Der Spiegel and German-Israeli Relations

Fairness, not merely guilt, should guide Germany in its relationship with Israel.

The German weekly Der Spiegel published (4/29/2016) an article by Ralf Neukirch and Christoph Schult headlined “Skepticism of German-Israeli Friendship Growing in Berlin.”  The article was critical of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and accused him of “instrumentalizing Germany’s friendship.”  The article cited Israel Hayom, an Israeli daily, as quoting German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying “This Isn’t the Time for Two States.” The article implied Netanyahu twisted Merkel’s words, which were said confidentially.   

According to the Times of Israel (2/28/2016), Merkel said at a joint press conference with Netanyahu in Berlin (February 16, 2016) that “Now is certainly not the time to make really comprehensive progress.”  This statement would certainly square with Netanyahu’s view that in the absence of Mahmoud Abbas’ willingness to return to the negotiation table without pre-condition, the best that Israel can do is to try to better Palestinian economic life from the bottom up.

It is apparent that the German government in seeking to be part of the EU consensus on foreign policy, and is falling in line with the increasingly anti-Israel position of the EU.  There is a divide, moreover, between the German government and the younger generation of Germans. The German government officials base their policies to a large extent on the events of the past, especially the Holocaust, which compelled it to face the genocidal crimes of Nazi Germany, particularly towards the Jews. Consequently, to gain a measure of moral standing, Germany was required to forge a special relationship with the Jewish state. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel.  

There is also a strategic relationship between the two nations.  Israel received submarines and destroyers from Germany, and Germany received Israel’s J-Music anti-missile laser protection system on German Air Force transport planes.  The J-Music system is designed to protect military and commercial aircraft from attacks coming from ground-to-air heat seeking portable missiles. Germany also leased the Heron drones from Israel for use in Afghanistan.

The younger generation of Germans tends to be more hostile to Israel, being influenced by the media, and anti-Israel sentiments in German academia, which seek to overlook the past and make judgements based on their perception of the current situation that portrays Israel (especially in the European media) as the “victimizer” and the Palestinians as “victims.”  The influx of more than a million Muslims from Syria and Iraq, honed on hatred for Jews and Israel, coupled with the native Muslim anti-Semitism, is creating a dangerous mix.  Anti-Semitism is now visible in the streets of Germany, and it is bound to push the younger, so called “biological” Germans into greater identification with the Palestinian cause as they march along with these migrants.  It might also endanger the Holocaust education currently part of the German school curriculum.  In 2013, Yad Vashem signed (Israeli Holocaust museum and Education center) an agreement with the education ministers of every German federal state, to improve Holocaust education programs.

The gist of the Spiegel article is to point out that it is time for Germany to reconsider its special relationship with Israel.  It quotes Rolf Mutzenich, deputy floor leader for the Social Democrats (SPD) in parliament as saying “The perception has been growing in the German government that Netanyahu is instrumentalizing our friendship.” He added, “It would be a welcome change if the Foreign Ministry and the Chancellery were to rethink the relationship with Israel.”  

What Der Spiegel and Mutzenich seem to forget is that, first, no amount of German monetary reparation can atone for the murder of Six Million Jews, among them 1.5 million children.  Second, Israel is the front line against Arab/Islamic jihadist terror, and a Palestinian state will become another failed state and a base for terrorist operation against Israel.  Thirdly, politicians such as Mutzenich must be guided not by the reality facing a Germany in Central Europe, surrounded by friendly states, but by the reality Israel faces being the only viable, democratic, free state in a region filled with terror, war and chaos.  Fourthly, it is time for Germany, the EU, UN, and the US to end their appeasement of Arab/Muslim states (including non-Arab Iran), and look realistically at the region.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the least troubling, considering that the Syrian civil war killed almost half a million people and millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees are threatening to destabilize Europe.  Mutzenich and the Spiegel will do well to consider the lessons of Israel’s Gaza unilateral withdrawal.  Israel left the Palestinians greenhouses, and in return received 10,000 rockets fired at its cities, which aimed to kill Israeli civilians.

Spiegel also quotes Norbert Rottgen, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament. Rottgen has this to say, “Israel’s current policies are not contributing to the country remaining Jewish and democratic. We must express this concern more clearly to Israel.” 

If Mr. Rottgen is genuinely concerned about Israel remaining a Jewish and democratic state, he should forego the existing notions of peacemaking the EU habitually is engaged in, which is the idea of Israel trading territory to Palestinians for “peace.”  The Palestinians have no interest in making peace, and territories Israel gave up became a launch pad for terrorist missiles.  Additionally, the Palestinians will always hang on the “right of return,” a formula that spells Israel’s destruction as a Jewish state.  

Israel could remain both Jewish and democratic if Germany and the EU tried to be more imaginative.  They could pressure the Jordanians to form a Jordanian-Palestinian Federation, and condition aid to the Palestinians upon accepting the federative formula.  Israel would annex area C (containing a relatively small number of Palestinians) which includes the Israeli settlement blocs next to the Green-line, and the Jordan River would become the natural border, which provides security for Israel.  The West Bank will have to be demilitarized, and all the major cities in the West Bank along with the adjunct villages would be provided direct access to Jordan through the Jordan River bridges.  

Germany and the EU could also press Egypt to allocate a few thousand miles of its vast and empty Sinai Desert territory to relieve the overcrowded Gaza Strip.  Instead of providing the Palestinians with billions of dollars of misused aid, which simply ends up lining up the pockets of top Palestinian officials, German and EU aid could be diverted to Egypt and Jordan, while the international community continues to provide welfare to the Palestinians through UNWRA.

Der Spiegel editors shouldn’t find comfort in US Secretary of State John Kerry’s “warning” that the “two-state solution is threatening to become just a throwaway phrase, and encouraged Israelis to confront the difficult questions.  Kerry and Der Spiegel should rightly confront the Palestinians on their refusal to negotiate directly with Israel. Instead, the Palestinians are running to the UN to receive statehood, and are appealing to the International Court of Justice and international forums to de-legitimize Israel, as well as incite their people to terrorize Israelis. Kerry should be questioned about why his administration’s pressure has been particularly heavy on Israel and not the Palestinians.  

Der Spiegel and some German politicians should be reminded that the moratorium over Nazi crimes and the Holocaust can never be over.  Fairness, not merely guilt should guide Germany in its relationship with Israel.