Berlin’s ambassador to Jerusalem, Steffen Seibert, has incurred the wrath of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Jews fighting against terrorism for his pro-Palestinian activities.
The Foreign Ministry confirmed to this writer last month that it had taken the unprecedented action of summoning and rebuking Seibert for appearing to honor Palestinian terrorists and casting doubt on the legitimacy of Israel’s Independence Day.
Seibert, appointed to his post in August 2022, has devoted considerable time during his short tenure to providing a shot in the arm to anti-Israel NGOs. A running series of diplomatic blunders and anti-Israel hostility on his part prompted Jerusalem to rebuke him.
First, Seibert participated in the controversial Alternative Day of Remembrance ceremony in Tel Aviv. Seibert denigrated one of the most important and solemn days on the Israeli calendar, Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism, by attending the left-wing event that honors dead Palestinians, many of whom carried out terrorist attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians.
In response to Seibert’s alleged sympathy for Palestinian terrorists, Merav and Herzl Hajaj, the heads of Choosing Life - Forum of Bereaved Families, who lost their daughter to a Palestinian terrorist attack, joined a diverse group of Israelis to protest against Seibert in front of his residence last month.
Second, Seibert ordered the German air force to refrain from joining the U.S., Britain and Italy in flying over Judea and Samaria as part of a joint flight celebration of Israel’s rebirth as a state. The IDF called the event "a sign of partnership between the countries and the unique relationship of the State of Israel with them." For Israel’s government, Seibert’s action was an attempt to delegitimize the sovereignty of the Jewish state.
Third, Israel also rebuked Seibert for reportedly instructing German diplomats on two occasions not to take photographs in the Old City of Jerusalem because Berlin views it as "occupied territory.”
This is the same Seibert who served as spokesman for former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel went to great lengths to block Eastern European countries from relocating their embassies to Jerusalem after the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem’s capital in 2017.
Seibert frequently comes across as a zealous schoolmaster from the period of Imperial Germany who cracks his whip when he believes Israelis are not meeting his standards of ethical and political conduct
Seibert praised the anti-Israel NGO Ir Amim in comments on Twitter regarding his “insightful” tour with the group. Ir Amim blasted Israel’s security barrier while “omit[ing] the context of Palestinian terror attack and Israeli national security concerns,” the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor reported in 2021.
NGO Monitor added that “Ir Amim frequently accuses Israel of attempting to ‘Judaize’ Jerusalem and promotes the Palestinian narrative of the city, including claims that ‘government powers are being handed over to the settler organizations’ and archeological digs have become an important ‘tool in the fight for control’ over Jerusalem.” The bizarre, didactic thinking that animates Seibert’s behavior recalls the late German social scientist Wolfgang Pohrt’s words about the antisemitism associated with his countrymen’s paternalism toward Jews and Israel in post-Holocaust Germany.
Pohrt noted that many of his fellow Germans embrace their role as morality police who are tasked with preventing “their victims from relapsing.”
Seibert frequently comes across as a zealous schoolmaster from the period of Imperial Germany who cracks his whip when he believes Israelis are not meeting his standards of ethical and political conduct. His colonial-style behavior has sparked outrage among Israeli groups.
Seibert’s use of his ambassador role as a blunt diplomatic instrument to assault Israel’s legitimacy triggered a protest in front of his residence in June. Participating organizations include: The Forum of Disabled IDF Veterans for Israel‘s Security, Choosing Life–Forum of Bereaved Families, the South Tel Aviv Liberation Front and the Betzalmo human rights organization.
Liran Baruch, a disabled IDF veteran who lost his eye in a military operation in Ramallah, attended the event because he wanted to protest against the anti-Israel hostility of the German government.
Unsurprisingly, Markus Decker, a German reporter for RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND), engaged in sloppy journalism and attributed the demonstration to Im Tirtzu, a Zionist non-governmental organization. Decker, whose article was packed full of anti-Israel resentments, did not take the time to properly report on the diverse groups that protested. He also failed to report that Israel’s government rebuked Seibert.
In fact, thus far not one mainstream German daily paper has reported on Seibert’s alleged diplomatic misconduct – a journalistic felony this writer has not seen in more than 20 years of writing about German-Israel relations.
One Israeli activist at the protest, Naftali Hirschl, can be seen on YouTube, where he says: “An ambassador paying respect to the deaths of antisemitic Islamic terrorists on the day Israel remembers and mourns the fallen soldiers and victims of Islamic terror. Friends don’t do that.”
Israeli sources told this writer that Seibert complained to the Foreign Ministry about the demonstration. There is a heavy dose of irony and hypocrisy in his reaction in view of the German’s government support for the massive protests against judicial reform in Israel. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the ministry did not want to comment on the matter.
The head of the German Foreign Ministry-financed German-Israel friendship association (DIG), Volker Beck, a former Green Party politician, came to Seibert’s defense. The DIG is, at least on paper, supposed to advance German-Israel relations and the security of the Jewish state.
Beck issued a press release on behalf of the over 5,000 DIG members in which he trashed the protesters. He said the protest constituted a “slander of the German ambassador in Israel by a right-wing demonstration.”
Beck’s use of the phrase “right-wing demonstration” (“rechte Demonstration”) is a loaded formulation because it conjures up for German readers neo-Nazis and extremist right-wing groups in their country.
As the best-selling Israeli American author Tuvia Tenenbom said: “With friends like Volker Beck we, Jews, better have enemies!” Tenenbom’s witty comment applies to Seibert as well.
- Benjamin Weinthal is a Writing Fellow for The Middle East Forum.
First published: 19:23, 07.12.23