Opinion |

Germany Provides a Kosher Stamp for the Israeli Occupation

The racist and conservative Israeli right is controlling Germany’s actions regarding Jews, antisemitism and Israel

Avraham Burg
Avraham Burg
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People carrying Israeli and German flags during a rally in solidarity with Israel and against antisemitism, in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin last year.
People carrying Israeli and German flags during a rally in solidarity with Israel and against antisemitism, in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin last year.Credit: CHRISTIAN MANG/REUTERS
Avraham Burg
Avraham Burg

A few weeks ago, I took part in an important conference in Germany on the hijacking of Holocaust remembrance and the New Right. It was one of the deepest, most diverse and sensitive conferences I have ever attended.

The Jewish establishment there reacted immediately with the expected Pavlovian response: “Antisemites!” “BDS supporters!” There were also ugly and vicious insinuations about one of the most important historians of our generation (a non-Jew, of course). I was there – they are lying and distorting. That’s why it is now clear to me that the time has come to lance the boil they are responsible for.

In recent years, a number of events have been held in Germany that have challenged the Jewish-Israeli-German discourse. A Jewish writer, who does not sing with the conservative choir, was silenced because his mother is not Jewish. The director of the Jewish Museum Berlin, meanwhile, was forced to resign because of a tweet about freedom of speech.

Now they are in the midst of an ugly delegitimization campaign aimed at a few of the most important research and cultural institutions in both Germany and the world: the Einstein Forum and the Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism. In the best tradition of deceitful propaganda, they have labeled the latter “the institution for antisemitism.”

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.Credit: Michael Probst / AP

They are trying to intimidate and bully essential centers and excellent researchers, whose only sin is to strive for in-depth, universal research without demagogic deceptions being imposed in advance. Anyone daring to express a opinion or a position different from theirs risks a public beheading.

Germany has an elected government, but when it comes to emotions on matters related to Jewish-German history or the current matter of antisemitism, everything is controlled by the Central Council of Jews in Germany. This body is supposed to represent all of Germany’s Jews, but in practice represents only a small part of them.

In many ways, this is logical and justifiable. But few understand the chain of connections: the far right runs the policies of the State of Israel; Israel shapes the positions of the Central Council – and this body in turn dictates the most sensitive political discussions in Germany. This means that the conservative and racist Israeli right controls Germany’s range of emotions regarding its past concerning Jews, antisemitism and Israel.

How did this happen? Israel has turned antisemitism into a powerful diplomatic weapon. Its conservative government has greatly expanded the concept. Any criticism is antisemitic; every opponent is an enemy; every enemy is Hitler; every year is 1938.

The mount of Olives in East Jerusalem and in the background the settlement city of Ma'ale Adumim, in the West Bank.Credit: Avshalom Halutz

This is the infrastructure of Israeli political awareness and statesmanship, and Germany plays a key role in it: to serve as a kosher certificate for the injustices carried out by Israeli Jews. The German state is terrified of any confrontation or clarification with Israel over the nature of contemporary antisemitism, and the question of what is appropriate criticism of Israel’s illegitimate policies.

Through this avoidance, Germany has become the greatest preserver and enabler of the reality in which Palestinians lack rights and status in their own homeland. There will never be peace in the Middle East, and there will never be a healthy and sustainable Israel, as long as Germany is captive to the complications of its past.

The Holocaust and the State of Israel must remain critical components of Germany’s political and ethical identity – but this is not the case. In all areas concerning Israel and the Jewish people, no real freedom of expression currently exists in Germany. Strict and severe censorship is automatically activated there, even if understandably. But a mechanism of cynical and political exploitation has assumed control, turning the Holocaust and its memory into a means for rejecting any criticism of Israel.

No other country exists in the democratic West that denies the natural rights of millions to vote and be elected, to live in their own country by virtue of the right to self-determination, as Israel does to the Palestinian people. Israel is capable of doing this because the warped United States views itself as straight , and Germany supports every Israeli whim automatically and blindly.

Pro-Israel protestors hold flags during a demonstration outside the Museum Fridericianum as the 'Documenta Fifteen' art fair takes place in Kassel, Germany, in June.Credit: WOLFGANG RATTAY/ REUTERS

There is still real antisemitism in the world, and it is forbidden to show any understanding or legitimacy toward it. A small part of it is the old and traditional antisemitism; part is a mutation spread by anti-Israel groups who use the crime of the occupation to attack all Jews wherever they are and deny their being as individuals and a community.

There is also an even more devious and dangerous level of antisemitism: one that uses a fake cloak of support for Israel to hide its xenophobia and hatred of immigrants. This is the antisemitism of fascists and neo-Nazis who “love” Israel. And, amazingly, quite a few decent Jews and establishment Germans support them because they are pro-Jewish or pro-Israel, supposedly and for now at least. Put less subtly: There are Jews and Germans who support antisemitism under the guise of loving Israel.

There is another way to fight global antisemitism and hatred of Jews in Germany. It is acceptable to criticize Israel, just as it is acceptable to defend it. It is permissible to oppose its policies, just as it is permissible to support them. And it is even possible to have an ideological and intellectual reality of anti-Zionism that is not antisemitism.

Furthermore, the fight against real antisemitism is not a problem for the Jews alone. An alliance must be formed against all kinds of hate, both local and global. When someone hates a Turk, they hate me as well. When they harm Muslims, they harm me. And when they persecute immigrants, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, I too am persecuted. Because that is the face of true Judaism, from the Bible to Martin Buber – a civilization that never ignores its universal obligations to all people.

The hatred of Jews must not be an exception in our age’s litany of hate. Only this way, by cooperative solidarity with any victim, can we achieve victory over the coalition of haters and populists. In such a global struggle, Germans and Jews have a strategic role of major importance. Germany is the key to the entire West. It is a shame that its leaders are an irresponsible bunch of self-serving Jews, and Germans who are incapable of distinguishing light from darkness.

In my time as Knesset speaker and as the former chairman of the World Zionist Organization, who has been involved in this field for many years, I appeal to the German government and to Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany: Pick a time and a place, and we’ll discuss the way the Holocaust should be remembered in the 21st century. How it is forbidden to exploit it for inappropriate political purposes. How to represent Jews and Judaism. And, above all, how to create a world in which Israel is a role model for resolving disputes and not a kosher certificate for any illiberal interests in today’s populist world.

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