Dr. Burckhard Blanke has not yet recovered from his experience last week. The director of the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung in Israel, a foundation that is identified with the German Liberal Party (FDP), was questioned by the police for two hours at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem. This was after police had come to his home with a search warrant stating that he was suspected of being in possession of maps of military installations in Israel.
It was claimed in the search warrant that these maps could serve hostile elements. According to him, "the suspicious documents that the police took away after searching for half an hour included personal e-mails, a map (without military installations) of the West Bank that had been downloaded from the Internet, and extracts of articles from an Israeli newspaper."
According to the police version, Blanke was investigated on suspicion of anti-Semitic statements "in a way that encourages racist activity." A German accused of anti-Semitism in the Jewish state? "There is nothing that hurts me more," said the agitated Blanke.
The branch of the foundation that he heads devotes most of its activity to advancing understanding between Israelis and Palestinians and to Israeli-German reconciliation; it also supports educational and cultural activities in Israel. Blanke says that at no point in the investigation was he asked about anti-Semitic or racist statements. The investigation focused, he says, on his work in Israel and in the territories, and on his opinions of the Israeli government and its policies. For obvious reasons, Blanke refused to state his opinions.
Is the investigation of Blanke in Israel connected to accusations of anti-Semitism and negative attitudes toward Israel and limitations on the freedom of speech that are mixed together in Germany? In recent days the German press has put forth the theory that behind the Blanke incident lie political interests that are linked to a local affair that is far more inflammatory. The thesis: Elements in the government of Israel have tried to torpedo the visit of the head of the FDP, Guido Westerwelle, who arrived in Israel yesterday at the invitation of the Foreign Ministry.
Behind the "attempt to torpedo" are harsh statements made by members of Westerwelle's party. Jamal Karsli, a member of the North rhine-Westphalia regional parliament of Syrian origin who was expelled from the Green Party and recently joined the Liberals, compared the Israel Defense Forces' actions to the deeds of the Nazis and attacked "the influence of the Zionist lobby" on the world media. The party's deputy chairman, Jurgen Mollemann, evinced understanding of the actions of the suicide terrorists in Israeli territory and charged that "the hateful style" of Michel Friedman, the deputy chairman of the Jewish communities in Germany, encourages anti-Semitism.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, as well as The Economist, suggested this week that the taboo on anti-Semitic statements in Germany has been broken. Since the reunification of Germany, and especially since Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder came into power, a new generation of Germans has been refusing to continue to be the hostage of the past, it was argued. The Holocaust has ceased to be a cornerstone of German identity.
However, it would appear that this breaking of the taboo is nevertheless not yet absolute. The tempest that has been stirred up by the statements, and the fact that the affair has become the most discussed subject in the election campaign prove this.
Schroeder attacked the "highly dangerous" statements and yesterday warned that the Liberal Party - which is perceived by all the commentators as the senior partner in the next coalition - arouses doubts as to its ability to be part of the next government. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned against the "Haiderization" of the FDP, and Claudia Roth, co-leader with Fischer of the Green Party, demanded the opening of a police investigation against Mollemann. Westerwelle, for his part, is proud of having led to the expulsion of Karsli within a week and of having expressed on behalf of the party reservations about Mollemann's statements.
Among the Jews of Germany there are quite a few reservations about Michel Friedman's personality and statements, as well as about Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policies. However, apparently most Germans believe that the freedom to express opinions in Germany about subjects connected to the Holocaust and to anti-Semitism is still reserved exclusively to those who are perceived as victims of them.
The political correctness police have won, said Karsli after he was expelled. The party's Internet site has become, according to reports, a magnet for extreme right-wingers. Some of them have even expressed opposition to Jews being citizens of Germany. Karsli charges that people who hold such opinions are not being allowed to express them in public. He is not entirely wrong. The establishment is afraid of letting anti-Semitism burst out and as a result is also forced, again and again, to swallow its criticism of Israel's policy. For the moment, at least, it would seem that the taboo is still stronger than the increasing pressure to shatter it.
Westerwelle will try to stress this fact during his visit here. Israel will certainly make it clear to him that it will not be able to give him a full seal of approval as long as his party continues to wink at the extremist public.
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