Israel and the Catechism

Bad Godesberg Fasanenstraße 30.jpg
Former site of Israeli Embassy in Bad Godesberg (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

For me, it is puzzling listening to all these complaints by Dirk Moses and others (Dialectic of Vergangenheitsbewältigung – The New Fascism Syllabus) that Germany has completely bought into a pro-Israeli position – because of the Holocaust, penance, the desire for redemption, or whatever. Of course, defending Israel is indeed part of German “Staatsräson”. No doubt the parliamentary anti-BDS resolutions at regional and central level can be seen as evidence that this defence takes on neurotic, even anti-democratic and censorial forms. The campaign against Achille Mbembe would be another example. But those who object to the BDS resolutions seem little interested in the uncomfortable detail that the BDS has goals which, if followed, would see Israel wiped off the face of the earth.

As for Germany being uncritical of Israel, this is not true. In September 2019, the government published a 16-page response to a “Kleine Anfrage” by the Greens in which it expressed concern that the two-state solution was becoming more and more unrealistic. The report was critical of Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank, its annexation plans, its stifling of Palestinian economic development, the limiting of access for Palestinians to water supplies and pastureland, and other factors (https://dserver.bundestag.de/btd/19/127/1912718.pdf). Sure, the government holds back sometimes. It often leaves the criticism to its UN representatives. The UN Human Rights Council regularly passes resolutions condemning Israel, as it did for instance when calling for a weapons’ embargo Auch Deutschland verurteilt Israel | Jüdische Allgemeine (juedische-allgemeine.de). Germany supported the resolution. It’s not the first time it has supported Israel-critical resolutions, though it has also on occasion abstained. The Foreign Office put up on its website a statement to the effect that the German government shared the view that criticism of Israel in the UN was often inappropriately one-sided, but that didn’t stop Germany supporting Israel-critical resolutions. In November 2018, the UN passed nine Israel-critical resolutions. Germany supported eight of them (Neun Verurteilungen an einem Tag: So unfair behandeln die UN Israel – Politik Ausland – Bild.de). In 2019, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre cited Christoph Heusgen, German ambassador to the UN, as one of the ten worst antisemitic incidents of the year.

As for Germans generally having too positive a view of Israel, or being afraid to express criticism, this is not borne out by surveys. In 2015, the Bertelsmann Foundation found that only 36% of Germans had a positive attitude to Israel; almost half of those surveyed had a negative attitude. Among younger people (18-19 year olds), the percentage of negative attitudes was even higher (54%). Some 35% of those surveyed thought Israeli politics towards the Palestinians was comparable to Nazi politics (https://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/umfrage-zum-israel-bild-viele-deutsche-wollen-schlussstrich-unter-ns-vergangenheit/11284258.html). There is certainly reason to be concerned about antisemitism in Germany. In 2019, 2 months before the attack on the synagogue in Halle, the Jewish World Congress carried out a survey which was widely reported in the German press. According to this survey, some 25% of Germans shared antisemitic ideas. Almost half of the university graduates surveyed believed that Jews were more loyal to Israel than to Germany (https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/antisemitismus-deutschland-juedischer-weltkongress-1.4652536). In February 2021, newspapers reported that antisemitic violence had hit a new high in Germany: 2,351 antisemitic criminal acts were committed in 2020, about 16% more than in 2019. Juliane Wetzel of The Centre for Antisemitism Research in Berlin said that, between 2006 and 2014, many antisemitic acts were connected to the conflict in the Middle East. Since then, however, a key factor in the increase has been social media – and, according to Gideon Botsch of the Moses Mendelssohn Centre in Potsdam, the pandemic, where theories about supposed Jewish world conspiracies have been and still are rife (https://mediendienst-integration.de/artikel/immer-mehr-antisemitische-straftaten.html).

If the German government were so unashamedly pro-Israeli, why did they react to the recent Gaza war by offering 40 Million Euros in humanitarian aid to Gaza (https://www.rnd.de/politik/nahostkonflikt-40-millionen-euro-aus-deutschland-fuer-humanitaere-hilfe-im-gazastreifen-5DJGL27EFAXC7CA7FWUA3LHAQM.html) ? Of course, one can object that this policy approximates to applying a sticking plaster to a wound rather than stopping it happening in the first place, but the reasons for the Gaza crisis are manifold and Germany is hardly in a position to put an end to these. According to the German Representation in Ramallah, Germany was the first country to open such an office in the Palestinian territories (in 1994); since 1997, there is an official Palestinian-German cooperation for development aid, and Germany is one of the countries that gives the most (https://ramallah.diplo.de/ps-de/themen/weitere-themen). Within the framework of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, in 2020, Germany offered 15 million Euros for projects in the Lebanon and Jordan. In 2019, Germany gave more money to support UNRWA than any other country. It also supports OCHA, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory. In 2019, Germany also gave more money to this organisation than any other country did. No doubt one can speculate endlessly over motives for this, the politics behind it and its effects, but the fact remains that Germany is a massive supplier of humanitarian aid to the precisely those areas and people in whom, if we are to believe Moses and Confino, they show no interest (https://www.israelnetz.com/politik-wirtschaft/politik/2020/07/16/deutsches-geld-fliesst/).

I have some sympathy for the objection that the German government, during the last Gaza war, clearly expressed support for Israel’s actions (https://rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/nahost-konflikt-merkel-bekraeftigt-israels-recht-auf-selbstverteidigung_aid-58183705). But these were also reactions – to being attacked by Hamas. One of the NFS pieces, I think by Alon Confino, claimed that Gaza was an enormous prison. He may be right, from what I have read. Gaza, though, is not just a prison: it is also a rocket-launching pad – not to forget the incendiary balloons. It is not fair to construe from support for Israel’s right to defend itself a heartlessness towards Palestinians. Moses cites the words of Green politician Cem Özdemir, speaking recently at a pro-Israeli rally at the Brandenburg Gate. “Peace will come when Arabs love their children more than they hate Israel”. Moses sees in this a racist demonization of Arabs. He does not tell us that these words were not Özdemir’s originally, but Golda Meir’s. He does not mention that Özdemir comes from a Muslim background, or that Özdemir spoke these words within the context of a critique of Hamas. Is it racist demonization of Arabs to be concerned that Hamas use children and schools in their campaign against Israel? It does not sound like it to me. Moses identifies German politics and society as deeply anti-Muslim, with memory of the Holocaust, and German attitudes towards Jews and Israel, implicated in this hostility. Hence his understanding of Germany as possibly witnessing an “Israelification”. Well, this is a European Israel, in that case, where thousands of people can protest against Israel on the streets of cities with impunity, even calling for an end to Israel’s existence. This is a European Israel where antisemitic attacks happen on a daily basis, and where Jews no longer feel safe. It’s an Israel where right-wing radicalism is on the rise. It’s a land where, apparently, philosemitism takes on excessive forms, yet where antisemitism has a strong foothold. It’s a European Israel which, according to an indignant Moses, was flying the Israeli flag from government buildings during the Gaza war – yet one in which Israeli flags were being burnt outside synagogues in protest at the Israeli military campaign. If there is an Israelification of Germany, then in the sense that Israel haters and antisemites blame Jews living within its borders for actions committed hundreds of miles away. To suggest that, if Germany criticised Israel more, such misidentifications would stop, is naive at best. Antisemitism is not somehow miraculously cured by criticising Israel.

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