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Friday, March 16, 2007

Israel: To exist or not to exist, that is the question

Every poll shows a different result regarding European and world attitudes toward Israel. However, when German Bishops have the temerity to compare Israeli behavior to Nazi behavior, it cannot be ignored. On the other hand, the support of the German government for Israel and the generally positive attitude of German Media is laudable. Leonie Schultens offers this excuse for German negativity toward Israel:
In Germany, 57 percent of the population believe there is no circumstance justifying the use of military force. As the pollsters themselves explain, German attitudes are greatly influenced by the motto of "Never again." This view has become so deeply ingrained as to translate into a revulsion for any kind of military confrontation. The "negative influence" Germans see Israel as being inextricably linked to the use of force and the situation in the region.
And yet, the Germans do not see China negatively, though China has used massive force in Tibet, nor do they see Russia negatively, though Russia has used massive force in Chechnya, and they do not see the Sudan negatively, despite the genocide in Darfur. The supposedly laudable pacifism of the Germans seems to apply only to the actions of Jews.

Seeing the Other more clearly
By Leonie Schultens

In recent days, Haaretz has again focused on Israel's image in Germany. In his review of last weekend's 8th Europe-Israel Dialogue in Berlin, sponsored by the Axel Springer Foundation ("Germans again mull Israel's right to exist," March 12, 2007) [  ], Assaf Uni warns that Israel's right to exist is increasingly being questioned among the German population. The author bases this statement on discussions at the conference and recent surveys conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation and the BBC World Service.
Uni begins his article as follows: "The state of Israel is facing two strategic threats: an Iranian nuclear bomb and the denial of its right to exist." He goes on to discuss the evidence for the second threat, with specific reference to German public opinion.
Before explaining the poll results and their implications they have for the subject of Germans' opinions on Israel, I would like to suggest an alternative headline for Uni's piece: "Like most Israelis and American Jews, a majority of Germans (62 percent according to the Bertelsmann survey) agree that Iran's nuclear program poses a threat to Israel's existence."
Uni refers to a BBC poll, of residents of 27 countries, in which most respondents ranked Iran and Israel as the countries with the most negative influence on the world. In Germany, 77 percent of respondents viewed Israel as having a "negative influence," although Uni, in his article, referred to 77% of Germans having mainly negative "views" of Israel.
There is a fine line between negative "influence" and negative "views," as it appears in Uni's piece. Moreover, perusal of the more detailed Bertelsmann survey sheds light on why 77 percent of Germans consider Israel to have a negative influence in the world.
In Germany, 57 percent of the population believe there is no circumstance justifying the use of military force. As the pollsters themselves explain, German attitudes are greatly influenced by the motto of "Never again." This view has become so deeply ingrained as to translate into a revulsion for any kind of military confrontation. The "negative influence" Germans see Israel as being inextricably linked to the use of force and the situation in the region.
This view is underlined by German media reports about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In reporting the speech by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that opened the Berlin conference, Uni emphasizes her support for Israel's right to exist: "I regret that I am forced to reiterate this repeatedly," she said.
The Israeli reader may be interested in knowing that the German media dealt with completely different aspects of the chancellor's speech. Headlines focused on Merkel's statement, "We cannot lose hope for a solution to the conflict," and on Germany's special responsibility for mediating an end to it. It thus seems that Germans want to help Israel in ending the conflict, which is at the root of Israel's perceived "negative influence."
The images portrayed in the German press and here are thus completely at odds with one another, leading one to wonder whether there is not a tendency to resort to readily available stereotypes when covering this highly sensitive and emotionally charged relationship.
It's not my intention to single out the Israeli media for pouncing on even the smallest neo-Nazi gathering and turning it into a matter of life or death for the State of Israel. This also refers to German journalists who all too often prefer the image of the Israeli soldier at the checkpoint to that of the Israeli student or homemaker.
The Bertelsmann poll found that 43 percent of Israelis suspect that Germans are anti-Semitic even today, compared to only 19 percent of Germans who consider their own people to harbor anti-Jewish sentiments. This raises the question of whether both peoples actually apply their own views, however concrete or baseless, to their beliefs, thoughts and, yes, also to their coverage of the other.
Due to deeply seated and well-founded existential fears, Israelis always suspect more Jew-hatred than there actually is. Whereas Germans, rightfully ashamed of their horrific past, prefer to downplay any racist or anti-Semitic elements in their society.
Interestingly, the Bertelsmann survey found that 78 percent of Germans view Israel as a state like any other. Far from denying Israel's right to exist, this is evidence of a normalization of relations and perceptions, in which Israel is accorded the same rights and obligations as all other members of the international community. It also found, however, that 56 percent of Israelis believe Germany cannot treat Israel like any other country.
In light of the past and the psychological and social currents it has imprinted onto each people's collective consciousness, it may be impossible for either country's media coverage of the other to ever approach the latter's own self-image. Nevertheless, an attempt at explaining the nuances may help prevent a biased picture from emerging, a bias expressed in the headline "Germans again mull Israel's right to exist."
The writer is a German journalist living and working in Tel Aviv.

Germans worried over growing denial of Israel's right to exist
By Assaf Uni

BERLIN - The state of Israel is facing two strategic threats: an Iranian nuclear bomb and the denial of its right to exist. During a week in which German bishops compared Israel's actions in the territories with the deeds of the Nazis and an international survey determined that Germans have the lowest opinion of Israel in Europe, it is difficult to say which option is more frightening.
That, at least, is the picture that emerged from the annual European-Israel Dialogue held in Berlin this weekend, whose participants included Chancellor Angela Merkel, leading academics and several Israeli diplomats and officials.
The growing delegitimization of Israel in recent years was raised in every session of the conference, organized by the Axel Springer Foundation. This year in particular, Merkel said at the opening session, in light of the threats emanating from Iran, it is important to emphasize that Germany supports Israel and that protecting Israel's right to exist will continue to stand at the center of Germany's foreign policy. "I regret that I am forced to reiterate this repeatedly," the chancellor added.
As a recent example of a statement undermining Israel's right to exist, speakers at the conference referred to the remarks made by German bishops during a visit to the Palestinian Authority, following a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem.
"In the morning, we see the photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto, and this evening we travel to the ghetto in Ramallah; that makes you angry," Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstatt told Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
In a conversation with Haaretz, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called Hanke's remarks "scandalous," adding, "personally, I was angry that no denunciations were voiced from within Germany."
The President of Tel Aviv University, Itamar Rabinovich, said at the conference that since according to the German Bishops, Israel's right to exist derives from the Holocaust, "the fact that the State of Israel is now behaving 'like the Nazi regime' undermines its right to exist."
However, it appears that the parallel drawn by the bishops, which was repudiated in a letter sent by the leader of Germany's Catholic Church to the board of Yad Vashem, represents the view held by a significant portion of Germans. According to a poll carried out in January by the Bertelsmann Foundation, 30 percent of German residents agree that Israel is doing to the Palestinians "what the Nazis did to the Jews in the Third Reich." A recent poll carried out for the BBC World Service ranked Israel (together with Iran) as the country with the most negative influence on the world. The vast Germany ranked highest among all European countries polled for its negative views of Israel, with 77 percent of respondents reporting "mainly negative" views of Israel.
Some conference attendees said these figures join articles in leading newspapers describing Israel as an "apartheid" state, economic boycotts against the country by churches and labor unions and the academic boycott by European universities in the trend toward questioning Israel's moral right to exist.
"I am amazed anew each time at the fact that the question of Israel's right to exist is still a matter for discussion," the Jewish-German author and journalist Henryk Broder told Haaretz. "What more needs to happen for Israel to be accepted as a state, 60 years after its founding?"
The former head of the Mossad, Ephraim Halevy, believes the legitimacy issue is rooted in Israeli academia. "The source of the problem lies in Israel," Halevy told Haaretz. "The central figures in the debate are in Israeli academia and the issue must be solved within Israel by means of academic confrontation with the 'deniers.'"

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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