Monday, 24 March 2008

What Angela Merkel couldn't say out loud

Manfred Gerstenfeld's column on Angela Merkel's visit to Israel in The Jerusalem Post (excerpts):

"German Chancellor Angela Merkel's successful visit to Israel came in conjunction with worrisome developments back in her own country. Few in Israel realize that a majority of Germans probably disagree with several key statements she made here about her country's past - including the mention of shame and guilt - in the Knesset.

In contemporary Germany there are significant expressions of anti-Semitism and racism. This includes attacks on Jews, their cemeteries and Holocaust monuments, together with ongoing anti-Semitic prejudice toward Jews among significant parts of the population. In eastern Germany particularly, there are no-go areas for non-white people in several cities, major racist incidents and sometimes even murders.

At the same time, there are efforts in Germany to rewrite the past. Books by historian Jörg Friedrich, who compares the Allied actions to his nation's atrocities during the war, are best-sellers. They promote "Holocaust equivalence" by using Nazi semantics to describe the Allied bombings of Germany during WWII. Another aspect of the same attitude is expressed by the many Germans who think that Israel is showing Nazi-like behavior toward the Palestinians. What they mean to say is, "If everybody is guilty, then nobody is." (…)

Given the character of her visit, and in view of today's German reality, Merkel sent, besides her explicitly stated messages to Israelis, a number of implicit ones to her own nation. I'd summarize them as follows:

You may think what you want about Israel and the Jews. Many media and others in Germany defame Israel. Yet I wish, publicly, to show on behalf of the German people our responsibility for the acts of our Nazi forebears, whom we elected. I want to do that in many ways, and my visit to Yad Vashem and my speech in the Knesset - which you may strongly dislike - best symbolize this.

Simultaneously, there was Merkel's implicit message to the world:

Since the war, Germany has been welcomed back into the family of nations and has again become a major political force. However, many abroad wonder how much of the criminal past is still latent within us, and when and to what extent it will reemerge. My frequent visits to Israel - and the nature of our relations with it - also show that I am well aware of that.

Merkel’s attitude probably also expresses a world view different from that of most other Western European leaders. It can, in part, be explained by her personal experience, having grown up and lived in communist East Germany. She knows what totalitarianism means, and not only from teachers of the history of Nazi Germany. Being trained as a physicist rather than in the humanities may also be helpful in confronting threats realistically.

Without saying it explicitly, Merkel seems to understand that various threats from the world of Islam, besides the Iranian one she mentioned, share the totalitarian characteristics of Nazism and communism. That is probably included when she says that threats to Israel are also threats to Germany."

No comments: