It would have been the epitome of political kitsch.
Binyamin Netanyahu and ten of his ministers were to hold a joint meeting with Angela Merkel and ten members of the German cabinet.
What for? To demonstrate Germany’s love for Israel.
At the last moment, Netanyahu announced that he was sick, and the meeting was canceled. I imagine that Netanyahu was not very sorry about this. What did he need it for? In any case the Israeli government is already getting from Germany anything it wants.
A German journalist asked me about the reaction in Israel to the visit of the new German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle. I had to disappoint him: most Israelis did not even hear about it. Another dignitary laying flowers in Yad Vashem. Another traffic jam in Jerusalem.
As so often happens, there is no equality in this marriage. The German bride loves the Israeli groom much more than he loves her.
From time to time, the relationship between Germany and Israel needs a review.
The Germans do not forget the Holocaust. They are steeped in this subject all the time. It appears on TV programs, cultural discourse and art.
That is as it should be. This monstrous crime must not be allowed to slip from memory. Young Germans must ask themselves again and again how it came about that their grandfathers and grandmothers were accessories to this enormous deed – those who took part in it, those who agreed silently and those who were silent out of fear or indifference.
The German government – the present one like all its predecessors – draws from the Holocaust an unequivocal conclusion: Israel, the “state of the victims”, must be pampered. All its actions must be supported without reservation. Not a single word of criticism must be allowed.
When the new German republic was founded, this was a calculated policy. The terrible war, which had been imposed on humanity by Adolf Hitler, had just come to an end. The Nazi crimes were fresh in the memory of mankind. Germany was a pariah nation. Konrad Adenauer decided that massive support for Israel (in addition to the indemnities paid to the individual victims) would open the doors to the world.
He found a loyal partner in his Israeli colleague. David Ben-Gurion believed that the consolidation of the State of Israel was more important than the memories of the past. He provided the “Other Germany” with an Israeli kosher certificate, in return for massive German aid to Israel.
Since then, much water has flown down the Rhine and the Jordan. The time has come to ask some questions.
QUESTION 1: While the German friendship with us is a moral imperative, does it have to include support for immoral actions?
I have heard more than once the argument: “After the terrible things done by the German people to the Jews, we Germans have no right to criticize the Jewish State. The descendants of the perpetrators cannot criticize the descendants of the victims!”
I have said it before: there is something in these sentences that disturbs me very much. Somehow they remind me of the German word Sonderbehandlung (“special treatment”), which has terrible associations. In the concentration camps, it was the code-word for execution.
The attitude of the German government towards Israel is a Sonderbehandlung. It, too, says: the Jews are something special. The “Jewish State” must be treated differently than all other states. That is to say, the Jews are different from all other peoples, their state is different from all other states, their morals are different from those of others.
A German audience was very amused when I recently told them about a demonstration of communists in New York. The police came and started to beat them up. Somebody shouted: “Don’t hit me! I am an anti-Communist!” To which the policeman replied: “I don’t care what kind of a communist you are!” Extreme philo-Semites remind me of extreme anti-Semites. One wonders whether somebody who is capable of one sort of special treatment is also capable of the other sort.
Special treatment? Thanks, but no thanks. That was not our intention when we founded this state. We wanted to be a state like all other states, a nation like all other nations.
QUESTION 2: What does friendship really mean?
When your friend is drunk and insists on driving his car – should he be encouraged? Is that the expression of true friendship? Or does friendship oblige you to tell him: Listen, you are smashed, lie down until you sober up?
Intelligent Germans know that our present policy is disastrous for Israel and the entire world. It leads towards permanent war, the empowering of radical fundamentalist Islam throughout the region, the isolation of Israel in the world and an occupation-state in which the Jews will become an oppressing minority.
When your drunken friend is driving straight towards a cliff – what does friendship tell you to do?
QUESTION 3: Friendship towards Israel – but which Israel?
Israel is a far from monolithic society. It is a vibrant, fermenting mix, with many tendencies, from the extreme Right to the extreme Left. At present we have a government of the extreme right, but there is also a peace camp. There are soldiers who refuse to remove settlements, but there are also soldiers who refuse to guard settlements. Quite a number of people devote their time and energy to the struggle against the occupation, sometimes exposing themselves to physical danger in the process.
Of course, a government has to deal with governments. The German government has to deal with the Israeli government. But from there to kitschy gestures, like a joint session of the two cabinets, the distance is great.
The Netanyahu government has paid lip-service to the Two-State principle and is violating it every day. It has rejected a full freeze of settlement activity in the territories, the very territories which all governments – including the German one – agree should become the State of Palestine. It is building at a crazy pace in East Jerusalem which – even according to the German government – must become the capital of Palestine. It is carrying out in Jerusalem something which comes very close to ethnic cleansing. Should Ms. Merkel hug this government and smother its face with kisses?
There are many ways for the German government to show its friendship to the Other Israel, the Israel that seeks peace and human rights for all. Pity that it does not do so.
There is another German way. Two weeks ago, I saw it.
An audience of hundreds gathered in Berlin for a ceremony in which I was awarded the “Blue Planet Prize”. The name reflects the fact that from outer space the Earth looks like a blue globe.
The prize was awarded by the Ethecon foundation, which believes that the ideals of peace, human rights, the preservation of the planet and an ethical economy should be joined together into one whole. This is my view, too.
The award of this year’s prize to an Israeli peace-activist expressed, I believe, real friendship for Israel – the friendship of the Other Germany for the Other Israel. Revulsion at the Nazi crimes has led these Germans to engage themselves in the struggle for a better world, a more moral world, in which there is no place for the racism that is rearing its head in many places in Europe.
That leads us, of course, to what has happened just now in the land of Wilhelm Tell.
The Swiss have decided in a referendum to forbid the building of minarets. That is bad. It is abominable.
Anti-Semitism, it appears, has moved from one Semitic people to another. In post-Holocaust Europe it is difficult to be anti-Jewish, so the anti-Semites have become anti-Muslims. As we say in Hebrew: the same lady in a different robe.
From an aesthetic point of view, that is a stupid decision. In all anthologies of the most beautiful buildings in the world, Islamic architecture occupies a place of honor. From the Alhambra in Granada to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, not to mention the Taj Mahal, hundreds of Islamic architectural creations arouse admiration. A minaret or two would do wonders for the urban landscape of Bern.
But this is not a matter of architecture, rather of primitive, brutal racism, the one the Germans are escaping from. The Swiss, too, have much to atone for. Their grandfathers and grandmothers, too, behaved abominably during the Holocaust, when they declared that “The Boat Is Full” and returned the Jews who managed to reach the Swiss border to the Nazi executioners.
(This memory should induce us Israelis to protest against the behavior of our own government towards the desperate Sudanese refugees who manage to reach our borders from Egypt. It is returning them to the Egyptians, who, on more than one occasion, have shot them.)
By the way, the Swiss referendum should give pause to those who have been tempted to think that the system of referendums is preferable to the Parliamentary system. A referendum opens the gates to the vilest demagogues, the pupils of Joseph Goebbels, who once wrote: “We must appeal again to the most primitive instincts of the masses.”
Jean-Paul Sartre once said that we are all racists. The difference, he declared, is between those who recognize this and struggle against their racism, and those who surrender to it. The majority of the Swiss, I am sorry to say, have just failed this test. What about us?