In Thursday’s op-ed, “What Germany owes the Jews,” David Horovitz argues that Germans should extend greater support for Israel, given the history of the twentieth century. Horovitz claims that Germany’s “particular obligations to the Jews” should be expressed as support for Israel on the international stage.
This is a mistake.
True, Germany owes the Jewish people an “eternally unpayable historical debt.” But part of what makes that debt unpayable is that we can’t cash it in for political support. In other words, it’s a mistake to think that the Shoah translates into absolute diplomatic support for Israeli intransigence in the ‘peace process’ and Israeli occupation policies in the West Bank.
Take a step back. Germans today played no part in the Holocaust. Some might – and all should – grapple with their complex cultural inheritance. But it’s misguided to think the legacy of the Shoah amounts to blanket support for Israel from Germans today, either on political or public levels.
I visited Berlin this past summer and learned that Germans are instinctively opposed to walls that separate people. Given their history, this isn’t surprising. It doesn’t matter all that much that the Israeli separation barrier and the Berlin Wall are vastly different. Sure, the security barrier was constructed to prevent terrorists from infiltrating Israel proper. And it’s worked. The German Democratic Republic built the Berlin Wall to prevent masses from leaving the miserable conditions in the communist bloc. But walls are walls.
Hasbara activists will insist on calling the barrier a ‘security fence,’ as opposed to ‘separation wall,’ (which sounds much more like something you’d find in an apartheid state); Hasbaraniks will also jump to point out that only 10% of the barrier is made up of the 26-foot high, ominous gray concrete slabs, you see on CNN; 90% of it is merely a fence!
For students on campus, these talking points don’t work; why should it be any different with Germans? What does the Holocaust have to say about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians? For instance, critics claim the security barrier, just one aspect of the occupations, draws de facto borders for a future Palestinian state, effectively undermining negations, while restricting Palestinian movement. Holding the Holocaust over the heads of Germans, or anyone, is ineffective in combating this image of discriminatory, obstinate Israel because it doesn’t address or respond to it whatsoever. Israeli policies in the West Bank are cruel? Yeah, but the Holocaust.
Bluntly, using the Shoah to solicit support for Israel won’t work if contemporary Germans don’t see their hands as bloodied. For Germans, just like Jews, the events of the twentieth century will only grow more distant. That’s how memory works. That’s why it is incumbent on Germans, (again, just like Jews,) to study the Holocaust so that it is never just a chapter in history books, but a piece of modern identity. But leveraging German guilt for political support is not the sophisticated approach Horovitz aims for.
We should also not use the Holocaust as a plea for German support for Israel in the European Union. In continuing to support Israel, Germany risks isolating itself in the E.U. At what point will that balance begin to tip, such that German policymakers find the disadvantages of siding with Israel outweigh the guilt? What will happen then? Further, arguing that Germany, more than any other country, should support Israel, makes it that much harder to combat the idea that the international community granted the Jews a state in 1947 solely out of guilt.
The 50th anniversary of German-Israeli diplomatic relations is just around the corner. In that vein, it’s important to consider whether something other than ignorance might make Germans reluctant to endorse the status quo.
It’s possible that Germans are authentically sympathetic with Palestinian disenfranchisement. It’s possible that Germans really believe, like the rest of the world, that the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank endangers Israel’s ability to remain both a Jewish and democratic state. It’s possible that Germans, well aware that a democratic government does not a moral government make, fear that the occupation threatens security of the Jewish homeland.
Using the Holocaust to solicit political support for Israel undermines the right reasons to do so. As the US-brokered Kerry talks wither, we ought to think about what are the compelling reasons to support Israel, German-Israeli relations notwithstanding. Only once we’ve articulated for ourselves the importance of supporting Israel, will we be able to convey as much to others.