Sunday, October 22, 2017

Germany: Few Israelis are aware of how popular it is in Germany to compare Israel to the Nazis

Via Fathom (Gadi Taub):
Most Israelis assume – or at least they did until very recently – that Germany is a steadfast friend of Israel. They therefore find it hard to imagine that it would actively support organisations which contribute to the campaign to delegitimise Israel’s right to exist. But all that may have changed after the debacle in April between German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 
Gabriel, on the occasion of an official visit for Holocaust Memorial Day, announced that he would meet the representatives of two radical left-wing civil society organisations – Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem. When Netanyahu said that if those meetings went ahead he would boycott the visit and refuse to meet Gabriel, many thought he was overreacting. Few, however, expected Gabriel to choose those two organisations over Israel’s prime minster (and acting foreign minister). And when he did, things began to appear in a new light. It no longer seemed that the German foreign minister made an honest mistake, not knowing how controversial these organisations were among Israelis. It appeared, instead, that he knew exactly what he was doing and that it was us, the Israeli public, who had made a mistake in our assumptions about German-Israeli relations. (...) 
Before the Gabriel affair few Israelis were aware of how popular it is in Germany to compare Israel to the Nazis. But one has to admit that it does have its own perverted psychological logic. If the Jews are now victimisers, not victims, does that not partially alleviate the terrible burden of German guilt? Does that not create a counterweight to the ever-present sense that the very existence of Jews is a permanent reminder of German sins? Does not the psychological need, if not exactly the argument, press towards some path of relief in blaming the victims? 
By refusing Netanyahu’s request and lending his support to organisations bent on demonising Israel, Gabriel made many wonder whether he was not in fact engaged in exactly this kind of politico-psychological game, which may appeal to his own constituency at home. But surely a German foreign minister on an official visit on the occasion of Holocaust Memorial Day, cannot be trying to manipulate symbols and emotions so as to switch victims and victimisers! Or could he? We were all ears now. 
So it was not overlooked here in Israel when, upon his return to Germany, Gabriel said to the Frankfurter Rundschau that the Social Democrats, his own party, were, along with the Jews, among ‘the first victims of the holocaust’ (this was later changed on the paper’s website from victims of ‘the holocaust’ to victims of ‘the Nazis’). So after using his state visit to look at Israel through the lens of organisations emphasising our sins, and thus classifying us as victimisers, was he now making himself the victim (by proxy), and not just any victim, but a victim of Nazism? Where was all this heading? It brought to mind the bitterly sarcastic quip attributed to Israeli psychiatrist Zvi Rex: ‘The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.’ Will we soon need to apologise for it to Gabriel? 
All this, we should note, was carried on in the guise of high handed – and decidedly condescending – rhetoric. Gabriel, on his own account, was helping to instruct us about the dangers of nationalism – ours – and the virtues of ‘European values,’ and democracy. But despite the immaculately humanitarian vocabulary, it was not hard to sense that something very sinister was afoot, since the minister’s interest in malignant nationalism and human rights seemed to be selective. He was apparently more interested in cases where Israel could be blamed. He had no plans to meet any civil society organisations which document Palestinian abuses of human rights, and his high-minded exhortations against Jewish nationalism were not matched by any criticism of the murderous sort of xenophobic nationalism which the Palestinians habitually – and institutionally – encourage in their people, especially their young. (Gabriel has since also hosted an Iranian religious leader who has called for the elimination of Israel, as part of an official Foreign Ministry event intended to harness religion for the cause of peace, the Jerusalem Post reported.) Of course Palestinian anti-Semitism is less useful as a ‘lesson of the holocaust’ if such a lesson is only intended to insinuate – to be sure, in a roundabout, never-explicit way – that the former victims have now become the culprits, thus helping to lighten Germany’s moral burden. 
Netanyahu was absolutely right to forcefully refuse to take part in any such shady game of insinuations. So perhaps we should thank Gabriel, after all, for providing the opportunity to bring all this home to Israelis. We can appreciate that the German past is indeed a difficult burden to carry, and we can even sympathise with the pains of sons who have to live with their fathers’ sins, but it is by no means the task of Jews to help relieve, much less shoulder, Germany’s historical guilt. So it is easy to see why Israelis found the whole affair rather nauseating. 
But even this was not yet all. Many Israelis dismiss the shrill rhetoric of Netanyahu’s right-wing government, in which complaints about how European money is funnelled through the Palestinian Authority (PA) to support terrorism can get lost in the general air of paranoid-seeming rhetoric. But this complaint too now received more attention when, as fate would have it, the US recently became quite firm about the PA’s support of the families of terrorists. The PA under Mahmoud Abbas habitually calls Palestinian terrorists ‘martyrs’ and offers generous financial aid to their families. Gabriel, who was so particular about Israel’s moral conduct, had nothing to say about how German money is used in that way. But we do. And we should hold all donors accountable if they allow their money to be used to provide incentives for terrorism. Germany is a good place to start, and Netanyahu was right to highlight all this. 
According to press reports in Israel which followed Gabriel’s visit, Germany denied entry to Turkish officials of Recap Erdogan’s government when they wanted to meet with German citizens of Turkish origin. Germany feared representatives of the Turkish state would radicalise members of its own citizenry. So when all was said and done it seemed like Netanyahu’s treatment of Gabriel was actually mild in comparison. Perhaps it should be less mild in the future.
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