January 10, 2011
We’re back! My frau and I had a great time during the holidays. I traveled with the
Adenauer Exchange group, we saw our kids, made it up to the Berkshires
(western Massachusetts), met good friends there (Heiner and frau for those of
you who have been on the Adenauer Exchange), drove over to Owego, NY to
bring in the New Year with other good friends (I was the Best Man at their
wedding 47 years ago), back to the Berkshires and then home.
I won’t say that Germany stood still while I was gone but Christmas time in the
Federal Republic slows things down immeasurably so there were no great
political upheavals. Those will be coming shortly when the State election season
gets underway. That is not to say, however, that everything stood still. It didn’t!
So, being happy to be back and supplying you with American Jewish – German
happenings, let’s get on with the news….
IN THIS EDITION
THE “NEW” ANTI-SEMITISM IN GERMANY – Anti-Israelism enters the picture.
THE ADENAUER EXCHANGE GROUP – Terrific young people.
BELGIUM – Will there be two Belgiums in the future? What are the implications?
FREE DEMOCRAT PROBLEMS – Their poll numbers are terrible. Will they drag
down the national coalition?
AUSCHWITZ PRESERVATION – Who pays? You won’t be surprised.
A WINNER! – Never underestimate a great politician.
END OF THE DRAFT – Germany goes “professional”.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE…. - “No minarets” draws unwelcome friends.
THE OLD ANTI-SEMITISM - ,,,and Nazism are still around. Frightening!
THE “NEW” ANTI-SEMITISM IN GERMANY
Haaretz reporting on an editorial in the Forward noted, “While Germany
continues to contend with vestiges of traditional anti-Semitism, a new and more
deeply embedded strain has emerged related to Israel.”
This is happening in a country that has confronted its Nazi past, where Holocaust
education has long been mandatory and such expressions of anti-Semitism are
illegal. Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany.
But generational and demographic changes are converging in Germany today,
and there is a shift afoot in the zeitgeist. While Germany continues to contend
with vestiges of traditional anti-Semitism, a new and more deeply embedded
strain has emerged related to Israel. Polls show that this strain is distinguishable
from mere opposition to Israeli policies, or even from anti-Zionism. In a 2010
report by the University of Beilefeld’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on
Conflict and Violence, institute researchers, who conduct an annual poll on anti-
Semitism, found an increase linked specifically to Israel. Among their findings:
More than 57% agreed that Israel is waging “a war of annihilation” against the
Palestinians (up from 51% in 2009).
In 2008 — the most recent year the question was asked — more than 40%
agreed that “what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is basically no different from
what the Nazis did with the Jews during the Third Reich.”
More than 38% of Germans polled agreed that “considering the politics of Israel
it is easy to see why one would have something against Jews” (up from 34% in
2009). Yet at the same time, 67.5% in the 2010 poll agreed with the statement, “I
like it that increasingly more Jews live in Germany.”
Muslim and classic right-wing anti-Semitism are combining with left-wing
demonization of Israel to produce a toxic mix, despite Germany’s postwar efforts
to ensure that future generations continue to learn the lessons of the Holocaust.
This new strain renders old ways of combating anti-Semitism less effective.
According to some observers, in Germany the Holocaust narrative is no longer
the powerful antidote it once was.
“There is so much exposure to World War II in the news media that the
Holocaust has lost its shock effect,” said Deidre Berger, director of the American
Jewish Committee’s Berlin office.
Confronting the Nazi past is now far more difficult, because non-Jewish
immigrants, especially Muslims, don’t identify with German history. “Germany is
a very different country today,” Berger said, referring to the large influx of
immigrants that have different cultural backgrounds and different perspectives on
history. “If you grew up with parents who came from Serbia, Turkey or Iraq, you
don’t identify with Jews as victims. It doesn’t touch you emotionally.”
This alienation from German history is compounded by the fact that many
Muslim youths don’t feel accepted as Germans themselves. They show little
interest in this dark chapter of German history.
Despite widespread criticism of Israel within Germany, Chancellor Angela
Merkel’s government continues to strongly support the Jewish state. Yoram Ben-
Zeev, Israeli ambassador to Germany, spoke enthusiastically about his
relationship with the chancellor during an interview at his embassy. The German-
Israeli relationship remains strong despite differences over the West Bank
Still, Ben-Zeev conceded that the German public has a negative view of Israel,
as does most of Europe. Germany’s support for Israel, normally unwavering, is
no longer automatic. Last July, the Bundestag unanimously condemned Israel for
its attack on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship bound for Gaza with
I have excerpted much of the piece but not all. However, I think you get the point.
There are many elements today feeding on emotions that bring to the surface
strong anti-Israel feeling combined with multifaceted anti-Semitism. However,
most Germans somehow understand that it is a positive for Germany to have a
Jewish population. There are still relatively few Jews in the country and they are
not very involved political matters and, therefore, are not all that visible. For
instance, there are no visible Jewish leaders in the government. So, Jews as
Jews are not a problem. To the educated elites they are a plus.
Israel is a different story. Israel is in the news almost every day. There is strong
“underdog” feeling on behalf of the Palestinians. Israel as the armed colossus
violates the pacifist sense that most Germans have. Is there a little (or more than
a little) latent anti-Semitism mixed in? No doubt the answer is yes. Luckily, the
German government remains pro-Israel but even that feeling is beginning to
erode. Tough times ahead!
If you want to read the entire article click here. http://forward.com/articles/134143/
THE ADENAUER EXCHANGE GROUP
I had the honor and pleasure of co-shepherding (with Sara Levin of AJC’s
Washington Office) the German participants in the 30th annual Exchange
Program AJC has with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. What a trip!
First of all, the group of 8 was wonderful. Bright, young (mostly 30’s) highly
educated and deeply interested in Jewish matters, they could not have been
better representatives of the Foundation and of Germany.
The Holocaust Museum in Washington and various lectures including one by
Amb. Stuart Eizenstat, were the Washington highlights. In Atlanta they were
welcomed at The Temple (Reform) and had dinner at the home of a dynamic
young female rabbi. We attended services at a black Baptist church and flew up
to New York. AJC’s Director David Harris and the agency’s “Jewish expert” Steve
Bayme addressed them; they met with AJC’s young adult group (ACCESS) and
had lunch at Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side.
If you want to improve relationships and understanding there is just no substitute
for personal, face to face contact. I think the group returned to Germany better
for the experience. I did too!
I normally would not be reporting on Belgium, a country I know little about. I’ve
been there a few times, enjoyed their wonderful beer, saw the sights in Brussels
and left. It always seemed to be a very quiet place. Not so!
I now read in De Spiegel that there is a movement afoot to split the country in
two. It’s probably that I just wasn’t aware enough to know that the enormously
strong differences between the two major ethnic groups that share the country
had reached a fever pitch.
Der Spiegel reports, “Six months after the general election, Belgium still has no
new government. Flemish nationalist Bart De Wever, head of the country's
largest party, wants to split Belgium into two states. In an interview that has
caused a scandal in his country, he told SPIEGEL why the nation has "no future."
Belgium has sunk into political chaos. Following the parliamentary elections six
months ago, all attempts to build a new government have failed. The country is
divided into two camps that oppose each other, apparently irreconcilably: the
socialists, who won the most votes in Wallonia, the French-speaking southern
region of the country, and the nationalist conservatives in Flanders, the wealthier
Dutch-speaking northern region.
The New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) obtained the most parliamentary seats in
June's elections. Its leader Bart De Wever wants to split Belgium into two. In an
interview with SPIEGEL that was published in German on Monday, De Wever
described how Belgium is the "sick man" of Europe and has "no future in the long
The interview caused a massive outcry throughout Belgium. The French-
speaking daily Le Soir called it "a bomb" intended to stir up the markets for
Belgian government bonds. The Flemish newspapers were more sympathetic
regarding the content of the interview, but criticized its timing.
De Wever himself said he regretted it if anybody felt insulted but confirmed the
message of the interview. "I have my opinion and my analysis is accurate," he
said. "There is nothing in the interview that is not true."
The full interview follows by clicking here.
I’m not at all sure what a separate state of Wallonia would mean for Europe.
However, when two ethnic groups have irreconcilable differences the friction all
too frequently affects other groups as well, especially minorities and particularly if
extreme right nationalism emerges.
You yourself can write the final paragraph.
FREE DEMOCRAT PROBLEMS
I have been reporting that the popularity of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) has
disastrously dropped almost from the time they entered Germany’s ruling
coalition with the CDU/CSU. As was normal, the head of the minor party in the
coalition, the FDP in this case, was awarded the Foreign Minister’s role and party
chair Guido Westerwelle moved into that position.
With 7 State elections coming up this year, FDP leaders are getting nervous
about their standing. So, according to The Local, “ Leading members of the pro-
business Free Democratic Party are reportedly considering deposing Guido
Westerwelle as party boss and foreign minister to reverse the FDP’s fortunes
going into an important election year.
The German media reported on Thursday that the so-called “Schaumburg Circle”
– made up of influential Free Democrats including Economy Minister Rainer
Brüderle – this week openly discussed replacing Westerwelle as FDP chairman
in early January in the hope of avoiding disaster in several state elections in
But unlike previous calls by prominent regional FDP politicians for him to hand
over only the reins to the party, the group apparently also brought up the
possibility of Westerwelle also resigning as foreign minister.
“The people expect us to work for the agenda for which we were elected,” said
Brüderle on Thursday, who is considered as a possible successor as FDP
chairman. “We won as a team and we will overcome this difficult situation as a
The FDP’s persistently dire opinion poll ratings and the public’s generally
negative image of Westerwelle have bolstered his inner-party critics, who are
demanding he step aside to enable a fresh start.
His position was weakened further by recent revelations his chief of staff had fed
information to US embassy officials during the FDP’s coalition negotiations with
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats last year.
The future of the FDP is not only an important matter for the party faithful but
also, I expect, for the CDU as well. The natural coalition partner for the CDU in
almost any election, state or national, is the FDP. If they are weak then the
successful possibilities for the CDU become greatly lessened. Normally, I would
not expect such a major change as a party head to step down. But politics in
Germany, like those almost everywhere, is a tough game with winning all that is
important. Moral victories don’t count much. We’ll just have to wait and see how
deep the unrest with Westerwelle goes. However, now that the unrest has hit the
media – well, we just can’t tell where it will end up. Stay tuned!
For some more in-depth coverage click here.
Whatever one thinks about Germany, one has to admit that the Federal Republic
is almost unique in living up to its responsibilities when it comes to the Jewish
community and the Holocaust. Incidentally, my thoughts are mostly positive.
I think it has become common knowledge that the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial
barracks were falling apart and that a sizeable financial had to be made in order
for them to be kept in a decent state of repair.
Who steps in? Germany with a grant of $80 million dollars. Haaretz reported,
“Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle says Germany will pay $80 million over the
next year into a new fund for Auschwitz-Birkenau to preserve barracks, gas
chambers and other evidence of Nazi crimes at the former death camp.
Westerwelle said Wednesday it's Germany's historical responsibility to educate
this and future generations about the Holocaust. At least 1.1 million people,
primarily Jews, were killed at the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
The donation is about half of what experts believe is needed. Auschwitz
memorial spokesman Jaroslaw Mensfelt says the U.S. has pledged $15 million,
Austria 6 million, and other countries have promised smaller amounts.
The aim is to preserve the sprawling site, which draws 1 million visitors per year.
I’m not applauding Germany for its contribution. After all, if it wasn’t for Germany
there would have been no Auschwitz-Birkenau. However, the people in the
German government today were not the same ones that were there in the
1940’s. However, they have continued to fulfill their responsibilities and that has
to be admired.
During the few times I’ve gone to the horse race track in my life I’ve always
picked losers. I have a very mixed record when trying to dope out whether my
beloved Kentucky Wildcat basketball team would win a game. However, when it
comes to German politicians my average goes way up. During the last couple of
years I have been saying that Angela Merkel is the top of the line when it comes
to politicians who can lead. One should never underestimate her.
With the Euro in deep trouble and the EU is disarray over needed bailouts
Chancellor Merkel put together a “tough love” program that might just bring some
order and discipline to this rowdy bunch of nations.
Der Spiegel reported, “It hasn't been an easy year for the EU, or for Angela
Merkel. She played chief skeptic during the euro crisis, but the role ironically led
her to forge a rescue mechanism for the continent's embattled currency.
When Angela Merkel appeared in Brussels on Thursday evening for a briefing
with journalists, she first set her purse on her lap and rummaged around in it for
a long while.
Was it intentional? The handbag has been a political symbol ever since Margaret
Thatcher, the former British prime minister. So Merkel's gesture, whether by
design or coincidence, summed up 2010 -- the year when she flirted with the
image of the "Iron Chancellor."
Merkel was still playing the role of Europe's chief skeptic at this EU summit. But
under pressure from her, the 27 EU heads of state and government decided to
amend the Lisbon Treaty to establish a permanent rescue mechanism for the
euro zone. She insisted on the word "essential" in the treaty text -- an EU nation
would be saved in the future only if its fiscal rescue was deemed "essential" for
the whole euro area.
The wording leaves wide room for interpretation, and will in reality probably turn
out to be completely irrelevant. But it's typical of the German pleas and
objections that have annoyed the rest of the EU for most of the year.
Putting on the Brakes
Merkel wants to prove to voters at home that she represents German interests;
she hopes to keep German-funded rescue operations to a minimum. This has
not gained her much love in Brussels. The usual complaint this year has been
that Germany isn't leading in the euro crisis; it's applying the brake.
Merkel may look back on this year with mixed feelings. At first she resisted the
idea of bailing out other countries -- namely Greece -- and referred over and over
to a prohibition on such assistance in the Lisbon Treaty. But as the crisis
escalated, her resistance crumbled.
Now, ironically, she's one of the architects of the permanent rescue mechanism
written into the treaty…
I’m no judge of the economics of the plan. Others will have to analyze it.
However, it’s the Chancellor’s political sense and leadership that, frankly,
fascinate me. I love watching someone who is good at what they do whether it’s
a 95 mile an hour baseball pitcher who can hit the strike zone repeatedly or a
politician who senses what has to be done and knows how to do it. In my book
Angela Merkel is that kind of politician. A winner!
END OF THE DRAFT
DW-World recently wrote, “The German government … approved the plans of its
defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, to reduce the size of the German
military, the Bundeswehr, by 65,000 soldiers to 185,000. Included in the reform
are plans to suspend conscription from July 1 next year.
This means that the last young men will receive their draft notices on January 3,
ending a practice which goes back to 1957 and the start of German rearmament
after World War II.
The government has decided only to suspend the draft and not to abolish it.
Abolition would require a change to the constitution, and the provision will remain
in case a general call-up becomes necessary in a time of crisis.
The new armed forces will include 170,000 professional soldiers and 15,000
volunteers, who will serve for up to 23 months. Guttenberg argues that a smaller
Bundeswehr will be more effective in dealing with modern military challenges.
The suspension of conscription is expected to lead to an increase in the number
of young people wanting to go to university. The German states, which are
responsible for financing education, say they are not prepared to pay the
additional cost. The chairman of the conference of state premiers, Wolfgang
Boehmer, said that, if the central government created the financial burden, it
should be prepared to discuss paying for it.
The suspension is also expected to lead to extra costs for social service
providers, who have so far benefited from the civilian service alternative to the
draft. The cabinet also agreed on a new program of voluntary civil service, but
the minister for families, Kristina Schroeder, has already said that it will not fill the
On the subject of “civilian service alternative”, which many young people opted
for, there are implications for Jewish organizations (such as AJC in Germany and
the U.S.) which utilized such youngsters as interns through an organization
called Action Reconciliation. (Click here for information on AR)
It is not the labor so much that will be missed. Rather, it is the opportunity for
young Germans to have some “Jewish” experience. Many of the interns I’ve met
over the years take the knowledge they pick up through their AR experience to
guide them through later life. In addition, they have a multiplier effect on other
young Germans that we have no other way of reaching. The suspension of the
draft may be good for Germany but, frankly, it’s no so good for German-Jewish
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE….
There is an old English proverb which says, “With friends like these, who needs
Der Spiegel recently reported, “It's the kind of attention the Swiss would rather
avoid.” The country used to be renowned for its breathtaking Alpine landscapes,
ultra-punctual train service and luxurious standard of living. Lately, however,
Switzerland's reputation has taken a bit of a hit.
In 2009, Germany and several other countries, including the US, heavily
criticized the country's banks for their alleged assistance to those who would
evade paying taxes. In November of last year, the Swiss voted in a referendum
to ban the construction of minarets in the country. And early this month,
American dispatches from Switzerland, released by WikiLeaks, revealed deep
US frustration with the country's desire to play an outsized role in finding a
solution to the dispute with Iran over that country's nuclear program.
Now, however, it would appear that Switzerland has found an unwanted ally. At
the end of November, Swiss voters passed a referendum mandating the swift
deportation of non-citizens who have been convicted of certain crimes. Since
then, the German far-right party NPD has handed out postcards praising the
The postcards depict an idyllic mountain landscape with the famous Matterhorn
in the background. "The Swiss Example," they read. "Make Quick Work of
NPD spokesman Klaus Beier told the Swiss news website 20 Minuten Online
that since the start of December, "We have distributed several hundred thousand
of the postcards in Germany."
The Swiss referendum was heavily criticized by human rights groups and by the
European Commission in Brussels. The NPD, however, wants to highlight what it
sees as the benefits of direct democracy as practiced in Switzerland. "The
introduction of Swiss-style direct democracy has been a priority of ours for
decades," Beier told 20 Minuten Online.
It's not the first time Germany's far right has borrowed a tune from the Swiss right
wing. During a 2007 parliamentary campaign, the populist Swiss People's Party
(SVP) -- which launched the November referendum -- printed posters showing
white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag. The image found its way
onto NPD posters for a state election in the German state of Hesse in 2008.
The postcards and the publicity have not done much for the NPD. The still
remain a minor party with no members in the Bundestag. However, they do not
seem to ever miss a chance to latch on to something that they feel will advance
their very strong anti-immigrant, neo-Nazi feelings. However, I guess that if the
Swiss continue to pass the sort of legislation that is seen as reactionary and
leans toward similar political positions of the NPD, they can pretty much count on
the German neo-Nazis to make the connection with them. They’ll just have to
learn to deal with it! You don’t always proactively choose your friends.
THE OLD ANTI-SEMITISM
I started out this edition writing about “The New Anti-Semitism”. Unhappily, the
Old Anti-Semitism still seems to exist – as does the old Nazism.
Der Spiegel reports that in Brandenburg (the State that surrounds Berlin – Berlin
is a State as well as a city) “The leading rabbi in the eastern German state of
Brandenburg says Jews in the community there are warned not to wear
yarmulkes or other visible symbols of Judaism. He says the state has a problem
with anti-Semitism, but Brandenburg officials claim they are doing all they can to
make Jewish culture part of everyday life.
Some 65 years after the end of World War II, is it safe yet for a Jew to walk
through the streets of Germany wearing a yarmulke? Not in Brandenburg, home
to Potsdam and its famous UNESCO-listed palaces near Berlin -- at least
according to the eastern German state's new chief rabbi, Shaul Nekrich.
A former resident of Berlin, Nekrich said in an interview with the Berliner Zeitung
newspaper published Wednesday that he had been perfectly comfortable
walking around the capital city, wearing a yarmulke and traditional Jewish hat.
Not so, however, in Brandenburg, where he now leads the state's six Jewish
communities. Nekrich said he now eschews wearing the kippah or hat head
coverings when walking the streets of towns and cities in the state.
Nekirch's statements have raised eyebrows in the state, where officials claim that
great inroads have been made towards re-establishing normal Jewish life in
"The state government is doing everything it can to ensure that Jewish life again
belongs to everyday life in Brandenburg," Antje Grabley, a spokeswoman for the
state's Culture Ministry, which is responsible for the promotion of religious
communities in the state, told the Berliner Zeitung. She said that the state's
cultural minister, Martina Münch, would take up contact with the rabbi.
Grabley noted that a study from 2009 showed that anti-Semitic tendencies in
Brandenburg were the lowest of any German state. And the State Office of
Criminal Investigation said the total number of crimes motivated by anti-Semitism
in Brandenburg had been 109 in 2009 and that during the first half of 2010, 42
had been reported, a downward trend.
Who knows where the truth is? As usual, it’s probably somewhere in the middle.
However, there is no doubt that, as far as anti-Semitism is concerned, the
eastern part of Germany (the former East Germany) is much more of a problem
that the west.
The Village Where the Neo-Nazis Rule
Der Spiegel also reported about the very small village of Jamel in Mecklenburg-
Western Pomerania that, “Hitler salutes in the street and firing practice in the
forest: Neo-Nazis have taken over an entire village in Germany, and
authorities appear to have given up efforts to combat the problem. The
place has come to symbolize the far right's growing influence in parts of
the former communist east.
Norbert Nieszery, leader of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the
state parliament, calls it an "early form of terror." Nieszery's own office windows
have been smashed twice. State Interior Minister Lorenz Caffier of the center-
right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) says he has registered a "new level" of
right-wing extremist violence. He believes the NPD is trying to raise its profile
through aggressive behavior ahead of the state parliament election in
September. One local mayor requested police protection after receiving repeated
right-wing threats. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution,
Germany's domestic intelligence agency, has warned that the NPD is becoming
increasingly influential in local municipalities and that the neo-Nazis are trying to
entrench themselves in daily life.
Let’s not go off the deep end with what’s happening in Jamel. Germany is not on
the verge of a Nazi takeover or anything like that. However, we, including the
members of the German government, have long memories. The 1920’s and the
1930’s were not a million years ago. Of course, Germany is a democracy so the
neo-Nazi NPD has a right to exist as long as it does not violate the law. However,
in this case it seems to me, at least, from the Der Spiegel article, that the law
enforcement is on the weak side. It should be a terrible embarrassment to every
official local, state and national that a village could be almost taken over by the
neo-Nazis. Shouldn’t someone do something more about it? I sure hope so.
To read the entire article click here.
See you later in the month.
DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be contacted
by clicking here.
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