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Business News/ Politics / Some German Jews say their country goes too far defending Israel
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Some German Jews say their country goes too far defending Israel

The Economoist

And they find themselves attacked for antisemitism

Angela Merkel, the chancellor from 2005 to 2021, cemented the sense of a special responsibility to Israel by stressing that its security is a part of Germany’s own reason of state. Imge: PixabayPremium
Angela Merkel, the chancellor from 2005 to 2021, cemented the sense of a special responsibility to Israel by stressing that its security is a part of Germany’s own reason of state. Imge: Pixabay

What do an Indian poet, an Australian political scientist, an Irish folk troupe, a British architect, a Bangladeshi photographer, an American historian of the Holocaust, a Chilean composer, an Israeli-Austrian playwright, a Dutch footballer, a German-Nigerian journalist, a Palestinian novelist, a South African artist and Bernie Sanders, the American senator, have in common? All of them—and many others, too—have in the past three months found themselves abruptly cancelled in Germany. The reasons cited for pulling the plug on their shows, grants, contracts, awards or meetings with public officials have varied slightly. Yet all hang on a single fear: that these disinvited people, quite a few of whom happen to be Jewish, might have said something that someone might see as antisemitic.

German ultra-squeamishness about antisemitism did not begin on October 7th, the day Hamas gunmen from Gaza launched a murderous rampage that left 1,200 Israelis dead. There is a context, beginning obviously with the Nazi regime’s murder of 6m European Jews. One answer to that horror by subsequent generations of Germans has been to embrace the creation of Israel as a “happy ending" to their own national nightmare. Over time, says Eyal Weizmann, the British-Israeli leader of Forensic Architecture, a research group that has probed antisemitic attacks in Germany as well as Israeli human-rights violations, Germans have come to see any challenge to this redemption myth as something akin to committing a sin.

This evolution started decades ago, with Germany’s decision to offer war reparations not just to Holocaust survivors but also to the new Jewish state. In the late 1960s the darker chapters in German history began to be explored with sharper objectivity. This long process of coping with the past grew to underpin a new, self-effacing German national identity. Angela Merkel, the chancellor from 2005 to 2021, cemented the sense of a special responsibility to Israel by stressing that its security is a part of Germany’s own “reason of state". In 2019, ironically at the instigation of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a party widely shunned as fascistic, German legislators adopted a motion that equated calls to boycott Israel with antisemitism.

This official conflation, identifying opposition to Israeli policy with hostility to Jews in general, spread more widely with the appointment of government “antisemitism commissioners". Organisations that rely on state funding, which in Germany means a very large proportion, have found themselves increasingly scrutinised over suspicions that they might cross this bureaucracy’s vaguely defined lines. The fear of budget cuts or public ostracism—the underlying cause of the rash of cancellations cited above—is not misplaced, as Oyoun, a cultural centre in Berlin, discovered in November. The city abruptly severed funding for the venue after it hosted a pro-peace Jewish NGO that one culture commissioner thought might encourage “hidden forms" of antisemitism.

The horror of Gaza, where Israeli forces have now killed more than 18 times as many people as Hamas’s terrorists killed on October 7th, has exposed the awkwardness of Germany’s one-sided embrace of Israel, but also placed Germany’s Jews in a quandary. Some fear that official over-protectiveness could itself provoke an anti-Jewish backlash. By contrast Wieland Hoban, a Frankfurt-based composer and Jewish activist, suggests that being told by the German establishment “how to be Jews" could itself be called antisemitic.

But perhaps the advice delivered at a Berlin seminar in December by Alon-Lee Green, an Israeli activist, is easier for Germans to understand. If you really want to act as a good friend to Israel, he said, criticism is fine. When a friend is drunk you don’t give them another drink. You take them home and put them to bed.

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Published: 10 Mar 2024, 05:41 PM IST
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