Ghada Karmi: The German Israeli Love Affair Must End
A Palestinian View
I have never understood why Germans are so hostile towards Palestinians. We all know that Germans are consumed by guilt about Jews. Even now, nearly 70 years after the end of WWII, they still feel some measure of this, by heredity if nothing else, since most of them weren't even born before 1945. And neither, for that matter, was Israel. Nazism had ended three years before Israel's establishment. Yet, this new state has come to represent all the Jews who suffered from the holocaust and their descendants, apparently for all time. Israel became the shrine for German atonement, remorse and guilt, unabated by the passage of time.
German-Israeli relations are very close. War reparations to Israel have cost Germany billions of dollars, and continue till today. Germany's leaders routinely make obeisance to Israel. In recent visits Germany's president and its chancellor, have been extravagant in their praise and pledged their undying support for the Jewish state. In the last month, Germany has sent 3 advanced Dolphin submarines to Israel, capable of carrying nuclear warheads, part of whose cost will be borne by Germany. Another three are promised by 2018, despite German displeasure at Israel's settlement expansion.
But why should this friendliness towards Israel be coupled with an equal antipathy for Palestinians, the very people who were sacrificed to compensate for the crimes of Nazism, whose country became Israel while they became stateless refugees? I saw this conundrum in action in Germany recently. Last February I was invited to speak on Palestine at a Middle East conference at the University of Bremen. But at the last minute the invitation was withdrawn because the university heads considered my views were "not appropriate".
It later emerged that an Israeli Ph.D. student had protested that the conference, and presumably myself, were "anti-Semitic". In June I attended a conference at the Freie Universitat Berlin, organised by the university's Research College in cooperation with the German Council on Foreign Relations. The subject was Europe and the Arab Spring.
What followed was a depressing display of German sycophancy towards the Israeli participants and a barely disguised discomfort with me, as if they had regretted their boldness in allowing a Palestinian voice to be heard. The chairman of the first session, who represented the German Council on Foreign Relations, introduced me astonishingly as "a Palestinian terrorist according to some Israelis". My obvious consternation received neither apology nor explanation. Only after the session ended and on direct questioning, he said he was reading my biography as given by the organisers. The latter denied that, saying I had been described only as "an activist". None of them apologised at the time.
My talk about the EU's well-documented partiality for Israel, the privileges and preferential treatment accorded to Israeli trade and scientific institutions, the frequetly-obeserved fact that Israel has become a European state in all but name, had a cool reception. One conference organiser complained that they wanted political analysis, not "political advocacy". An Israeli participant objected that the meeting was not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Israel's former ambassador to Germany asserted angrily he could refute every point I had made, as if we had been at a political rally, not an academic meeting. The other particants largely avoided me, by contrast to the effusiveness with which they treated the Israelis there.
This unpleasant episode demonstrated to me the depth of fear that Germans still have of criticising Israel, and by extension, their rejection of Palestinians. Extraordinary that the victims of Israel have been turned into the villains and the occupier of their land has become a hero. I came away convinced that Germans, whatever the role of their ancestors under Nazism, will have to come to terms with their history and see the world as it is. Israel is a state with indefensible policies of discrimination and oppression of another people, offensive to the civilised values we all aspire to.
Recognising this fact in no way implies an abnegation of Germany's responsibility for the Jews who perished at the hands of Nazis 70 years and their descendants are owed the fullest restitution. It was the failure to distinguish between the Israeli state and the Jewish victims of Nazism which I saw amongst Germans; the consequence of this is an exaggerated indulgence of Israel whatever crime it commits and an irrational hatred of its Palestinian victims. It is time to end both the indulgence and the hatred.
Dr Ghada Karmi is a Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, England