When I first saw the photo, I had to laugh. Accidently taken, the photo went “viral” quickly, but what was it’s relevance? Angela Merkel is German, but definitely not “that” kind of German. She is a “new” German, a “good” German. True, maybe Merkel and Benjamin Netanyahu do not always agree on all subjects, but Israel’s relations with Germany have really never have been better. So why the flutter? Why the shadow of doubt?
Germany is today considered one of Israel’s staunchest allies; Germany is Israel’s largest trading partner in Europe and German-Israel defence cooperation is second to none in Europe. Still the history of the Jewish People in Europe can not be overlooked. Only 70 years ago Germans murdered a third of the Jewish People in the most systematic and heartless ways. As for today, Israel imports from Germany are dwarfed by Iranian imports from Germany, much of it evidently through third party countries. So is Germany a true friend or not?
Charles De Gaulle is quoted saying that “No nation has friends, only interests“, and Germany is no exception. German interests have and will continue to be focused on encouraging German exports and the Arab Israeli conflict is just plain bad for business. So even a friendly Chancellor, as Merkel is, will occasionally “turn the screws” and threaten Israel (in this case Netanyahu) for “not advancing peace”, or for insisting on the “right of self defence”.
Merkel is not Germany, but rather the mask that Germany wears today. Before Merkel there was Gerhard Schröder, and before him there was Helmut Kohl. Neither was known to be very “pro-Israel”. Chancellors in Germany, like presidents in the USA do have “wiggle room” and can set the tone of their country’s relations with other countries, but neither are they unconstrained to do as they please. Germany can not be too hostile to Israel; the memories of the Holocaust are too strong. In the USA, the Senate and Congress temper the actions of any president.
So if Barack Obama and Merkel are only “masks” what is the true face of their nations. For one extreme we can look at one view of our Sages :
“‘Who deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him’ (Ps. 35:10). This applies to Israel, who falls into the hands of the nations of the world, and God delivers them. For ‘the poor’ refers to Israel…. David said, ‘A sheep among 70 wolves, what can it do? Israel among 70 powerful nations, what can Israel do, were it not that You stand by them every hour'” (PR 9:2).
In this view the nations (goyim, if you wish) are no better than “wolves” waiting for their chance to “devour” Israel. Only the infighting amongst the nations, per se their own interests, prevent them from acting in a unified manner and “finishing” the job once and for all.
Perhaps this is a grim view, but unfortunately still relevant (see the discussion around the book “FDR and the Jews” ). The question isn’t , at least in my opinion, whether President Roosevelt or Winston Churchill were “anti-semites” (definitely not!) but rather were they willing to sacrifice the lives of Jews in order to advance a “higher goal” of their own countries’ interests. Here the conclusion can only be that, for them, and I dare say also for Merkel and Obama, the needs of the Jewish People will always come a distant second to their own.
Purim is a time of both masks and removing them. Esther hide that she was a Jew from Achashveirosh. Haman posed as a loyal minister when his intent was to become himself the King and G-d himself doesn’t even appear in the Megillah, at least not openly. In the end, all is revealed. Esther is openly a Jew and her uncle Mordecai, the king’s trusted advisor. For us, through joyous celebration, we reconnect to our heritage and reveal our true selves.
Obama in his interview with Jeffery Goldberg, seemingly lifted his mask for us see him not as a “friend” of Israel, but as a type of bully or extortionist threatening to twist our arm until we concede to an agreement “for our own good”. Obama threatened to “throw us to the wolves”. Unknowingly at the time of the interview (which was released “coincidentally” while Netanyahu was in transit), events were unfolding in the Ukraine which would cast a rather large shadow of doubt on Obama’s resolve and ability. Yes, Man plans and G-d laughs.
And sometimes, even shadows have substance.