I was wondering for a few days now, which topic I should choose as the starter for my blog on ‘Times of Israel’. Yesterday, political circumstances made the decision for me. Since yesterday I, as a German and member of the EU, feel the urge to comment on the speech of EU Parliament President Martin Schulz.
As far as I see, there are two factors that Naftali Bennett and his party friends had a problem with. First of all the language in which Schulz held his speech and secondly the way he criticized Israel without even knowing the facts.
Even though I am a European citizen I am not very familiar with EU politics and until yesterday did not even know that the European Union’s President is German. Shame on my insufficient knowledge, but the problems Schulz faced I am familiar with.
Usually when I speak German with friends on the streets of Tel Aviv, most of the people that notice are hipsters that just came from Berlin, are about to fly to Berlin, have a friend in Berlin or whose biggest wish is to move to Berlin. The second common effect, that my mother tongue arises amongst Israelis, is people yelling in a harsh voice all the German words they know at me, which in most of the cases are: “Juden raus! Schnell, schnell! Achtung! Blitzkrieg!” This example shows very clearly what the problem is. The only place Israelis, but also a lot of Americans, know the German language from is Nazi movies. I don’t have any problem at all with discussing the German guilt or the responsibility Germany holds for the Jewish State and I can stand any Holocaust joke that I heard to far, but when people attack my language, I feel a twitch in my heart. Nationality in my eyes is just a theoretical construct. Some regions belonged to different nations at different points of history, but language is something natural. It comes from the inside. My mother tongue is not located in my brain, amongst all the other foreign languages I learned, it resides in my guts. It is part of my identity. The words I use, define who I am. No one who never lived in a foreign country and had to communicate in a foreign language all day knows how important your native language is. I could learn all the languages of the world until on the verge of perfection and still German would be the only one in which I would be able to describe how I really feel and express what I really wanted to say. If you want to learn about a country, learn its language. It will teach you more about how the citizens of this country think and live than any book about its history or habits. The fact that Germans have words like ‘Zeitgeist’ and ‘Weltschmerz’ or ‘Schadenfreude’, which are used frequently by English speakers, is a sign that we care enough about these phenomena to invent names describing them. Doesn’t that say a lot about how Germans think?Languages live, they change every day. They go with time, they are always the best indicator to detect what happens in a country and what people care about. A language did not kill Millions of people. People did. Goethe, Schiller and Lessing created their masterpieces in this exact same language. It is not fair to blame the language for something that human beings did to each other. On the contrary, in my opinion the language is actually a good reminder of what happened and will always tell its country’s history. In the 1950s a dictionary was created by German researches that named all words, which should be erased from the general German linguistic usage, because they incarnate the “vocabulary of the tyranny”. For instance the word ‘Sonderbehandlung’, which could be used without any connection to the Holocaust, is rarely used in its original meaning. History changed its connotation and it will always stand as a reminder for what happened.
Despite that I do understand that it is a special event when a politician holds a speech in German in the Parliament of the Jewish State. And EU President Schulz also appreciated this by thanking the Knesset to allow him to speak in his mother tongue.
The other point, which caused Mr. Bennet and his friends to leave, is less complicated in my eyes. You want to be a democracy? Then deal with criticism. This is the advantage of being a democratic state. You can criticize others, but also have to take in what your friends have to say, even though you might not like it. You want to be a democracy? Then compare yourself to other democracies and not to despotic states. Just lately I again saw a picture going around in a social network, which showed a man holding a sign saying: “In the whole of the Middle East only 1.6 Million Arabs have complete political and religious freedom. All of them live in one Jewish State”. In a democratic state that should not be something to be proud of, that should be the rule. “The whole of the Middle East” consists of monarchies, theocracies and people like Assad. Stop comparing yourselves to these countries. Just because Israel is better than other countries, which do not care about children rights, women rights or any human rights in general, does not automatically mean that everything is perfect. No person and no state on this planet is perfect. Everybody has to endure criticism from time to time, especially when it comes from friends. That is how we learn and how we develop to, maybe one day, be closer to being the perfect person or perfect state.
Running away from criticism is never a good choice, neither in a private area and even less in a political one. That’s what friends are for. They will help us when times are rough, but they will also give a kick in the ass when we did or are about to do something which will harm ourselves, because they want us to live a good, healthy and peaceful life. They only want the best for us.