A group of visiting German intellectuals called on Berlin on Monday to change what they termed its Holocaust-rooted blind support of Israel, saying the creation of the State of Israel turned Palestinians into victims of the Nazi Holocaust as well.
The four, Dr. Reiner Steinweg, Prof. Gert Krell, Prof. Georg Meggle, and Jorg Becker, took part in a debate Monday evening at the Netanya Academic College on the future of German-Israeli relations. They were among 25 signatories to a petition on the issue that was circulated in the German media following the Second Lebanon War.
According to the manifesto, German responsibility toward the Palestinians is “one side of the consequences of the Holocaust which receives far too little attention.” The paper goes on to argue that it was the Holocaust which Germany perpetrated that brought about “the suffering that has persisted [in the Middle East] for the last six decades and has at present become unbearable.”
This, according to the manifesto titled “Friendship and Criticism,” is because “without the Holocaust of the Jews, Israeli policy would not see itself as entitled – or forced to ride over the human rights of the Palestinians and the inhabitants of Lebanon.”
Without the Holocaust, the document adds, Israel would not have enjoyed the same material and political support from the U.S. The researchers told Haaretz this also applies to support from Germany.
“So it is not only Israel which can lay claim to special consideration on the part of Germany. As Germans we share not only a responsibility toward Israel’s existence, but also for the living conditions of the Palestinian People,” the scholars concluded.
The four cosignatories attended the debate at the invitation of former deputy Knesset speaker, Dov Ben-Meir, who organized the event. In December 2006, Ben-Meir wrote what he titled “a friendly response” to the manifesto, which he in turn circulated in the media.
In his response, Ben-Meir said the original manifesto reflected a “simplistic” approach. One of the main reasons for the conflict and the current state of Arabs and Palestinians, Ben-Meir said, was intransigence on their part and their reliance on violence instead of dialogue.
Conceding that Germany’s attitude to Israel is part of a Holocaust-based “special relationship,” Ben-Meir said at the debate that this relationship – which included huge reparations payments that Germany made to Israel in the 1950s – was primarily a German interest, more than an Israeli one.
“By agreeing to put Germany’s Nazi past aside, the Jewish nation has granted Germany an entrance pass into the family of nations after Germany was considered a pariah nation because of its Nazi past,” he said.
The debate, which drew a crowd of some 150 people, took place in the framework of a panel discussion. Representing the German scholars were Professor Meggle, who specializes in philosophical anthropology at the University of Leipzig, and Dr. Steinweg, a researcher at the Linz branch of the Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution.
Steinweg said the group came to clear up misunderstandings about the manifesto, which according to him has been misconstrued as a call to end Germany’s longstanding friendship with Israel.
Local panelists included former Israeli ambassador to Germany Shimon Stein, correspondent for Die Zeit, Gisela Dachs and Professor Moshe Zimmermann, Director of the Koebner Minerva Center for German History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Zimmermann said the issue of the Holocaust was currently subject to political manipulation both by Israel and in Germany. “The Israelis try to use this issue to paint people who criticize Israel as anti-Semites. At the same time, this manifesto is an attempt to manipulate German feelings of guilt vis-à-vis the Holocaust, by projecting them onto the Palestinians,” he argued.
“If the Germans want to feel guilt about the Holocaust, they better stick to the Poles, the Dutch and the Jews. There is no need to go as far as to feel guilty for what happened to the Palestinians,” he added.
Commenting on the heated discussion that ensued, Herman Bunz from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung – the private non-profit German organization which funded the visit by the German scholars – told the panelists, “This is the perfect chance to misunderstand each other, but I would advise you to do the opposite.”
“They are a minority, but they educate young German minds and we cannot afford to brush their criticism aside as anti-Semitic. We must confront it,” said Ben-Meir.