Opinion |

The Evil, New Apparition That Is Stalking Germany Today

Criticism of Israeli policy has been banned and persecuted as anti-Semitism, and those pulling the strings sit in Israel

Ilana Hammerman
Ilana Hammerman
Visitors walk inside the glass dome of the Reichstag building, the seat of the German lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany. January 12, 2018
Visitors walk inside the glass dome of the Reichstag building, the seat of the German lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany. January 12, 2018Credit: \ Hannibal Hanschke/ REUTERS
Ilana Hammerman
Ilana Hammerman

“The New-German Anti-Semite – Do Jews today belong to Germany?” is the name of a book published recently in Germany. The author, Arye Sharuz Shalicar, is now on a promotional tour for the book all over Germany. The German government is paying for the campaign, or more accurately the “Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism.” This position with the rather strange name – after all, the real Jewish life in Germany, which was so diverse in days past, was brutally eradicated over 70 years ago – came into existence a little over a year ago. And this is how I chanced, during a visit to Berlin, to taste a bit of what today masquerades as “Jewish life” here under the auspices of the open and covert intervention of the Israeli government and its institutions. I attended a launch for the book, which was held at Humboldt University of Berlin.

Shalicar is an Israeli citizen, a major in the Israel Defense Forces reserves, a former officer in the IDF Spokesman’s Office and today he still holds a senior government position: The foreign relations department in the Intelligence Affairs Ministry. On the website of the ministry – which is a rather new creature, too, in the spirit of the times – it says that the ministry is an “active partner in the intelligence and strategic security of the State of Israel … A base for the process of scanning the horizon … whose purpose is the early identification of ‘weak signals’ and ‘flashing trends’ in the world and the region.” But Shalicar presented himself at the event as a private individual: “Arye, I’m Arye.”

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 34Credit: Haaretz

Arye was born and grew up in Germany and he reads, writes and speaks a fluent German spiced with up-to-date slang. In this native German he gave a long speech of incitement and propaganda: Arrogant, toxic and racist incitement, mostly against Muslims – but also against certain Jews – and superficial propaganda in praise of Israel and its policies. His words were received by the audience with satisfaction and applause.

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The invitation said there would be a discussion. So after the speech, I raised my hand and asked to express my Israeli Jewish voice. I asked to correct mistakes in the description of things both in Germany and in Israel, and especially I protested time after time about the protective shield of a “private individual” that the speaker took cover behind.

I received hostile responses: Neither the speaker, the moderator nor the audience were interested in a discussion. I received evil looks, was asked to remain silent, and Arye complained that I was a disturbance – so much so that he would require a relaxing massage because of the evening. That is what he said and smiled with a pleading look at the audience, which smiled back out of affection and understanding. It was clear that he was close to their hearts, this Israeli, who preaches against Muslims in general and their land in particular, and in favor of the need to act against them firmly. Against them and not against the far right in Germany. At the beginning of June a political murder took place in Germany: Walter Luebcke, the president of the Kassel regional council in central Germany, was found shot in the head from close range near his house on June 2 because of his support for accepting refugees in Germany.

I left the hall in deep discomfort, the likes of which I have not felt in visits to Germany.

A scorching summer is now burning Berlin and the skies are completely blue. Even so, I march under them hunched over and depressed as if the clouds of the past are again darkening, unexpected, devious – a suffocating hatred envelops it with a growing and thickening cloak of embracing love. Public halls in cities are being closed off to events with speakers who are critical of Israeli policy, Jews and non-Jews; the city of Munich made a decision not to provide halls in city institutions for events that support BDS, not even for events where they discuss it; a black rapper from New York who was invited well in advance to appear at a festival in Dusseldorf was asked recently by the manager of the festival to inform him in writing of his position concerning the BDS movement. The artist refused and his participation was canceled. The Bundestag voted a few weeks ago – with broad support – to pass a resolution defining what is anti-Semitism, which includes BDS. Peter Schafer, the director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin and a first-rate scholar of Judaism, and the museum’s spokeswoman, both resigned under the pressure of criticism for posting a link to an open letter from scholars, from Israel and elsewhere, urging lawmakers not to approve the resolution declaring BDS anti-Semitic.

A large bank in Berlin closed the account of the Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East organization a few months after the University of Gottingen and the mayor withdrew sponsorship of an annual prize awarded to the organization last year for its human rights work; the reason was an unfounded claim that the group supported BDS – or in other words, anti-Semitism.

From this list, which is growing longer, it is clear what the Germans object to: the BDS movement, which has become a scapegoat in the guise of a strange new battle, one that is political and with foreign interests, against anti-Semitism. (While I personally disagree with the BDS movement on a few of its positions, I have no doubt that it is not anti-Semitic, but rather is a result of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.)

So who do the Germans support? The event at Humboldt university and the reading of Shalicar’s book provided a depressing answer: They support the new Israeli racist, that the author and his book embody in all its ugliness, and pay for from the public coffers. Shalicar bears the banner of racism in Germany not just against the Arabs, Muslims and immigrants from Muslim countries, but also against the Jews who criticize the policy of the Israeli government, and even against the Germans for whom he invents a Jewish identity.

One of the people who Shalicar bullishly attacks in his book is Dr. Reiner Bernstein. He was born in 1939 and lives in Munich. Bernstein’s doctoral work was on anti-Semitism during the Weimar Republic. He is a scholar, writer and is involved in political and public life. A main part of this involvement is his deep interest in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Bernstein represented Germany in the Geneva Initiative. He supports the two-state solution and his way is not that of the BDS movement. For years he has worked to bring the voices of Israeli and Palestinian peace and human rights activists into the public discourse in Germany – a mission that is getting harder and harder in these times.

Another milestone in Bernstein’s work is his involvement in the “stumbling stones” (Stolperstien) initiative. For six years he headed this impressive project in Munich. The stones – in memory of Holocaust victims – bear a brass plaque with the names and dates of birth and death of victims and are placed into the sidewalks in German cities. This is one of the praiseworthy initiatives that makes people address the crimes of Nazi Germany where it belongs: in the public space. After all, persecution of Jewish citizens was carried out in front of everyone, and this is how the entire German society became partners in the crime: By taking action and by not acting, in active involvement and in standing off to the side.

And now this too – it is unbelievable – Shalicar has taken out his anger on Bernstein: He writes in his book that Bernstein loves dead Jews in Germany and honors then with the stumbling stones, but he has a problem with living Jews in Israel, so he supports an organization that calls for a boycott on living Jews. Shalicar calls him a self-hating Jew, and says he assumes Bernstein hates being a Jew and that deep down in his heart he wishes not to be Jewish. Bernstein lives in a delusional world, write Shalicar. But he is a Jew and will remain a Jew, no matter how much he hates it.

This is what Shalicar writes, this crude Israeli, about a morally upstanding man – who, whether he wanted to or not, was born 80 years ago to Protestant German parents, and is not a Jew.

But let us leave Shalicar, his racism and lies alone. He has accounts to settle with the Germans. The centerpiece of this affair on the German side is the ruling of a court in Berlin, which very recently denied Bernstein’s suit against Shalicar and his publisher for character assassination and libel. The ruling states that what is written in the book does not exceed “a legitimate critical opinion,” which Bernstein’s views provide a factual foundation for. As for the self-hatred Shalicar attributes to Bernstein the “Jew,” and concerning the statement itself that Bernstein is Jewish, the court’s ruling states that these statements are also an allowable “subjective assessment, which also have support in the political positions Bernstein has taken along with his wife (who is Jewish). It is important to note that the ruling is also based on public opinion in Germany, under the guidance of its political leadership that see criticism of Israel today as a form of anti-Semitism. In the ruling, the judge also explicitly relied on the recent resolution of the Bundestag, which granted this position an official stamp of approval.

After the resignation of the director of the Jewish Museum, a German intellectual couple, Jan and Aleida Assmann, wrote an open letter saying a new apparition is stalking Europe, the accusation of anti-Semitism. It has cast on the Europeans, and in particular the Germans, a sweeping suspicion. It is a call for a McCarthyite witch hunt against all those who do not support Israel’s policies and confers on them the title of anti-Semite.

“We are afraid,” people I spoke to in Germany told me time after time. They see the dangerous processes happening in Israel with sorrow and worry, and are afraid to give voice to their concerns. This fear is growing, because today, as a result of the Bundestag resolution, this is an official policy that has legalized what has been expressed in practice for a few years in public life and court rulings: Criticism of Israeli policy has been banned and persecuted as anti-Semitism.

This evil new ghost is now stalking Germany. Those pulling the strings sit in Israel, the hands holding the strings are those of the Israeli government, the Mossad and intelligence, which allocate huge sums for this activity. But those responsible, politicians from the entire spectrum, sit in Germany. I don’t believe in the innocence and honesty of those whose strings are being pulled. I suspect they are guilty of hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness. Whether intentionally or not, or from a lack of desire to know, they are serving a new form of racism, and part of it is complete indifference to our fate here in Israel.

In this spirit they are persecuting us too, the people of the peace camp in civil society in Israel. According to these new definitions, the warnings sounded by historians and scholars of fascism and Nazism in Israel against the present path of the Israeli government will be considered a crime. If Haaretz, which provides an important stage for these voices, was a German newspaper, without a doubt its editors would be on trial today in German courts.

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