Susie Becher

Shooting the messenger

Dr. Muriel Asseburg (press photo/Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik)
Dr. Muriel Asseburg (press photo/Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik)

Muriel Asseburg is to be thanked for posing difficult questions about Israel’s practices in the OPT and holding Israel to a high standard.

Some two weeks ago, Dr. Muriel Asseburg, an esteemed German political analyst renowned for her extensive research on the Middle East and the Israel-Palestine conflict in particular, was the subject of an unprofessional and vitriolic attack by Israeli Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor. Prosor’s assault came in the wake of comments made by Asseburg in an interview on a popular German podcast in which she expressed severe criticism of the policies of the Israeli Government vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Asseburg did not pull any punches, but her observations on the question of whether Israel has become an apartheid state and on Palestinian appeals to international bodies to investigate charges of crimes and to rule on the status of its occupation of the Palestinian territories were no harsher and, in many instances, less severe than those put forward by many human rights organizations, both foreign and domestic, and politicians at home and abroad.

Prosor, acting in the name of the government he represents and resorting to its usual methods, took Asseburg’s comments out of context, branded her an enemy not only of the Jewish state but of the Jewish people, and refused to apologize, claiming that Asseburg’s views make her unworthy of respect. That should come as no surprise from the representative of a government that has no problem showing respect to the likes of Hungary’s Viktor Orban and other leaders of questionable character as long as they support its policies.

Prosor’s reaction was typical of the Israeli Government’s response to any serious criticism of its behavior in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).  Rather than grapple with the allegations, it besmirches the source – usually with the charge of antisemitism – and plays the “terror” card, leaving no room for debate.

Anyone familiar with Asseburg’s writings knows that she sees the complexities of our situation and is genuinely concerned about the lack of a political horizon for the Palestinians and the impact a new wave of violence would have on both the Palestinian and the Israeli people. She does not contend that Israel is an apartheid state, but she does not ignore the fact that a large and reputable group of legal experts have concluded that it is practicing apartheid in the OPT. Furthermore, this government’s transfer of authorities in the OPT from the military to the civilian branch is strengthening the legal argument regarding apartheid.

It was rather foolish of Prosor to take offense over charges of trying to influence the German parliament with regard to the anti-BDS resolution passed in 2019, when the imprint of Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry led by Gilad Erdan at the time was all over it. True, the line between lobbying and conspiring may not always be clear, but Prime Minister Netanyahu’s appearance before the US Congress in 2015 in an attempt to quash support for President Obama’s Iran strategy nullifies the government’s right to treat Asseburg’s comments about foreign interference as an affront.

Just as the government’s default position in the face of criticism is to shoot the messenger instead of facing up to the message, so the Israeli media also wrings its hands over the mass circulation of pictures of bleeding Palestinian children, fleeing refugees, and scorched neighborhoods instead of providing comprehensive coverage of the events behind the images. Thus, the anguished face of the mother of Iyad Halak, an autistic Palestinian shot dead by a Border Policeman in 2020, becomes the subject of a discussion on PR challenges, while the acquittal of the officer who did the shooting fades from the headlines.

Asseburg has returned home to Germany, and one hopes that the physical harassment she suffered at the hands of the Im Tirzu organization and the railing against her by Ambassador Prosor will soon be behind her. We, however, remain here in the midst of the frightening reality that she described. Regardless of whether one sees attacks on military targets as acts of terrorism or legitimate resistance, the irrefutable fact is that only a political solution will bring them to an end.  Until that time, it is imperative that we halt Israel’s abandonment of universal values by listening to experts like Asseburg and others and tackling the difficult questions about human rights abuses, apartheid, and war crimes.

Why Israel Is Attacking Germany’s Top Middle East Expert 
(Haaretz, July 10, 2023)

About the Author
Susie Becher is Managing Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, a collaborative quarterly published in Jerusalem; is Communications Director of the Policy Working Group, a team of senior academics, former diplomats, human rights defenders, and media experts who advocate for an end to the occupation and a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and serves on the Steering Committee of Zulat, an activist think tank advocating for human rights and equality in Israel.
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