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With friends like these…
German academics behind anti-Israel petition fail to grasp Mideast realities
As reported on Ynetnews last week, 25 German academics published a manifesto demanding a re-evaluation of the “special” relationship between Germany and Israel. The manifesto is entitled “Friendship and Criticism” and, while much of the text is indeed devoted to reassuring readers of the authors’ friendship for Israel, there is ample reason to feel that with friends like these, Israel doesn’t need enemies.

 

This is not due to the notion that Germans, as the principal perpetrators of the Holocaust, should not be allowed to openly criticize Israeli policies. But when a group of German professors chooses to go public with their criticism of Israeli policies and demands a re-thinking of Germany’s supposedly unqualified support for Israel, one would expect that such a move is based on a well-informed and thoughtful understanding of Israel’s situation. Indeed, the manifesto’s authors themselves repeatedly invoke the need, even the duty, for “special sensitivity.”

 

Unfortunately, it would rather seem that there is “special insensitivity” when the manifesto echoes President Ahmadinejad’s argument that the establishment of the State of Israel constitutes a historic injustice against the Arabs:

 

“It is the Holocaust that has, for six decades, caused the continuous, and currently even unbearable, suffering of the Palestinians. (…) countless dead, families torn apart, expulsion, and life in make-shift housing up to today have been the consequence.” The text continues to argue that, without the Holocaust, Israel would not feel justified to ignore so intransigently the human rights of Palestinians and Lebanese, and without the Holocaust, Israel would not be backed in this - materially and politically - by the US.

 

Zionism illegitimate?

By arguing that Israel owes its existence exclusively or primarily to the Holocaust, the authors of the manifesto seem to deny that Zionism was a legitimate quest for a Jewish homeland. Indeed, the manifesto emphasizes that the UN decision to “accept” the establishment of the State of Israel was taken still under the “shock” of the Holocaust and “against the Arab states.”

 

According to the manifesto, the Middle East conflict has German and European roots, and it was through no fault of the Palestinians that “a part of the European problems was transferred to the Middle East”. This has been said before in Farsi and in Arabic.

 

There is equally little “special sensitivity” when the manifesto’s authors state that they are “convinced” that Jewish intellectuals like Adorno, Einstein, Freud, Marx and Zweig - “of whom we are so proud and without whom German culture and the German contribution to the sciences would be so much poorer” - would subscribe to the principle that only respect for equality, human rights and international law can guarantee peace and the continued existence and security of Israel, Jews in the Diaspora, and the future Palestinian state.

 

It is indeed likely that these German-Jewish intellectuals would have agreed with this principle, but the problem that is overlooked by the professors who authored the manifesto is that there has been historically a severe shortage of Arab-Muslim intellectuals who agreed with this principle. In fact, just about two months ago, the Berliner Zeitung carried an article by an Iraqi-born intellectual who discussed the “Two faces of Arab intellectuals” and criticized Arab intellectuals for routinely condemning terrorist attacks in English, German, or French, and praising them in Arabic. 

 

However, the authors of the manifesto clearly have little inclination to criticize Arabs or Palestinians. While there are unequivocal condemnations of suicide attacks and the launching of Qassams, the manifesto leaves little doubt that it is the suffering inflicted by Israel on Palestinians and Lebanese that is “unbearable.”

 

Notwithstanding all the reaffirmations of friendship for Israel, the nine pages of the manifesto paint Israel as a victims’ state that has become a cruel perpetrator, cynically trampling human rights and dignity in its lust for land; a mighty militaristic monster, propped up by 20 percent of America’s foreign aid budget, oppressing, terrorizing and killing Palestinians and Lebanese at will.

 

Israelis and Jews tend to regard these kinds of charges with frustration and anger as just another manifestation of anti-Semitism. However, the motivation of the manifesto’s authors is certainly neither religious nor racial anti-Semitism. Many of them are political and social scientists who work in the areas of peace studies and conflict resolution, and the manifesto was posted on a related website of the University of Kassel.

 

The website of the “Working Group for Peace Research” depicts the Middle East of Uri Avnery and Amira Hass, of the Israeli activists “Anarchists Against the Wall”, of European Jews for a Just Peace, and Swiss professors from Bir Zeit University.

 

No despair in Israel?

In this Middle East, the killing and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hizbullah was “a welcome pretext” for Israel (and the US) to conduct a long planned war against Lebanon with the goal of eliminating Hizbullah's Iranian supplied medium-range missiles so that the US (and Israel) would have a free hand to attack Iran.

 

In this Middle East, the Palestinian “Prisoners’ Document” fairly and squarely offered the Israelis a “colossal compromise” that was callously ignored by Olmert. In this Middle East, Hamas sincerely offered a “Pause for Peace” - the text is posted on the website, yet the text of the Hamas Charter is not.

 

Likewise, there is little on the website that would critically discuss the results of polls that show unequivocal popular support among Palestinians for Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel, for the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, and for the ambitions to emulate Hizbullah's “success” in Lebanon. If Palestinian extremism or anti-Semitism is discussed, it is rejected as unacceptable, but it is often also explained as an understandable symptom of despair.

 

By contrast, there seems to be no despair in Israel: the Israelis who repeatedly voted for peace, who unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon and from Gaza, who just last spring voted for a government that planned to withdraw from most of the West Bank, are motivated only by despise and the desire to see the Palestinians humiliated, reduced to begging for a miserable existence in some cramped refugee camps.

 

So when the Israelis voted last spring for a prime minister who promised them “a country that is fun to live in,” they must have been itching to spend the summer in bomb shelters or on duty in Lebanon.

 

If this is how you see the conflict, no amount of academic expertise in peace research and conflict resolution will help you to resolve it. And if this is how you see the conflict, those who spend the summer in bomb shelters or on duty in Lebanon and were lucky enough to return home alive will, by and large, not really be inclined to see you as a friend.

 

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