"There's another Germany. It's France!" was one of the wittiest remarks ever heard on Channel 2's satirical program "Mishak Makhur." It is difficult to imagine a remark being more on target.
Forty years ago yesterday, on May 12, 1965, Israel and Germany established diplomatic relations. Dozens of cultural and sports events, festivals of writers and poets, fairs, concerts, art exhibits and academic congresses have been organized by the two countries to mark the anniversary. But it seems that in Israel at least, the public refuses to get excited. The major productions, the color and the loud music accompanying the events are evoking nothing more than a yawn.
Prof. Moshe Zimmerman is not surprised: Today, most Israelis see the relationship between the two countries as normal. Israelis take it for granted. They leave the "special relationship" to the diplomats and the Germans.
Dr. Idit Zertal agrees: In terms of the historic reckoning, the Israelis have "liberated" Germany. Their hatreds now have other addresses. France - the real "Germany" - is one of them. The Arab countries and the Palestinians are another.
The removal of historical hatred," according to Zertal, was a gradual, decades-long psychological process, which was begun by David Ben-Gurion, and stemmed from the difficulty of dealing with the Holocaust and its significance. After Auschwitz, it is no longer possible to write poetry, said philosopher Theodor Adorno. This inability to decipher the Holocaust and to deal with its perpetrators is also what paradoxically defines the normalization - "a love story," Zertal calls it - between Israel and Germany.
Psychology can be dragged in even further. After all, the normalization between the two countries created by this psychology certainly has an effect on the definition of Germany's self-confidence as well; on the Germans' confrontation with their post-war identity.
Anyone who wishes to do so can claim - again paradoxically - that the "certificate of release" granted to Germany by the Israelis makes it easier for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to conduct his assertive foreign policy. For example, in the show of independence vis-a-vis the United States on the Iraq issue and on the issue of removing the EU arms embargo on China.
For Germany, history no longer constitutes an excuse to flee from the assumption of responsibility in the international arena. On the contrary, it spurs Germany to send forces to areas of conflict and to loudly demand a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
Israel watches this process from the sidelines, and does not interfere. But the normalcy assumed by Germany goes much further today. On June 6, 2004, Schroeder marked the 60th anniversary of D-Day together with the Allies. "Ten years ago, such an event would have aroused controversy," Der Spiegel wrote at the time. "Twenty years ago it would have been considered a provocation, and 30 years ago it would have been inconceivable."
This week, Schroeder went a step further, when he became the first German chancellor to celebrate, in Moscow's Red Square, his country's former enemies' victory over Nazi Germany. On May 8, 1985, then-President Richard Von Weizsacker created an uproar when he said that 1945 was the year of liberation - for the Germans as well - from the Nazi yoke. Today, not only Schroeder supports this viewpoint. It is held by 80 percent of Germans.
At a time when the distinction between surrender and victory is disappearing, the distinction between hangmen and victims is also becoming blurred: Never before has a German president placed such emphasis on the victims of the Allied bombings as did Horst Kohler in his speech this week in the Reichstag.
"We mourn all of Germany's victims," he declared, and mentioned in one breath the refugees and the expelled, the women who were raped, the workers in the Soviet forced labor camps and the "civilian victims of the bombings - including hundreds of thousands of children who were left without shoes and without beds."
Official Israel prefers not to react to the growing process of "victimization" in Germany in recent years. After all, after the U.S., Germany is the country friendliest to Israel, they repeatedly say in Jerusalem.
However, they are halfheartedly willing to admit here - just when Germany is commemorating its shame in a huge memorial to victims of the Holocaust - that something disturbing is happening to the relationship; that the more time passes, the more difficult it is to preserve its special quality; that the mechanism of German defense of Israel in Europe is gradually eroding; and that to tell the truth, it would be better for Israel to invest in preserving the special quality of the relations, at the expense of a sudden change to normalcy.
One can find consolation this week in the words of Germany Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who said in an interview: "A normal person does not ask himself `Am I normal?' Only someone who has a real problem with the issue has to ask the question, and we do in fact have a problem."
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