Last weekend, Mahmoud Abbas traveled to the northwest German city of Dortmund, where he was granted a Steiger Award—an annual set of prizes given by a regional media association—for, in his case, “Hope for Peace.” He also took the opportunity to visit Berlin, where he met with prominent German politicians of both the left and right, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, and was treated to a number of congratulatory speeches. To Eldad Beck, Abbas’s reception typifies much of the current German attitude toward Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
As soon as the name Israel is mentioned, too many Germans have a defensive reaction, an instinctive avoidance of being accused of past crimes, and then proceed on the principle that the best defense is a good offense. Thus has Israel automatically become in the eyes of most Germans, including senior public officials, the sole guilty party for all the problems in the Middle East—which have recently also invaded Europe and Germany. . . .
The recent visit to Germany by the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas revealed the strangeness of German policy toward the Middle East, especially regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. Germany, which sees itself as the guardian of democracy and protector of human rights, went out of its way to honor an Arab leader who was indeed chosen in free elections but who has not allowed any elections since 2005, is accused by his subjects of violating human rights and of corruption, has fled from making brave decisions to advance a peace agreement with Israel, is a Holocaust denier who continues to encourage violence against Jews under the cover of “resistance to the occupation,” has done nothing to stop the incitement to violence in the areas under his control, and refuses to recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel—even though such recognition is the official policy of the German government. Mahmoud Abbas symbolizes everything Germany opposes, and yet it still gives him honors generally reserved for the world’s great leaders. . . .
Thanks to dozens of years of institutionalized anti-Israel attitudes, biased and sometimes even false media reports, and an education system that indoctrinates generations of Germans with anti-Israel propaganda, the Palestinians led by Mahmoud Abbas are seen by the German public as unfortunate victims bearing olive branches for peace, while the Israelis led by Benjamin Netanyahu (and all his predecessors from the right and the left) are considered to be cruel occupiers, murderous oppressors, and warmongers.
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Germany Likes Its Jews Guilty
This piece was first published on the Hebrew-language website Mida on March 26, 2017 rendered into English by Avi Woolf, and republished here with permission. The original article can be found by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page.
At a time when the German government is cancelling its consultations with the Israeli government and assigning full blame to Israel for the conflict with the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas is being given the royal treatment in Berlin and even received the “Hope for Peace Award.”
Is it stupidity? Naïveté? An old ideology which has not disappeared from the world, or just a desire to advance various interests at any cost without regard for basic human values? The attitude of Germany and far too many Germans to what’s going on in the Middle East regularly leads to these questions, which only multiply with time. The more the situation and conditions in the Middle East become complicated, or one might say become clarified, the more Germany holds onto positions that are increasingly detached from reality, with no ability to carry out a sober, realistic analysis of those ideas.
This problematic approach primarily expresses itself when it comes to the Israeli-Arab conflict, which magnifies the inability of far too many Germans—especially decision makers and policy shapers—to use their rationality and reason. As soon as the name Israel is mentioned, too many Germans have a defensive reaction, an instinctive avoidance of being accused of past crimes, and then proceed on the principle that the best defense is a good offense. Thus has Israel automatically become in the eyes of most Germans, including senior public officials, the sole guilty party for all the problems in the Middle East—which have recently also invaded Europe and Germany.
This method of attack was primarily developed and honed by the Communist regime, which ruled East Germany until 1990. The Israelization of anti-Semitism, that is the clothing of anti-Semitism in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist garb, was an official policy in East Germany that did not disappear along with the regime. To the contrary: it became embedded within the general population of unified Germany, and became a very common mindset.
One could have expected that the disappointing developments of the Arab Spring regarding the possible democratization and liberalization of the Middle East, the collapse of the states around the region and their sinking into blood-soaked civil wars, and the arrival of Islamist terror on European soil—would seriously shake up the frozen way in which the German establishment and people think about the region and lead them to rethink their positions. But this change did not occur, and far too many Germans prefer to continue to hold on to their old and outdated view of the Middle East, in which Israel is the primary guilty party for all the region’s problems.
This is especially true in reference to right-wing Israel, which in the eyes of many Germans—who do not God forbid wish to be seen as anti-Semites—is putting itself on the road to self-destruction. Those same German are dead-set against having a serious discussion of the contents of the positions of the Israeli right. As far as they are concerned, only an Israeli withdrawal and the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of the “two-state solution” will heal the ills of the Middle East and bring world peace—perhaps much like the one they dreamed about in Communist East Germany. The fact that Israeli withdrawals, such as those done in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, did not bring brotherhood in the Middle East any closer but actually drove it away, is also seen as Israel’s fault, since it wasn’t sufficiently diplomatically daring to acquiesce to all the Arabs’ demands.
“The Hope for Peace Award”
The recent visit to Germany by the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas revealed the strangeness of German policy toward the Middle East, especially regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. Germany, which sees itself as the guardian of democracy and protector of human rights, went out of its way to honor an Arab leader who was indeed chosen in free elections but who has not allowed any elections since 2005, is accused by his subjects of violating human rights and of corruption, has fled from making brave decisions to advance a peace agreement with Israel, is a Holocaust denier who continues to encourage violence against Jews under the cover of “resistance to the occupation,” has done nothing to stop the incitement to violence in the areas under his control, and refuses to recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel—even though such recognition is the official policy of the German government. Mahmoud Abbas symbolizes everything Germany opposes, and yet it still gives him honors generally reserved for the world’s great leaders.
The peak of this German dichotomy could be seen last night with the granting of a special prize for Mahmoud Abbas, the “Hope for Peace Award,” on the part of a not particularly well-known media body, which is active in the industrial Ruhr region and which was founded by a former journalist and a dubious event manager. The “Steiger Prize” has been given once a year since 2005 to leading people in various fields — tolerance, aid to others, media, art, cinema, sports, environment, and activity to strengthen Europe. Among the people who have won in recent years are the former Iranian Empress Farah Pahlavi, Silvia Queen of Sweden, Sofia Queen of Spain, Cherie Blair, Shimon Peres (Tolerance Prize in 2005), Mohammad al-Baradei—former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan (for his “contribution to Europe” in 2012; Erdogan cancelled his participation in the ceremony, formally because of a helicopter crash), Aliza Olmert (art in 2008), and the legendary German soccer coach Franz Beckenbauer.
Most of the people who won these prizes were German VIPs, and the inclusion of famous names from abroad is meant to give the prize an international aura. Despite the repeated legal entanglements regarding improper management of sponsorship money for the events, the founder of the Steiger Prize, Sacha Hellen, continues to successfully draw in celebrities for his annual award ceremony who don’t necessarily look into whom they’re dealing with, but who are happy to receive a German prize which so many other famous people have already received.
The “Hope for Peace” award certainly greatly flattered Mahmoud Abbas, and perfectly fit his own self-created image as the standard bearer of true peace, in contradiction of all the facts which the judges who decided to give him the prize probably did not bother looking into. The granting of the prize was based on general impressions, not an examination of reality. Thanks to dozens of years of institutionalized anti-Israel attitudes, biased and sometimes even false media reports, and an education system that indoctrinates generations of Germans with anti-Israel propaganda, the Palestinians led by Mahmoud Abbas are seen by the German public as unfortunate victims bearing olive branches for peace, while the Israelis led by Benjamin Netanyahu (and all his predecessors from the right and the left) are considered to be cruel occupiers, murderous oppressors, and warmongers.
The issue of the settlements has been portrayed by the political establishment and German media as the sole, supreme obstacle facing the Middle East peace process. Germany latches onto any new decision on construction in Jerusalem or in Judea and Samaria to become even more vocal in its criticism of Israel, minimize the uniqueness of ties between the two countries, and to strengthen the recalcitrance of the Palestinians regarding any sort of compromise.
The judges panel of the “Steiger Prize” stated that in granting the award to Mahmoud Abbas, it is sending a message about the “stagnation” of the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The judges panel forgot, apparently deliberately, that it was Mahmoud Abbas who rejected the very generous peace offer of the former prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008, that he has refused to renew peace negotiations with the present prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu despite the decision of the latter to freeze construction in the settlements for ten months, and that he violated the Oslo agreements in a series of one-sided moves at the international level and in encouraging violence and incitement. The official website for the prize makes no mention whatsoever of the Holocaust revisionism in the doctorate he wrote for Moscow University, or his work as a KGB agent. In accordance with the traditional German approach, Israel and its actions are the sole obstacle to peace. If in the past Germans claimed that the Jews are warmongers, today they can say that it is Israel—adding in the same breath that they, of course, are not anti-Semites. To balance out the granting of the prize to Abbas, an award was also granted to famous architect Daniel Libesekind, who designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin among other buildings.
The awarding of the “Hope for Peace Prize” to Mahmoud Abbas granted the German unity government, in which Angela Merkel’s Conservative Union sits with the Social Democrats, a chance to demonstrate publicly sympathy for the Palestinians as an expression of the trend of distancing from Israel. Abbas met for talks with Chancellor Merkel, with the foreign minister (and until recently also the leader of the Social Democrats) Sigmar Gabriel, and with the chairman of the Bundestag, and was invited to give a speech at the primary headquarters of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is closely linked to the conservative Christian Democratic Party.
Fatah — A “Sister Party”
A few weeks after Chancellor Merkel decided to put off the annual consultations with the Israeli government, which were planned for this coming May, as an expression of her displeasure with the Regularization Law—which Berlin believes buries any chance of a two-state solution—Mahmoud Abbas has received a very warm embrace by both the German right and left. The foreign minister boasted on social media about his meeting with his “friend” Abbas, and was quick to note that Germany adheres to the two-state solution. Gabriel’s party, the Social Democrats, which has a good chance of forming a left-wing government after the general elections in September, sees Abbas’s Fatah movement as a “sister party,” despite the lack of socialist and democratic elements in Fatah, whose roots are Islamist.
The chairman of the Adenauer Foundation, Hans-Gert Pöttering, who is about to retire from his position, is remembered in Jerusalem for his pro-Palestinian positions from when he was president of the European Parliament, representing the conservative faction. For Pöttering it was no doubt a great honor to host Mahmoud Abbas at the headquarters of the political foundation he heads in Berlin, an honor which he did not grant Israeli prime ministers who visited Germany.
“It is wonderful to see this hall full of intelligent and wise people,” Pöttering began his welcome oration for President Abbas, as though his very arrival at this ceremony was a kind of entry ticket to a secret club. Pöttering defined Abbas as a “statesman who works with determination toward a settlement,” adding that “freedom, justice, and solidarity are the values that guide us at the Adenauer Foundation in Germany, in the EU, and in the entire world. That includes our work in the Palestinian territories. We thus wish to contribute to a two-state solution and the founding of a Palestinian state. Daily life in the Palestinian territories fills us with much concern. I think of the founding of settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, of the difficult conditions of life in Area C subject to Israel’s development, of the close to two–million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, of their conditions of life, and of the concerning developments in the Strip.”
“A short time ago,” Pöttering continued, “the Knesset approved the Regularization Law, which grants legitimacy to settlements that until now even in the Israeli view were illegal. This raises doubts as to whether Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is serious when it speaks of a two-state solution. At the same time, the Palestinian population is waiting for a renewal of the political process, and elections are needed at all levels. Municipal elections are expected in May, and I wish for the Palestinian people’s sake that additional elections will follow.”
This is the only criticism of the Abbas regime, formulated very carefully, that the German conservative politician allowed himself to express, before he went back to praising Abbas’s diplomatic moderation and to elaborating on the need to support him. In contrast to Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Netanyahu government in Jerusalem, Abbas is portrayed in Germany as the ultimate angel of peace.
“The two-state settlement has been pushed to the margins by alternative approaches, which I believe are unrealistic,” Pöttering stressed. “People are speaking more and more of a one-state reality. The majority which supports the two-state solution on both sides (the Israeli and the Palestinian) seems to be weakening. Apartheid is becoming a term which European diplomats are also using. The future negotiations are only in the hands of the parties involved, but as a committed Europeanist, I cannot hide my support for international fora like the recently convened Paris Conference. We are not in favor of this or that side. Our solidarity with Israel does not contradict our support for a Palestinian state. To the contrary: our values apply to both nations in the same manner. In every encounter with Israelis, we speak of the reality of the occupation. In every meeting with the Palestinians, we speak of Israeli security needs, which include foregoing violence. We are against any sort of terrorism.”
What is left for the PA president to say after his German host already used the magic word “apartheid”? Abbas exploited the ceremony to complain to his audience, many of whom come from the German political establishment, of Netanyahu’s refusal to make peace and unwillingness to meet with him. “Putin wanted to organize a meeting between us in Moscow. I had already flown from Warsaw to Moscow and Netanyahu cancelled his trip at the last moment. Kerry wanted to have us meet in Egypt, and Netanyahu refused. Every head of state who visits me asks me why I’m not willing to meet [with Netanyahu]. I say: I am ready. That head of state then goes [to Netanyahu] and doesn’t come back, because Netanyahu is not willing to meet. If he’s not willing to meet with us, how can we negotiate? That’s a question we direct towards Netanyahu.”
Abbas repeated the mantras of Palestinian propaganda, which appropriate Canaanite history and the first human agriculture in Jericho, and which exaggerate the “naqba” to the point of describing it as an ethnic cleansing which has required about half the Palestinian people to live until today as refugees, without any reference to the Arabs’ responsibility for the naqba and the ongoing refugeehood. The other half of the Palestinian people, Abbas stressed, has been living for 50 years in the “prison” of the Israeli military occupation. Abbas didn’t clarify for his audience whether Israel’s Arab citizens have a different status.
To add a personal dimension to the Palestinian tragedy, Abbas told his German listeners of how he himself was expelled by Israeli soldiers from his home in Safed, “in northern Palestine.” “When I was 13 years old, my family was forced to leave its home and move from place to place as refugees. That was the reality of many other Palestinians. In the morning, I went to school, and in the afternoon, I worked to support my family financially. And now I’m here, and despite all that has happened I extend my hand to anyone who is interested in peace and is working to achieve peace.” Abbas decided to skip over his years in the PLO, for unclear reasons, as well as his academic contribution to Holocaust denial, which may have been of some interest to his German audience. “Palestine is a recognized state, under occupation. We demand only 22 percent of historic Palestine, that is the 1967 borders,” Abbas told his listeners, “We have repeated this innumerable times. We suffice with that and Israel must accept it and stop the building of settlements in the occupied territories, which the whole world sees as occupied territories.”
Stopping the Erosion
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is under increasing pressure from German public opinion, the German political establishment, and her party to exploit the “recalcitrant” and pro-settlement policy of the present Israeli government to distance Berlin from a special relationship with Israel, made it clear that her country adheres to the two-state solution.
“We need a positive dynamic to preserve the two-state solution, as I don’t see any logical alternative to the goal of two states,” Merkel said. “The Israeli people and the Palestinian people have the right to live in peace and security, and any other option cannot significantly guarantee that. Therefore we need not only to maintain the two state option, but also to grant it a renewed dynamic despite all the blows and retreats.”
Merkel expressed a great deal of concern in light of recent developments regarding the settlements, which she claims have led to the “erosion” of the odds of a successful two-state solution. “For those who demand the annexation of additional Palestinian lands it should be clear: that is not how one can preserve the Jewish and democratic character of Israel,” the chancellor stressed, having previously praised the advancement of the Palestinian governmental mechanisms toward the establishment of a future state. In contrast to Abbas’s other hosts, Merkel made clear statements against the anti-Israel incitement in the PA and the PA’s efforts to isolate Israel in the international arena: “We will always support dialogue. We oppose incitement and violence, which should be clearly condemned. The isolation of Israel in international bodies is not a helpful step, even if other steps require great patience.”
In light of the growing support for the Palestinians in Germany, Israel must act to stop this erosion and maintain its special relationship with Berlin, while setting clear boundaries to Germany’s increasing involvement—primarily via the power of the purse—in Israel’s internal affairs. Jerusalem cannot view the delay of governmental consultations with Germany as a marginal matter, and it must prepare for the possibility that the next German government will be far less committed to Israel than Merkel’s.
A new Israeli ambassador is set to be appointed to Germany in the coming summer. It would be a mistake to send an ambassador to the German capital who is unfamiliar with the ins and outs of German politics as well as the sensitive nature of the relations between the two countries. It is true that the attitude of many Germans to the Middle East and Israel is discouraging, but Israel bears a substantial amount of the responsibility for this. For too long, Israel has taken Germany for granted as an ally, while allowing Germany to shape relations between the two countries freely and also to intervene in Israel’s internal affairs. It’s still not too late to do the right things, but that requires both political savvy and political will in Jerusalem.