Angela Merkel, by any measure, is Israel’s nearest thing to an identifiable defender in a European Union increasingly defined by hectorism in most matters concerning the Jewish state. The breadth of what’s become known as Jerusalem’s “special relationship” with the German chancellor, however, its restraining power against a coalition partner eager to be relieved of the Israel “burden” and Merkel’s personal vulnerability to a tide of resentment precipitated by her open door to 800,000 Muslim immigrants over the past two years, is still to be tested.A less than comforting prognosis has most recently been underscored by a piece in Der Spiegel, Germany’s most influential news magazine, referencing an alleged belief among members of Berlin’s defense and foreign ministry establishments that a reassessment of the Federal Republic’s “unconditional” commitment to Israel’s security might be in order in light of the latter’s “instrumentalization” by Prime Minister Netanyahu to cover Israeli behavior in the “West Bank” inimical to a two-state solution of the Palestinian problem.
. Given that Germany is second only to the United States as a supplier of major Israeli war materiel, a “reassessment“ would be no laughing matter. Its ramifications were reflected in Germany’s provision and assumption of a third of the cost of four Corvette “Saar 6” class warships to Israel, the largest and most powerful in the IDF’s fleet, to serve as guardians over the Jewish state’s Mediterranean Sea natural gas rigs. This was preceded by the integration into its fleet of the Israel Navy’s fifth “Dolphin” class “INS Tanin” submarine out of Germany’s shipyards, with a sixth, the “INS Rahav,” scheduled to be delivered sometime next year. These top-of-the-line vessels, with evasive and missile- delivering capabilities previously undreamt of, go for $500 million a copy. Germany is assuming a chunk of the cost.
Quick to respond to the Spiegel story, Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold, in Berlin for talks with Christoph Huesgen, his German opposite number, said he could find no evidence to support the magazine’s claim of a brewing reassessment. Huesgen, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, appeared to back him up but a certain degree of uneasiness remains. Most of the chatter circulates around Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister and head of the Social Democratic Party — the SPD — Merkel’s chief coalition partner. He has referred to Netanyahu’s criticism of the Iran nuclear deal as “very coarse” and in contrast to Merkel, has welcomed the EU labeling of Israeli products emanating from beyond the Green Line. Steinmeier appeared morally unconstrained in meeting in Tehran with either Holocaust denier Ali Larinjani, Iran’s parliamentary president, or with former Iranian president Hasten Rafsanji, who speaks casually about dropping an atomic bomb on Tel Aviv. A still unlikely but possible Steinmeier-led SPD victory in next year’s German national elections could amount to a whole other ballgame for Israel.
No less troubling for Jerusalem are the clear signs of a growing cultural abandonment by Germany’s left wing elite and the latter’s participation with a neo-Nazi far right in the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions offensive. “It’s the liberal elites, not the Nazi skinheads, who write the textbooks in Germany,” Evelyn Gordon avers in a terse but penetrating Commentary essay. And what they have been writing is fairly devastating. An analysis by German and Israeli researchers of 1,200 history, geography and social studies texts used in five Federal Republic states, Gordon informs, portray Israel almost exclusively as a “militaristic, war mongering society,” while “Palestinian terror gets a free pass.” The school texts, she adds, are permeated with “tendentious photographic presentations of Israeli soldiers threatening or inflicting violence on Palestinians.” The main threats to peace are listed as the “Occupation” and “Settlements.”
Financial cover for the BDS and neo-Nazi enterprises remains a blight on the German legal system. Despite a heralded shutdown of the BDS account of the anti-Israel Der Semit website by Commerzbank, the country’s second largest banking institution, there remain scores of anti-Israel groups whose BDS promotions are facilitated by their ability to receive electronic transfer donations, a privilege they openly advertise on their websites. The BW Bank, Stuttgart provides a glaring example of this phenomenon in servicing the accounts of the “Palestine Committee, Stuttgart,” which pursues its advocacy of Israel’s destruction under a canopy of department store boycotts, and the neo-Nazi NPD party, whose head, Janus Nowak, was convicted of “incitement” for referring to Hitler’s extermination camp victims as “prisoners of war.” To a demand from the German-Israel Friendship Society that these bank accounts be terminated, a BW spokesman replied that the bank could discontinue an account only when “objective impediments are present,” whatever that means, while a second spokesman described the NPD account as belonging to a “permitted party” in Germany.
It is to be hoped that the Commerzbank action will encourage a hard second look at the “permitted” status and absence of “objective impediments” that keep outfits like NPD and the Palestine Committee, Stuttgart on BW Bank’s rolls. Such a review would be profoundly amiss if it failed to include a thorough investigation of the cauldron of BDS and anti-Semitic activity brewing in Social Democratic Party-controlled Bremen. Operating rent-free out of taxpayer-funded premises, the “Bremen Peace Forum” pushes a full-bore boycott of Israeli products with endless demonstrations in front of supermarkets featuring, inter alia, placards bearing caricatures of blood-dripping Israeli oranges. The Forum shares its free digs with a branch of the NPD and Der Dritte Weg (Third Way), another neo-Nazi outfit. “I find it incomprehensible,” Wiesenthal Center Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff asserted, “that Bremen’s culture minister, who can play a positive role in preventing the use of public buildings for BDS, is refraining from taking action. It should be quite clear particularly in Germany, that BDS is another form of anti-Semitism.” To which the Green Party’s Marieluise Beck, whose Bundestag constituency includes Bremen, replied, “Unfortunately one cannot outlaw anti-Semitism.”
In the end, the question of Israel’s now and possible future relations with the Federal Republic devolves on Angela Merkel. Will she venture for an unprecedented fourth term as chancellor in 2017? Can she overcome hostility to an immigration program that assumed near riot proportions in a recent appearance in Saxony? And if not Merkel, with whom will Israel have to deal in trying to perpetuate a “special relationship” that has barely managed to keep the EU wolves at bay? Who in that pack would have had the courage to declare, as Merkel did in a 2008 Knesset speech, that “the existence of Israel is Germany’s raison d’etre — not negotiable!” or of the “two-state” paradigm, with Bibi Netanyahu at her side in Berlin, that “this is not the time for comprehensive progress?” As her EU compatriots embraced the product labeling panacea, she declared it ”very likely that this measure will be exploited by a campaign hostile to Israel.”
In at least a relative sense, Angela Merkel informs the Jewish concept of a “woman of valor” with a rare measure of substance. Israel’s relations with the EU would be a lot stickier if she wasn’t there. Her influence over its mindset and the latitude of her actions in defense of the Jewish state, however, needs to be kept in perspective. As Israel has its “Never Again,” so does Germany and that has been articulated by her as “never again must Germany make war.” To a reporter’s query as to what she might be prepared to do to thwart an attempt by Iran to harm Israel, Merkel said “I am not interested in overstating Germany’s goals and abilities.” If, as she has submitted, “Israel’s security will never be open to negotiation,” it is a security, though buttressed by German military and financial support, that Israel and Israel alone will have to ensure.
William Mehlman represents AFSI in Israel.
|Frank Walter Steinmeier|