BERLIN — Germany's central bank distanced itself Monday from a board member who stereotyped Muslims and Jews, saying his remarks were harmful and violated the Bundesbank's code of conduct.
The comments by Thilo Sarrazin surrounding the launch of his new book Monday on immigration issues sparked outrage from German lawmakers and community leaders, and many agreed with Chancellor Angela Merkel that he should be removed from the bank's board.
During the promotion for his book, Sarrazin maintained that Muslim immigrants in Europe are unwilling or incapable of integrating into western societies and that studies have proven that "all Jews share the same gene."
Although Merkel's government condemned his comments, it cannot force his departure due to the Bundesbank's independence.
The Bundesbank said in a statement Monday that its chairman would meet with Sarrazin before deciding on further measures, adding that it is "an institution in which there is no room for discrimination."
Before the central bank could remove Sarrazin from its six-member board, the Bundesbank would have to ask German President Christian Wulff to order it.
This is not the first time Sarrazin has provoked controversy. He was forced to resign part of his duties at the central bank last year, following similarly disparaging remarks about Berlin's Arab and Turkish populations.
"The government views the reputation of the Bundesbank as definitely harmed, domestically and abroad, by Mr. Sarrazin's comments," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said Monday. "The Bundesbank must be concerned about this."
In his book, Sarrazin maintains that immigrants have taken from Germany's welfare system without contributing enough to the country.
Sarrazin, a member of Germany's left-leaning Social Democrats, urged critics to read his 460-page book before reacting, insisting that his comments were being taken out of context and that his book , "Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab," or "Germany Abolishes Itself," consists largely of "well-documented analysis."
"We could save ourselves 80 percent of all political discussion and the remaining 20 percent would be much more fruitful, if we could first concentrate on the analysis, and then the evaluation and the political response," Sarrazin said Monday at a news conference. "Unfortunately, it usually works the opposite."
In his book, the 65-year-old Sarrazin maintains that "immigrants are not all the same," insisting that "most of the cultural and economic problems are concentrated in a group of the five to six million immigrants from Muslim countries."
Drawing the comparison to other ethnic groups who have immigrated to Germany, including those from Eastern Europe, China and Vietnam, he says Muslims in particular live in parallel societies for many generations.
"Only 3 percent of Turkish immigrants in the second generation marry German partners, as compared with 70 percent of ethnic Germans from Russia," Sarrazin said.
As part of his argument, Sarrazin cites the controversial 1994 book published in the U.S. by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, "The Bell Curve," which claimed that intelligence is a genetically linked characteristic of race. The theories on which that book was based have since been discredited by a panel of Harvard University scholars.
"Even in the second and third generations, the level of participation in education and integration in the job market shown by these groups is far below that of Germans or other immigrant groups and their descendants," Sarrazin said of immigrants from Muslim countries.
Germany's Jewish and Muslim communities condemned his remarks.
"This man is trying to reduce the problem (of integration) to the ethnic origin of people and is then vilifying them on that basis," said Kenan Kolat, a leading member of the Turkish community. "It is pure racism."
The general secretary of Germany's Jewish Community said Sarrazin would fit better in a far-right party rather than in the left-leaning Social Democrats. At the same time, he urged politicians to spend less energy on the banker's remarks and more on the issue he discusses.
"Sarrazin is only the result of other problems, especially the inability of politicians to meet the challenges of immigration and integration and to develop a strategy for the future," Stephan Kramer said in a statement after excerpts of the book were released last week.
Germany has shown little tolerance for anti-Semitic remarks since the Holocaust but many immigrants have complained about being the targets of racist remarks and xenophobic behavior.
Social Democratic leaders launched proceedings Monday that could force Sarrazin from the party, the news agency DAPD reported.
Associated Press Writer Geir Moulson contributed to this report.