Triumph of the Shrill: On the Roots of Israel's 'National Dignity' Problem

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In Tel Aviv’s fringe culture there was once a multidisciplinary artist who called himself “Schultz the Terrible.” This week it turned out that he has a successor in the guise of the president of the European Parliament. “For me the Nazis’ crimes were my motive for entering political life,” declared Martin Schulz - who throughout his political career has been known for strong support of Israel - when he addressed the Knesset. “The Nazis influenced my personal life and I bear responsibility in the name of my people and my country for the unforgivable suffering caused to the Jewish people. I bow my head before those who were murdered.”

Afterwards he expressed firm opposition to the Iranian nuclear project and to the boycott against Israel. Then he asked with trepidation whether the statistics given to him in Ramallah about differences in water allocations to settlers and Palestinians are correct. That was enough for a series of elected Israeli officials to attack him, his origins and his language.

The data were not correct; the situation in most of the occupied territories is worse, and who is as familiar with the situation as the settler right. That’s why the roots of the attack against Schultz should be sought somewhere else, to understand in what a sensitive place he touched the Jewish fundamentalists and their hangers-on.

For the sake of order, it should have first been explained to the unfortunate guest that this was a clown show. Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, the economy minister, is a joke and MK Ayelet Shaked is a caricature; from personal experience I know that it’s sometimes hard for the Germans to understand Israeli humor.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who during his mediation trips was called “Jewboy” and “anti-Semite” by the Israeli right, once said that Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic policy. It should be explained to Schultz and his dispatchers that the Jewish Brotherhood doesn’t even have a domestic policy, only shrill Facebook politics designed to collect “likes” for them and obscure the fact that they are sitting in a government that is soon supposed to be entering diplomatic negotiations based on the 1967 lines.

Still, we should identify the underground currents that gave rise to this circus. Schulz was born in 1955, 10 years after the Germans were defeated, five years after the young Israeli state began to bargain with them, and three years after the signing of an agreement that included compensation totalling billions of dollars to the state (reparations) and to survivors (“pensions”). When Bennett returned to the plenum after his embarrassing departure, he declared in his speech that “the world respects countries that have national dignity. We have national dignity.”

We can argue as to whether the reparations agreement and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany reflected far-reaching pragmatism on the part of Ben-Gurion. There’s one thing about which there’s no argument: If there is such a thing as national dignity, a few years after the Holocaust the Israelis waived it.

Many Germans do not speak Hebrew and have difficulty with English. On the German side, diplomatic and financial relations between the countries are therefore conducted in fluent German. The same is true of the sweeping and long-term support for Israel by German governments. German shipyards sent Dolphin submarines here in German, and German firms export an abundance of industrial equipment, cars and electrical appliances to Israel in German. Innumerable German foundations and cities host Israeli delegations in German, always with full funding and with considerable guilt feelings. The Israelis who benefit from all this goodness are not asked to forgive; the least that can be demanded of them is basic manners.

Later we can also talk about honesty and integrity. We can wonder for a moment about the nature of an extreme nationalist party that calls itself Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home) and believes, openly and plainly, in the supremacy of the Jewish people. We can theorize as to what would have been the political fate of Habayit Hayehudi brothers Bennett and Eli Ben Dahan, and sisters Shaked and Orit Strock, had they been born as Germans rather than Jews in the early 20th century. Exactly which party would they have joined in the early 1930s - the Social Democrats? The Communists? Is it possible that deep in their hearts and their subconscious they know the answer, and that’s what’s eating them far more than the water quotas in Ramallah?

European Parliament President Martin Schulz Credit: Reuters

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