In an interview in the Die Zeit on 31 August 2006, on the occasion of a Berlin visit, the Israeli Foreign Minister Zipi Liwni said: “But the relationship (between Germany and Israel) has always been special and friendly.” From the German viewpoint, the essence of this special relationship can be formulated as follows: In view of the atrocity of the Holocaust and the precarious situation of Israel, Germany must support the existence and well-being of that country and its population unconditionally, among other things by supplying state-subsidised valuable weapons technology, even if Israel violates international law and human rights and is at war; criticism of Israel’s actions should, if at all, be extremely subdued and better refrained from, as long as the country’s existence has not been definitively secured.
Three issues will be discussed here:
1. Is it appropriate and meaningful – as the authors believe it is – to maintain these “friendly relations” and regard them as “special” in the sense indicated above?
2. Is Germany really only obliged to Israel in the Near East?
3. If these two questions are seriously raised, what does this mean for the inner German debate, and for relations between non-Jewish, Jewish and Muslim Germans?
Whatever answers we and our readers, with or against us, arrive at, one thing is not in question: The fact that given the historical uniqueness of the Holocaust, the relationship of non-Jewish Germans to Jews, to all those who regard themselves as such, is unique and must be characterised by particular reserve and sensibility, and that nothing can relieve us of the obligation to resolutely oppose religious Anti-Judaism and ethnically and/or racially motivated anti-Semitism, wherever they appear.
Friendship or a “special” friendship?
At the inter-human level there can be no doubt that a stable friendship is characterised by the fact that friends also warn one another about mistakes, wrong decisions and wrong actions, and they do this out of a concern for the other’s well-being. All the more so, when a lot is at stake for both. As long as such criticism is not made as a moral judgement or in a derogatory language, but instead with sympathy and understanding for the circumstances that caused the other to act, with respect for the freedom of the other, and out of a need to contribute to his or her (also spiritual and moral) well-being, the friendship will benefit as a result.
Does this also apply when one of the two has a deep and long-standing liability towards the other? We believe that the more mature the friendship, the more this is the case in such a relationship. However, the required attitude must be sought anew, and found, in each new situation.
Can this be applied to a large collective or to a political relationship such as that between Israel and Germany? Do not other laws and standards apply here? Yes and no. Yes, because the relationship is considerably more multifaceted, due to the large number of persons involved and their different experiences and views. Those who personally embody this collective relationship as active politicians have to take into account the different feelings and needs of those they represent. Only to a certain extent can they act as they would personally like to. This must always and everywhere be taken into account. No, because large collectives in particular are reliant on critical perceptions and feedback from outside so that wrong decisions can be righted and the development of dangerous blind spots and wrong attitudes be prevented.
Let us assume that after the killing of eight Israeli soldiers and the abduction of two more by the Hizbollah on 12 July 2006 the Israeli government, as would be normal among friends, had informed the German government about their intended responses (destruction of a large part of the infrastructure in Lebanon, including the water, electricity and oil supplies, and of tourism thanks to the oil spill along the coast; expulsion of the population from southern Lebanon, deliberate risk of high civilian casualties in order to achieve at least a military weakening – if not a disarming – of the Hizbollah; refusal to allow humanitarian corridors so as to get supplies to those who could not flee; complete destruction of the Shiite quarters of Lebanese towns; the week-long blockade of the coast and the airports; and the use of splinter bombs)?
How might the German government, as a friend of Israel’s, have reacted? Would it perhaps have been easier for the German government than for the Israeli government to assess the catastrophic global consequences of such “massive retaliation” based on the principle of collective liability? Perhaps the German government would have advised step by step action or an appeal to the Security Council, or something else. We are not concerned here with detailing and assessing the possibilities such friendly advice might involve. It is sufficient for our purposes just to imagine what “friendship” could have meant in such a case. An absurd idea? Absurd, certainly, if the relationship continues to be viewed as “special” in the sense described above. If you distance yourself from that idea, however, it becomes obvious that it would have been advantageous both for Israel and for Germany to develop a pressure-resistant friendship in which criticism, with a supportive not offensive intent, had a place.
Needless to say, such a change in the relationship between Germany and Israel would also affect Israel’s relations with the EU, the USA, etc. This is also not of concern here. Suffice it to say that the change would not have been detrimental to those involved in any of these cases.
Germany's responsibility towards Palestine
All too frequently, little consideration is given to one particular consequence of the Holocaust. Until 1933 – 37 years after the publication of Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat which grounded Zionism, and 16 years after the Balfour Declaration in which the mandatory power England promised the Zionists a “homeland” in Palestine – a maximum of 160,000 Jews had emigrated to Palestine. And many of them had taken this step believing that it would be possible to cultivate and develop the Holy Land together with the local Arabs. No one was to be expelled, as Martin Buber was still arguing in 1950. Only after the soon recognisable radical threat to the Jews in the sphere of influence of the National Socialists did mass immigration come about, and with it a threat to the demographic balance with the Arabs. Not least under the shock of the Holocaust did the international community – against the wish of the Arab states – decide to accept the resolution of the United Nations on the foundation of the State of Israel, despite the initial strong reservations of the British and, for a long time, the US State Department .
In other words: It was the Holocaust that has permanently inflicted unbearable suffering on the (Muslim, Christian and Druse) Palestinians over the past six decades. That is not the same as if the Third Reich had committed genocide against the Palestinians. Yet in this case too, the result has been countless dead, the division of families, expulsion, or accommodation in emergency quarters to this very day. Without the Holocaust against the Jews, Israel’s politicians would not feel justified or forced to so stubbornly ignore the human rights of the Palestinians and the inhabitants of Lebanon in order to secure the existence of Israel. And without the Holocaust Israel would not receive the necessary material and political support from the USA in the form granted above all since the 1990s. (America’s financial aid to Israel is 3 thousand million US dollars annually and thus corresponds to 20% of all the foreign financial aid given by the USA.)
The Near East Conflict, which has lasted for six decades and is becoming increasingly savage, undoubtedly has German and, to a degree, European origins; European to the extent that the German notion of a “final solution to the Jewish question” was spawned by European Anti-Semitism and Nationalism. The Palestinian population had no part whatsoever in the “relocation” of part of Europe’s problems to the Near East.
So it is not only Israel that has a right to special attention, consideration and friendly criticism from Germany (and Europe). As Germans, Austrians and Europeans, we are not only co-responsible for the existence of Israel, which must be secured without reservations for the future now that history has taken this path, but also co-responsible for the living conditions of the Palestinian people and a self-determined future for them.
Once again, it is not possible or necessary to go into detail about what it would mean to take this responsibility more seriously than it has been so far. But money transfers alone are not enough. It is clear that the goal must be an economically-viable Palestine with unimpeded freedom of movement between the Gaza Strip and West Jordan, not a second-class state, not a homeland, not a fragmented Bantustan. And only a negotiated settlement, not a one-sidedly decreed one, has a chance of survival. It is also clear that every effort must be made to decrease the attractiveness for Palestinians of taking part in murderous assassinations and rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, and to increase the attractiveness of participating in constructive reconstruction work. With appropriate support, European Muslims could contribute towards promoting greater recognition in Palestine of those basic Islamic values which oppose suicide bombings, which were not invented by Muslims, and towards publicising and acknowledging Islamic models of peaceful resistance to state injustice.
Israel’s security can only be guaranteed in the long-term when it has around it neighbours who are so content with their individual and state living conditions and future prospects that they can even begin to think of a joint negotiation of solutions for the problems in the whole of the Near East – such as, for example, the use and distribution of water. And the security and intactness of Palestine and the Palestinians can only then be guaranteed when Israelis no longer fear being driven into the sea. In view of all the past horrors, perhaps there must actually be a separation – without annexations – for several decades, including corridors through tunnels between Palestine’s different regions – until the situation has settled down. Voluntary encounters especially between young people on “neutral ground” could at the same time help to eliminate stereotype perceptions on both sides.
A German approach that does justice to the Holocaust and its consequences for both sides means accepting responsibility for a transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is only possible if that transformation is balanced. The first prerequisite for this is that the suffering and injustice (the violence of the conflict) on both sides be perceived, and that the need for security, human dignity and contract compliance on both sides be taken into account. Not only the military groups of Palestinians and the Hizbollah have destroyed the spirit of Oslo through their mortar attacks and the continued suicide bombings; the illegal continuation and massive expansion, since the time of the Oslo Agreement in 1993, of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, the arbitrary destruction of houses, gardens, olive groves, and infrastructure, the daily humiliation of Palestinians, and finally the de facto annexation of about 10% of the West Bank by means of what is called a “fence”, which in parts is an eight-metre-high wall, have had the same fatal impact. The question of cause and effect here is like that of the chicken and the egg: unproductive. A solution to the conflict is only possible in the very long term in the framework of a joint regional economic Near East cooperation, including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. By contrast, a transformation of the conflict can begin immediately. This demands renewed efforts to find a modus vivendi that draws conclusions from the mistakes of Oslo. German policy could make a contribution here if it sees itself as friendly towards both sides.
What does all this mean for the inner-German discourse?
The intimated, and in our view desirable, change in the German attitude also presupposes changes in inner-German relations. Despite a serious engagement with the causes, course and effects of the Holocaust in literature, art and science and in different psychotherapeutic schools, prejudices, resentment and mistrust towards Jews are still widespread in Germany. Anti-Semitism is stubbornly alive not only in dismal neo-Nazi peripheral areas, it is also to be found, more or less disguised, in the mainstream of the German population and the big political parties.
At the same time, the guiding forces in German politics and society have reduced the grief about the incredible outrage to more or less empty rituals and therefore impeded rather than promoted a change in attitude. The result is a problematic philo-Semitism. Problematic because ultimately the mere inversion of a rigid enemy-image that has no link with reality is just the same thing in reverse, and is also immune to reality and to differentiated judgement. In his Dialectic of Enlightenment Theodor W. Adorno ascertained that it was not the “anti-Semitic ticket” that was anti-Semitic, but the “ticket mentality” as such. Along with the above-mentioned tacit prohibition of open criticism of Israeli decisions, philo-Semitism in Germany strengthens anti-Semitism rather than weakening it.
Much has to be done to enable young Muslim, German and Jewish people to develop a positive relationship with one another. In the long run, a German Near East policy that is open and friendly to both sides will only be possible when it gains the support of both the Jews and the Muslims in Germany, and when anti-Semitism is clearly restrained. As long as one of these two groups feels undervalued or ostracised, nothing can become of peaceful coexistence or equal dialogue.
Each new attack on Israeli civilians, each new violation of the rule of commensurability by the Israeli army and government, increases the camp mentality in Germany for and against Israel, a mentality which has already taken on frightening dimensions. In this situation what is necessary is a broad public and open debate on the questions raised here. Ultimately, the fact is that in a democracy (and not only there) “the” politicians can only successfully implement and assert the policy that is desired by the large majority of the citizens. It is no longer sufficient, therefore, to shake one’s head in private at Israel’s actions or to clench one’s fist in view of the attacks by Hamas or Hizbollah. We must all distance ourselves to an equal degree from the violent aspects of Israeli policy, just as we distance ourselves from the military actions of part of the Palestinians and the Lebanese Hizbollah. Each voice from Israel and Palestine that demands this of us – and fortunately there are such voices – is a valuable help on this path and should receive the attention of our media.
Perhaps it would help in the current circumstances to imagine the reactions of the many intellectuals, writers, artists and musicians of Jewish origins, from Adorno to Einstein, Freud, Marx and Zweig, of whom we are so proud and without whom the German culture and the German contribution to science would be so much smaller. We are convinced that they would subscribe to the following statement:
Only equality and respect for justice and international law can guarantee peaceful community and are the only guarantors of a permanent and secure existence of the State of Israel and the future State of Palestine – and of the safety of Jews among us and all over the world.
The human rights formulated in the UN Charta and the UN declaration of human rights emerged against the backdrop of Nazi barbarism, in particular the industrialised racial mass murder of Jews, Sinti, Roma, and other minorities. Both documents recognise only the equality of people without exception. That must also apply for the parties to the conflict in the Near East.
Altruism or Vested Interest?
What has been said here about the necessity for a balanced and friendly German Near East policy may sound idealistic in many ears, influenced too much by ethics and too little by interests. It is appropriate therefore to reveal the associated vested interest, which in our view does not detract from the arguments that have been advanced.
The 11 September 2001 made it definitively clear that we are on the road to a new, highly-explosive East-West conflict which will be much more difficult to control than the old conflict with its strictly centralised and reliable commando structures. Although transnational terrorism has many sources, it is evident that one main source of the increasing terrorist energy is the unresolved Near East conflict. (The weight of this insight is not weakened by the fact that many authoritarian or dictatorial Arab regimes set great store by the maintenance of this source of conflict because it helps to distract from their own internal political problems.)
If the opposition between the Islamic and the western world is further thwarted in the Near East, which was the case in the war in Lebanon to an extent that exceeded the expectations even of the experts, then not only the Near East, but more or less the whole world will be effected. The attacks in Madrid and London and the foiled attacks on trains in Germany have exposed Europe’s great vulnerability. All further blindly anti-western solidarity in the Islamic world is a direct threat to the European Model, which today is so attractive for so many people in the world, and means more suffering for countless civilians of all possible religious orientations and nationalities. Everything possible must be done therefore to remedy this new East-West conflict – at home and abroad. We owe it to the victims of National Socialism to achieve this and to support human rights no matter where or by whom they are being violated.
Dr. Dieter Arendt, professor of literary studies at the University of Gießen; Dr. Detlev Bald, historian and researcher in peace studies in Munich; Dr. Johannes Becker, lecturer in political science at the University of Marburg; Dr. Jörg Becker, professor of political science at the University of Marburg; Dr. Tilman Evers, lecturer in political science at the Free University of in Berlin; Dr. Marianne Gronemeyer, professor of pedagogy and social science at the University of Applied Sciences in Wiesbaden; Dr. Dr. Reimer Gronemeyer, professor of sociology at the University of Gießen; Dr. Karl Holl, professor of history at the University of Bremen; Prof. Dr. Karlheinz Koppe, former director of the board of the German society of peace and conflict research (DGFK) in Bonn; Dr. Gert Krell, professor of political science at the University of Frankfurt; Dr. Georg Meggle, professor of philosophy at the University of Leipzig; Dr. Werner Ruf, professor of political science at the University of Kassel; Dr. Hajo Schmidt, professor of philosophy at the University of Hagen; Prof. Dr. Udo Steinbach, director of the German Institute for Oriental Studies in Hamburg; Dr. Reiner Steinweg, literary studies, peace research and conflict advisor, Linz/Danube; Prof. Dr. Helmut Thielen, Coordinación General del Instituto Alexander von Humboldt-ICIBOLA in Porto Alegre/Brazil; Dr. Wolfram Wette, professor of recent history at the University of Freiburg.
This statement is generally supported by
Dr. Hanne-Margret Birckenbach, professor of political science at the University of Gießen; Dr. Ernst-Otto Czempiel, professor of political science at the University of Frankfurt; Dr. Egbert Jahn, professor of political science at the University of Mannheim; Irene Krell, teacher in Schwalbach; Dr. Gerald Mader, president of the Austrian study centre for peace and conflict resolution, Stadtschlaining/Burgenland; Hannah Reich, Berghof Research Centre for Constructive Conflict Management in Berlin; Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, head of the Peace Research Institute in Weilheim/Upper Bavaria; Dr. Christian Wellmann, Deputy Director of the Schleswig-Holstein Institute of Peace Studies in Kiel.
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Cartoon by Jaber Asadi, Iran : irancartoon