Lutheran.

“This kind of con job may not be a crime per se but it is nevertheless scandalous,” wrote Doerry in Der Spiegel. “Inventing Holocaust victims is essentially a mockery of all those who really were tortured and killed by the Nazis.”


That was exactly how Tomi Reichental felt when I called him in Dublin for comment for my own report the day before the Spiegel story was published. Originally from Czechoslovakia, he survived Bergen-Belsen camp but lost many family members. He has dedicated his later years in his adoptive home to visiting schools as a living witness to Holocaust horrors.

“People like myself are genuine but this does damage to us,” he told me that Friday afternoon, the last day of May, “because people immediately begin to think, ‘Is he telling the truth?’”

As I worked on my news story that afternoon, I noticed the blog was quickly vanishing offline. I saved what I could and contacted Sophie by email seeking comment. Her one-line reply: “I deny all accusations made by the Spiegel and will seek for [sic] legal clarification on that matter.”

Late that evening The Irish Times chose not to run my news piece and I emailed her again suggesting we meet instead.

Even though we held back the story, it was soon doing the rounds in Dublin. The website of Russian propaganda broadcaster RT had run a piece and TCD student publications had gotten hold of the story. Finally, Der Spiegel translated its entire article into English and made it available on its website.


Days later, as we sat on a dusty river bank, she said her life as she knew it had evaporated in the previous six days.

With an accusing gaze, she challenged me to ask her questions. Instead I said nothing, hoping my silence would let her talk.

She told me about her mother, Rachel, a “madwoman” from a French-Israeli family in the Languedoc region who worked with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Together they travelled the world until Sophie was 16.

“Then I found my mother in the bath with a bullet in her head,” she said. “My mother took her own life.”

Her father remarried, she said, and she grew up close to her paternal grandmother Helga Brandl. She was a Lutheran dentist but Sophie insisted she was an Auschwitz survivor with a number tattooed on her arm.

What was the number, I asked.

She hesitated before answering: 6140.

Without warning, from her pocket, she produced a leatherette wallet, unzipped it and took out something that she pressed into my hand. I unfolded a yellow cloth star with “Jude” written in the centre: one of the yellow stars all Jews were forced to wear under the Nuremberg Laws.

“This star and a smashed pair of glasses were all [my grandmother] had after Auschwitz,” she said in a low voice. “Touch it and please ask me again if I’m staging things. This is what you’re doing to me, forcing me to say this.”

I could sense her looking at me, waiting for a reaction. I thought first of the Holocaust, then I thought of Ebay. But I kept my expression neutral as I handed it back.

Soon she was describing her confrontation with Doerry of Der Spiegel three weeks previously. They met in Dublin’s Merrion Hotel to talk about an art book she had written. Doerry flagged ahead of time he would be asking her questions about her blog and her Jewish family, but she insisted this was out of bounds.


At their meeting he pressed ahead anyway, she said, and presented her with five pages querying details and flagging inconsistencies in her blog. She stormed out of the interview after an hour.

“He wrapped it up as a kind of a detective story... it’s so juicy and he does it so well,” she told me. “He talked to me like a bounty hunter, he didn’t have any questions... he just came to present an overview of the results. It was like a kind of TV series where the guilty party is presented with the documents against them.”

She described feeling cornered by Der Spiegel: forced after its article to prove herself a German Jew – in the third generation after Auschwitz – by unearthing her grandmother’s Nazi-era star.

In the next breath, she denied having filed the Yad Vashem documents about her lost Holocaust relatives, although they are in her handwriting and she put images of them up on her own Twitter feed. She also claimed someone was impersonating her, that she had taken on a lawyer and had filed a complaint with the police.


As two hours turned into three, I found myself listening less to the detail of her story and instead watching her body language and other signals. Her voice went from playful girl to angry adult and back again, punctuated by random laughs. Her face flushed, then went pale. Her hands fluttered around in her lap like two restless birds.

When our walk ended, I had nothing more to say, realising I was out of my depth. This was no news story. This was a very agitated woman who needed help – and, knowing we were parting company soon, I was afraid that I might be the last person to see her alive.

As we parted, I repeated some sentences a therapist friend had given me. I said I wasn’t sure what had happened, what the real story was, but I hoped that she had someone to talk to about this and someone to spend time with this evening: a friend or her family. She said she did and walked off.

Later I made two phone calls. First to Cornelia Hingst, listed in the German phone book as a dentist in Wittenberg. When I asked about Rachel Hingst, Sophie’s Jewish mother, she sighed audibly down the phone. There was no Rachel. She, Cornelia, was her birth mother and not, as Sophie said, her stepmother.

“My daughter has many realities and I only have access to one,” she said. She told of her daughter’s years of struggle with mental illness, repeated attempts at therapy and a new stability she found in Ireland.

Cornelia was worried that the revelations would go down badly with Sophie’s employer in Ireland, chip company Intel, and that losing her job might destabilise her further. I urged her to contact her daughter and, in her agitated state, to not leave her alone.

Then I contacted Rabbi Zalman Lent in Dublin. He had heard rumours of the story but said he had never met Sophie, nor did he recognise her from services.

“It’s a small community, so I would know her if she had been here,” he said.

Contact with Yad Vashem yielded a written statement saying that 4.8 million names of Holocaust victims are on record with the Jerusalem institution.

Documents such as those submitted by Sophie “undergo a brief vetting process to verify basic details” but “the process is not foolproof and we have, at times, been alerted to faulty information included”.

“We accept that the pages of testimony are submitted in good faith, and request the signature of the submitter who is ultimately responsible for the information therein,” the statement added. “The submissions of Marie Sophie Hingst have been given to Yad Vashem scholars for further investigation.”


I had already sought out two friends, one a therapist and the other a medical doctor.

Though wary of offering a long-distance diagnosis they agreed, independently of each other, that Sophie appeared – from her confused story but also her physical signals – to have a psychological disturbance.

Such disturbances were eminently treatable, the therapist friend said, adding that Germans claiming to be from Jewish families touched by the Holocaust was not an unusual phenomenon. The need to be associated with the victims rather than the perpetrators in such a context was, he said, often linked to another trauma in a person’s life.

Five days after meeting Sophie, I travelled to Hamburg to meet Doerry, author of the Spiegel article. Walking from the main station to the magazine’s glass complex, I called Reichental again.

I described to him the agitated woman I met and explained to him Sophie’s apparent mental health issues. I had decided that, given this, it was not a story for The Irish Times. Would he be alright with that?

“Of course,” he said. “The poor girl needs help. Publishing would only cause more pain.”

A few minutes later, in the atrium cafe of Der Spiegel’s Hamburg headquarters, Doerry explained his reasons for going ahead with the story.

Last October Doerry had a similar case of a man who had set himself up as head of a Jewish community near Hamburg despite being a German Protestant. Doerry is also the grandson of a Holocaust victim. And, last December, Der Spiegel admitted that a star journalist had “falsified ... articles on a grand scale”

In at least 14 compelling features, 33-year-old Claas Reloitius invented characters, places and encounters. The full scale of the fraud plunged the magazine into one of its greatest crises in its 72-year history.

Doerry, a historian and the magazine’s former deputy editor, was anxious to stop Sophie because her lies were becoming more outlandish. She had won a 2017 blogger of the year award for her online writings and, in 2018 in Dublin, accepted a young writers’ prize from the Financial Times with a speech mentioning her “Jewish” family.

Previous attempts to challenge her had fallen flat. So the approach in Dublin was to confront her with the facts.

Cornelia, Sophie Hingst's mother, phoned me a few times about her daughter’s progress: Intel, her Irish employer had agreed to keep her on, provided she attend sessions with an in-house therapist. Her daughter had begun to see she needed assistance, she said, but was haunted by her online reputation. A Wikipedia entry was created in her name, describing her as a “blogger and fraudster”. Der Spiegel’s report remains online in German and in English, the latter available for free.

In Wittenberg, Cornelia said she was looking forward to a new life after retiring from her dentist practice.

Last week, while on holidays on Germany’s Baltic Coast, Cornelia called me to say the police had been in touch. Her daughter was found dead in her bed in Dublin the day before, Wednesday July 17th. Cornelia immediately thought her daughter had taken her life. Autopsy results have yet to confirm this; police say there is no sign of third-party involvement.


As I listened to the mother’s voice, choked with confusion and grief, my mind flashed back to the woman I met almost seven weeks ago: agitated and wounded, yet intelligent and even humorous. A troubled soul and a talented writer, but also someone who – weeks beforehand – attacked Doerry for challenging her falsehoods about having Holocaust survivor and victim ancestors.

Before the article appeared, and pressed by her mother, Sophie called Doerry to apologise. She admitted making mistakes but insisted she was only repeating what she had learned from her mother. In Der Spiegel Doerry suggested she was “now trying to scapegoat her deceased Protestant grandmother”.

Before the article appeared Sophie had engaged a lawyer, insisting her writings were of a literary nature, and a statement to that effect appeared on the blog.

In hindsight it appears each side – the Hingsts and Doerry – felt the other side was acting aggressively. Cornelia accuses Doerry of failing to see the person behind the facts.

After her death Doerry commented at length to The Irish Times but refused to allow his remarks be published. Instead he dictated a one-line statement: “Der Spiegel will not comment on the article and regrets the death.”

Back in Germany, critics of the Hingst family accuse them of shirking their responsibility to intervene and prevent Sophie spreading Holocaust lies, as well as other articles claiming she founded a sex education clinic in a New Delhi slum.

Cornelia insists she was unaware of the scale of her daughter’s deception, that she had filed documents with Yad Vashem or that her daughter’s online writings had now seeped into her daily life and public persona.

“When I asked Sophie once about this she said she was not whole,” says Cornelia, “and that she had very many pieces.”

Both Cornelia and Doerry were dealing with a complex, troubled person whose many facets were never visible at once to them.

The tragedy of the story is that Sophie, the only person who could explain her motivations and her pieces, is now dead. She will be buried in her hometown of Wittenberg on July 31st.


Cornelia described as “exemplary” Intel’s treatment of their daughter, allowing her to stay on provided she saw a therapist. “The Irish are the only ones standing by us,” she said.

News of Sophie’s death came as a huge shock to her friends and former colleagues in Trinity College and in Intel. Former TCD colleagues are mourning a talented and kind person who did charity work for the Irish Red Cross.

At the start of our walk last month, Sophie insisted we visit a leafy glade and the grave where German literary genius Heinrich von Kleist shot his girlfriend and then himself in November 1811. The writer was just 34 when he died. Sophie was three years younger.

The original inscription, removed by the Nazis because it was from a Jewish writer, has been restored. We stood side by side, studying the words:

“He lived, and sang and suffered/in a cheerless, heavy time/here he sought death/and found immortality.”

Most of Sophie’s writing was lost with her vanished blog. Reading through our email correspondence reveals a woman who loved words – even if they sometimes betrayed her grip on reality.

“I am slightly jealous of all people who knew what they wanted to do, who knew words belong to them,” she wrote. “I only ever am a greedy thief, full of hunger for words. And, as you and the world at large can see, it didn’t end well.”



Real Horrors, Phony Claims
Duping the Holocaust experts
By Tom Gross
The Wall Street Journal (Book Review)
February 6, 2002

The tale of the man who called himself Binjamin Wilkomirski is as extraordinary as it is disturbing. It began with his memoir called “Fragments,” in which he presented himself as a Jewish Holocaust survivor who had been subjected to Dr. Josef Mengele’s horrendous medical experiments as a child. Wilkomirski described his terrible experiences at Majdanek, a concentration camp in German-occupied Poland, and at Auschwitz, including seeing his father beaten to death.

“Fragments,” published in Switzerland in 1995, was almost immediately acclaimed a masterpiece, and it soon became an international bestseller. Wilkomirski won the National Jewish Book Award for autobiography, the Prix Memoire de la Shoah in France and the Jewish Quarterly Literary Prize in Britain. He even received a cash award from the American Orthopsychiatric Association. As his fame grew, Wilkomirski received standing ovations throughout America, at lectures organized by the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Newspapers cited him as an authority on the Holocaust. Some compared him to Primo Levi. Historians assigned “Fragments” to their students.

And then he was exposed. The author of the harrowing Holocaust memoir turned out to be an impostor. He was a gentile who had spent the war in a comfortable Protestant home in Switzerland.

Blake Eskin’s “A Life in Pieces: The Making and Unmaking of Binjamin Wilkomirski” (Norton, 251 pages, $25.95) is a conscientious account of the “Fragments” hoax. By setting the story out in detail, Mr. Eskin has given us a chance to revisit this disturbing episode in our recent cultural history and to ponder how and why it happened – not that the answers are easy to come by.

Amazingly, the first public doubts about “Fragments” (aired as late as March 1998) came not from some esteemed professor at one of the conferences that Wilkomirski regularly addressed but from a reader who posted a review on Michael Mills, a junior Australian government bureaucrat living in Canberra, found certain dates in “Fragments” to be wrong and noted that some of Wilkomirski’s “memories” of Majdanek appeared remarkably similar to testimony already published by child survivors of Buchenwald. (Mr. Mills, it alarmingly turned out, was a Holocaust revisionist who had caught out the experts.) Other skeptics emerged.


The first comprehensive case against Wilkomirski was put together by Daniel Ganzfried, an Israeli-born Swiss writer whose own father was a genuine Auschwitz survivor. Mr. Ganzfried delved deep into Wilkomirski’s past, going through his school records, tracking down his former girlfriends and even finding family photographs of the “Holocaust survivor” from as far back as 1946, taken in Switzerland, when Wilkomirski claimed to be still in Poland.

As Mr. Ganzfried discovered, Binjamin Wilkomirski wasn’t his name at all: It was Bruno Grosjean, born to a single mother, a Christian, and brought up by his wealthy adoptive family, the Doessekkers, near Zurich. Bruno Doessekker, as those around “Wilkomirski” knew him before he published “Fragments,” was a clarinetist from Zurich, born not in 1939 but on Feb. 12, 1941, in Biel, Switzerland. Mr. Ganzfried showed that the adult Doessekker was fully aware of his real childhood circumstances – indeed, he had fought for and secured a share of his birth mother’s estate in 1981.

“Wilkomirski” dismissed Mr. Ganzfried’s claims and said that he was the victim of an “anti-Semitic plot” involving Swiss government officials. But other investigative reporters followed in Mr. Ganzfried’s footsteps, unearthing yet more damning evidence of the deception. Mr. Doessekker now faces fraud charges in Switzerland.

With such material it is not surprising that “A Life in Pieces” is an absorbing book. Mr. Eskin tells the story well, at times giving it the pace and excitement of a detective story. He is also adept at describing the intrigues that have marred the work of child Holocaust survivor groups, which too often dissolve into quarrels over tactics and feuds over the nature of victimhood.

The book has some weaknesses, however. In particular, Mr. Eskin fails to come to any conclusions about Mr. Doessekker’s motives. Is he the mastermind behind a “coldly planned fraud,” as Mr. Ganzfried believes, or is he simply a deranged man who actually believes the myths he has constructed for himself?


And then there is the troubling question of just how those who believed him came to be so easily fooled. Why were so many researchers, publishers, editors, agents, scholars and critics taken in? You would think, given the intensity of historical interest in the Holocaust, that someone might have spotted the fraud early on.

It would be interesting, for example, to know how Holocaust historians such as Daniel Goldhagen, who so lavishly praised the book, now feel. What does Deborah Lipstadt, author of “Denying the Holocaust,” think of the fact Doessekker has become (against his wishes) a hero for Holocaust deniers? (Prof. Lipstadt assigned Fragments to her class reading list, and spent a whole day with “Wilkomirski” when he came to Atlanta as part of his speaking tour.)

And what does the director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum think of his having made “Wilkomirski” a guest of honor at a $150-per-plate luncheon at New York’s Hotel Carlyle? Mr. Eskin might have insisted on asking such questions of a host of people who should have known better. It is a pity that he didn’t.

He does, however, choose to write at length on the history of his own family, which has been living in the U.S. for at least four generations. The ostensible reason is that his great-great-grandfather was called Wilkomirski, and at one stage it seemed that the bogus Binjamin might be a distant relative. In the event, of course, the supposed connection turned out to be a red herring. It seems as if this chimera distracted him, at times, from the main story.


UPDATE, August 5, 2019

This is very poorly translated version (by Google translate) of the latest blog post by the Spiegel author:

Why SPIEGEL had to report on the case Marie Sophie Hingst

Marie Sophie Hingst had spread Holocaust lies, in June the SPIEGEL wrote about it. A few weeks later, the blogger died.

By Martin Doerry
August 2, 2019

The death of the historian Marie Sophie Hingst moves me day and night. In mid-July she was found lifeless in her apartment. The question now occupying everyone involved in this drama is driving me around: Was it right and necessary to report on the young woman and her lies?

My text published on SPIEGEL on June 1 had a special history. A rather random research team first became aware of the case. A historian, a lawyer, an archivist and an ancestor researcher specializing in Jewish families had independently noticed inconsistencies in the blog "Read on my dear, read on" by Ms. Hingst, they exchanged views on Facebook and e-mails.

They found out that Ms. Hingst invented her Jewish family biography, which was published in the blog, and had filed 22 fake sacred bows to authenticate this legend in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. When Ms. Hingst responded to the repeated request to not spread these stories and to delete the entries in Yad Vashem, only indignant and aggressive responded, turned to two well-known German historians, to move them to an intervention with the colleague, without success.

Finally, I was informed because last year, together with Moritz Gerlach, I had already published a similar case, the story of impostor Wolfgang Seibert, who also invented alleged Holocaust victims in his family life, thus making him the chairman of the Jewish community in Pinneberg had (SPIEGEL 43/2018).

After further research, in May I asked Ms. Hingst for a meeting in Dublin. The conversation in a Dublin hotel was about her recently published illustrated book "Kunstgeschichte als Brotbelag" and her alleged Jewish family history. She responded to my criticism of her biographical legends confident and focused and defended herself rhetorically. At the end, I gave her a detailed list of questions to give her the opportunity to comment in writing. She did not use it. When Marie Sophie Hingst announces a public correction of her lies during or after the confrontation

If the article had not appeared in this form. Between our conversation on May 23 and the appearance of the story were eight days that passed unused.

The Berlin correspondent of the Irish Times, Derek Scally, visited Marie Sophie Hingst about a week after the release and won another picture of her. In his portrait he draws the picture of a confused, helpless person who desperately clings to the Jewish family legend. He claims that I have overlooked what a catastrophic condition Ms. Hingst was. What he overlooks is the fact that before the article was published, Ms. Hingst was by no means desperate and depressed, but confident, determined and determined. He only met her when her fictive identity collapsed. We met the same person, but in two completely different situations.

Scally's report generated a strong echo on social media. In many commentaries, her rumored statement that she felt "skinned as if alive" through the SPIEGEL is seen as evidence of mental cruelty. The fact that Marie Sophie Hingst has been systematically spreading lies about her supposed Holocaust ancestors for six years - not only in her much read and awarded blog, but also in public speeches to a large audience - often appears to be or becomes a venial sin not addressed at all.


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