The recent visit to Israel by German president, Angela Merkel, has been noted by a number of different ME commentators in the past few days, with each one offering a different perspective to the meaning behind her visit, the reaction to it in Israel, as well as Merkel’s speech delivered to the Knesset and in her native language.
Dr.Manfred Gerstenfeld, Chairman of the Board of Fellows at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, opined in a J’lem Post article yesterday that:
In contemporary Germany there are significant expressions of anti-Semitism and racism. This includes attacks on Jews, their cemeteries and Holocaust monuments, together with ongoing anti-Semitic prejudice toward Jews among significant parts of the population. In eastern Germany particularly, there are no-go areas for non-white people in several cities, major racist incidents and sometimes even murders.
At the same time, there are efforts in Germany to rewrite the past. Books by historian Jörg Friedrich, who compares the Allied actions to his nation’s atrocities during the war, are best-sellers. They promote “Holocaust equivalence” by using Nazi semantics to describe the Allied bombings of Germany during WWII. Another aspect of the same attitude is expressed by the many Germans who think that Israel is showing Nazi-like behavior toward the Palestinians. What they mean to say is, “If everybody is guilty, then nobody is.”
In a just-published article in the Jewish Political Studies Review, German Holocaust educator Susanne Urban writes that nowadays one can hear cursing “in schools throughout Germany, not only in the lower-class suburbs, [such as]: ‘You Jew!’ or ‘You victim!’
It is bad, contemptible to be a Jew or a victim. The Jew symbolizes what is deviant and ugly, the antithesis of one’s own group. The Jew is also the evil Israeli. And if the victim is a detestable figure, perhaps it is desirable to be a perpetrator?”
GIVEN the character of her visit, and in view of today’s German reality, Merkel sent, besides her explicitly stated messages to Israelis, a number of implicit ones to her own nation. I’d summarize them as follows:
You may think what you want about Israel and the Jews. Many media and others in Germany defame Israel. Yet I wish, publicly, to show on behalf of the German people our responsibility for the acts of our Nazi forebears, whom we elected. I want to do that in many ways, and my visit to Yad Vashem and my speech in the Knesset – which you may strongly dislike – best symbolize this.
Simultaneously, there was Merkel’s implicit message to the world:
Since the war, Germany has been welcomed back into the family of nations and has again become a major political force. However, many abroad wonder how much of the criminal past is still latent within us, and when and to what extent it will reemerge. My frequent visits to Israel – and the nature of our relations with it – also show that I am well aware of that.
MERKEL’S attitude probably also expresses a world view different from that of most other Western European leaders. It can, in part, be explained by her personal experience, having grown up and lived in communist East Germany. She knows what totalitarianism means, and not only from teachers of the history of Nazi Germany. Being trained as a physicist rather than in the humanities may also be helpful in confronting threats realistically.
Without saying it explicitly, Merkel seems to understand that various threats from the world of Islam, besides the Iranian one she mentioned, share the totalitarian characteristics of Nazism and communism. That is probably included when she says that threats to Israel are also threats to Germany. However it is not yet politically correct to explicitly name the major hate – Islamist incitement and violence – as the greatest danger to the world. For that we may have to wait a few more years.
Middle East commentator David Hornik has an equally thought provoking article published in today’s FPM, which deserves a very honorable mention by the TT.
“The rocket fire at the South is an obstacle [to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations], and so is construction in the settlements,” said German chancellor Angela Merkel this week during her three-day visit to Israel.
A lot of anniversaries are in the air—Israel’s upcoming 60th anniversary, which Merkel’s visit was meant in part to mark; also, this month, the 70th anniversary of the German-Austrian Anschluss (unification) that was a major milestone on the road to World War II and the Holocaust. Her words don’t indicate much progress in moral understanding over the 70 years; they draw a clear equivalence between attempts to indiscriminately kill Jewish civilians and the building of Jewish housing.
Put differently, her words reflect a modern-day diplomatic norm from which Germany hardly dissents: one no longer just condemns attempts to murder Jewish civilians (except, possibly, in the immediate aftermath of an attack when blood is still fresh on the ground) without an “even-handed twitch” of simultaneously condemning what has been given the status of an equivalent Israeli offense.
Israeli PM, Ehud Olmert is a weak vacillating politician who could most likely go down as one of Israel’s worst leaders, and the current US administration appears to have given the US State Department carte blanche in trying to carve out some measure of success in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Regardless of the misguided effort in political expediency, no breakthrough in the “peace process” will be forthcoming.
Hornik ends by stating:
But the world of 1991, 1995, and even 2004 is not the same as the world of 2008—in which oil has hit $100 a barrel, the Gulf states are buying up more and more of the U.S. economy, and Israeli leaders are so pusillanimous that the Oslo-era, Labor prime minister Yitzhak Rabin appears, as noted, super-assertive in comparison.
In such a world the security needs mentioned by Reagan, the Jewish rights mentioned by Rostow, or even the “realities” mentioned by Bush no longer have any currency and anyone who refers to them is ignored as a presumed fanatic. Instead—whether one is Angela Merkel emitting pieties about German-Israeli relations, Condi Rice in her latest pilgrimage to the capital of civilization in Ramallah, et al.—what counts is bowing to the demands of Dar al-Islam and keeping the Jews from building even one more house in still-undefiled parts of the suburbs of Jerusalem and Jerusalem itself.
It’s also a fact that, besides the lone Dutch MP, Geert Wilders, both US and European politicians are loathe to accurately speak the truth about Islam, and it’s reflected in the dhimmi-like attitude of western politicians like Merkel and Bush, who view a Jew building a house in E.Jerusalem as an obstacle to peace. If only we could push the clock backwards a couple of decades and start over.