The Germans May No Longer Be the Gift That Keeps on Giving

Once again, Berlin will reach for funds and contribute to the rebuilding of Gaza. But it’s getting exhausted - with Israel, too.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint press conference, Feb. 25, 2014.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint press conference, Feb. 25, 2014.Credit: Emil Salman

BERLIN — Only twice during a monologue on the state of the world did the senior German official raise his voice and show some emotion. The second time was when he mentioned Russia.

His cool and measured tone switched to anxiety and determination. “Russia – this is our backyard,” he said. “Here we’re very interested and involved, hoping to lead the European Union and the entire Western world without waiting for American leadership.”

The first time he showed some emotion he was talking about something a bit closer to home. He was discussing the migrants from Islamic countries in Germany, especially in Berlin. In neighborhoods like Kreuzberg there are areas where the Turkish language and water pipes are as common as in Istanbul.

“Defiantly, Muslim youths aren’t speaking German the way their parents and grandparents did. They want to maintain a separate ethnic identity and refuse to assimilate,” said the official, admitting that the older generation finds it hard to grasp how a recently arrived minority fighting for its rights has become a local majority provoking its hosts.

Muslims, he noted with astonishment, are now harassing Christians. His elderly aunt has to calculate her route to church every Sunday to avoid the thugs who form a human barrier.

So far, these changes have not been expressed in policy toward Israel. Public and political elites still reflect the older demographics, with the usual obligation to Holocaust survivors and efforts to prevent its recurrence.

At the Israeli Embassy, which trails only the U.S. Embassy in importance, the officials are capably led by Ambassador Yakov Hadas-Handelsman. They sense some ominous signs.

I don’t owe you a thing,” an activist of Arab descent told an Israeli official. “My grandfather didn’t kill yours. If there’s any connection, maybe your grandfather killed mine.”

During normal times one can overlook the possible implications of these changes for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Outside NATO, where Germany is the senior European member, the Israel Defense Forces is the most important army for its German counterpart. Its military attache, Col. Erez Katz, enjoys access well beyond that of ordinary colonels in ordinary armies. In those outfits, colonels don’t accompany generals and admirals to Yad Vashem. They don’t represent a cutting-edge fighting force.

The cordial atmosphere cracks when the IDF, at the behest of its government, kills hundreds of civilians, destroys thousands of buildings and demolishes – for the third time in under six years – infrastructure built and rebuilt partly with German taxpayer money. Hundreds of Germans have written furious letters to Germany’s foreign minister (older ones using the mail, younger ones using their computers, tablets and smartphones). The ratio was 19 to 1 against Israel.

Berlin is willing to take part in a “staff,” not a “force,” of border-crossing supervisors from the European Union. They will live in Ashdod or Ashkelon and commute. They will operate alongside a Palestinian Authority security battalion, with the Israeli and Egyptian armies located across their respective sides of the border.

Once again, Germans will dig into their wallets and contribute to the reconstruction of Gaza and its economy, even though the amounts will be far less than the Palestinians are deluding themselves about. All this will be conditional on a diplomatic process with the PA, offering hope that another round of hostilities can be prevented.

“Donors, with us in the lead, are exhausted,” sighed the official. Unconnected to Gaza, nobody is as good as Israel in finding reasons for little donations, like funds for a submarine. And this happens despite the thriving economy that Israel’s leaders like to proclaim. So far, Germans simply give and complain, but it seems Israel is quickly heading toward the point where the wallets won’t be opening at its behest.

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