HENRYK BRODER ON ISRAEL, MEDIA, GERMANY AND THE LEFT
Middle East Debate
Ban TV from the Holy Land!
When Germans criticize Israel, aren’t their anti-Semitic leanings preprogrammed? SPIEGEL reporters Erich Follath and Henryk M. Broder debated this sensitive question and did so as friends, although that didn’t keep their dialogue from sometimes turning into attacks. Their argument, carried out by letter, is documented in the book “Gebt den Juden Schleswig-Holstein!” (“Give the Jews Schleswig-Holstein!”) But how do the two opponents view the subject of the Palestinian Territories , considering the central question of how to end the conflict there? Henryk M. Broder has a clear opinion, which he expresses in the following letter. Erich Follath will reply to him on Friday.
Dear Mr. Follath,
Our little book is now on the market and we two will remain linked forever, like Marx and Engels, Hermann and Dorothea, Knaus and Ogino, or Beauty and the Beast. I enjoyed my discussion with you greatly. You’re not easily put out — it’s possible to fight with you without you turning away in a huff. And at no point did you overstep the line and question Israel’s existence and right to exist.
Yet I couldn’t help noticing one thing, after reading all our letters through in one go: I am right and you are mistaken. I suspect you see it precisely the opposite way around, but that doesn’t change things a bit.
I also noticed that we are both dancing around one point: A clear statement on how the conflict over the Palestinian Territories could be stopped, using peaceful means and in such a way that, as Amos Oz once put it, both sides are dissatisfied with the solution, because that would be evidence that it was a fair compromise.
I said nothing on the subject because I’m rather allergic to people who give advice and directions and tell others how they should do things. Unlike our Marxist friends, who specialized in changing the world, I’m convinced it is more important to understand and describe the world. It’s the same as in the climate debate — the human factor is enormously overestimated. Certainly Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Ayatollah Khomeini changed the world, but if the human factor were as relevant as it’s always said to be, then we could have been spared Hitler at least. What good is a high culture if it allows itself to be led into the abyss by a madman?
Theodor Lessing, the German philosopher born in 1872 and murdered by the Nazis in 1933, knew that history is always an exercise in “giving meaning to the meaningless,” a retroactive activity. I find it very entertaining to see how much effort Christian and Jewish scholars put into explaining the Holocaust — why it happened and why it was carried out by Germans in particular, the people one would least have expected to make such a mess. Why the world looked on and did hardly anything about it.
If God Exists, He’s a Gambler
For some, the Holocaust is definitive proof of God’s existence. For others, it is the ultimate evidence that God does not exist. But what about a very simple, yet universal explanation: Shit happens. Sometimes it happens to the Hereros, sometimes to the Jews. Next it’s the Armenians’ turn and then the people who live in Darfur. If God exists, he’s a gambler who likes to roll the dice. Afterward, he sends out his ground personnel to gather up the dice again.
What strikes me here — and I assume you won’t contradict me, because this is pure empiricism — is that it seems to be the Jews’ turn astonishingly often, as if they were always lining back up for it. This is what makes all the talk about the unique and singular nature of the Holocaust nonsense. This is also why traditional research into anti-Semitism is off the mark when it asks why Jews are persecuted, instead of asking why Jews are persecuted.
More than 100,000 Jews died in the pogroms under Cossack leader Bohdan Khmelnytsky. For that time (1648), this was an enormous number. Khmelnytsky’s actual target was the Polish landed gentry, and he simply took the Jews he met along the way as well. They were killed quite individually and by hand 350 years ago; In Auschwitz it was done anonymously, as if on a conveyor belt. Is that the decisive difference, the one that marks the transition from normal barbarism to the breakdown of civilization?
Israel wasn’t founded as a reaction to the Holocaust — the Holocaust was only the straw that broke the camel’s back, a camel that for 2,000 years had borne the brunt of Jewish suffering, if you’ll allow me the metaphor.
Nevertheless — and here I agree with you — Israel is not the solution to the Jewish question, it is only the displacement of that question from Europe to the Middle East. Although here it would be more accurate to describe it as a system of interacting tubes whose action is time delayed, because the Jewish question is currently spilling back from the Middle East to Europe. For Theodor Herzl, the “Jewish State” was “an attempt at a modern solution of the Jewish question;” today, the modern Jewish question should be solved by dissolving Israel.
The Jewish Question Remains Unsolvable
Do you believe for even a moment that it could work? That with the end of the Jewish state, anti-Semites would cease to hate the Jews, the same way they stopped being mad at the Jews with the end of Jewish existence in a Jew-free Europe after 1945?
The Jewish question “is and remains unsolvable,” Theodor Lessing wrote in 1932, a year before he was murdered. Nothing has changed since then in terms of the inability to solve the Jewish question.
My dear colleague Follath, have you ever counted up how many plans for the solution of the Jewish question or the Palestine question there have been since 1917 (the year of the Balfour Declaration)? Is it hundreds? Thousands? In any case, your library would not be large enough to hold all the books, dissertations, plans and resolutions that have been written, composed and adopted on the question of Palestine.
Recently, the Protestant Academy Bad Boll (EABB), decided to try its hand too, by including a conference with the title “Partners for Peace — Talking with Hamas and Fatah” in its program. Until then, of course, no one had talked to Fatah or Hamas — nor had Fatah talked to Hamas, nor the other way around. The whole world, in fact, was waiting with bated breath for a signal from Bad Boll.
A Hamas minister from Gaza was invited to this conference, despite the fact that the European Union considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization. And this turns out not to be entirely off base when you take a glance at Hamas’ charter, which states very clearly how Hamas envisions the path to peace — in an Islamic theocracy, after freeing all of Palestine from Zionist occupation.
Pomposity, Megalomania, Arrogance
Unimpressed from these facts, the head of the EABB explained that the organization wanted to “seek concepts for a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict beyond the front lines of the Middle East.” It is better, he continued, “to talk to each other than shoot at one another,” and for this reason the EABB invited a “representative of Hamas’ moderate wing,” one who recognizes “not the legitimacy” but at least “the fact of the State of Israel.”
(Which, just between us, does represent an enormous concession, although he would only need to climb a hill in Gaza and stretch his neck a bit in order to see the “fact” of Israel with his naked eye.)
My dear colleague, do you catch the scent that wafts off of such statements? This mixture of pomposity, megalomania, arrogance and masturbatory devotion?
Even the Left Party in Germany has recognized “Israel’s right to exist,” after endless debates within the party and of course only under certain conditions, which still need to be worked out in detail. Do you find that as funny as I do? Whether the Left Party demands “prosperity for all,” recognizes “Israel’s right to exist” or calls for abstention from long-distance travel, it’s as geopolitically relevant as the question of whether you get out of your bed in the morning first with your right leg or your left or whether I start the day with the German national anthem or with the Israeli national anthem Hatikvah.
But the comrades in the Left Party can’t help hankering after the Jews like a vampire after a menstruating virgin. They can’t get the neo-Nazis in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania under control, but they know how to bring peace to the Middle East.
The Shamelessness of the Left
The Left Party is not acting in a particularly clever manner in this, but it is particularly shameless. In 1989, when the ailing German Democratic Republic leadership suddenly discovered its fondness for Israel, Dr. Angelika Timm, a lecturer in “Israel studies” at the Humboldt University in East Berlin, apparently wished to become the GDR’s first ambassador to the Jewish state. Her qualifications for the job included works in which she accused Israel of bearing all the fault in the Middle East conflict and of having determined to “get the region of the Middle East richest in oil, together with the Suez Canal, firmly back in an imperialist grip (â€¦) and secure Israel’s long-term hegemony over the Middle East.” Twenty years later, Timm has achieved her goal. As the head of the Tel Aviv branch of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, she now teaches democratic manners to the Israelis, in the way of a convert who acts out of conviction and wants to remain as close as possible to the object of her affection.
“So?” you say. She’s simply a passionate woman and an academic opportunist, someone who would find a place in the sun in any system. That’s true. Timm is also not the first flag not to care which way the wind blows. But wouldn’t we get upset if a pedophile were chosen to conduct, of all things, a boys’ choir? Well, actually, that’s happened too. But it still wasn’t entirely OK.
Of course Dr. Timm is convinced she’s making a contribution to solving the Middle East conflict. The head of the Protestant Academy Bad Boll feels the same way, as do the young protesters who demonstrated last year against the war in Gaza, shouting “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas!” and “Zionists out of Palestine!” A pure heart and dirty hands always get along very well.
A Peace Industry
The Middle East is the Legoland of geopolitics. It’s a regional theater putting on a huge production, something like enacting the five-act tragedy “The Last Days of Humankind” in a puppet theater. This certainly has something to do with the fact that the Israelis and Palestinians aren’t ready or willing to solve the conflict among themselves. That in turn comes from that fact that there are too many string-pullers and middlemen meddling behind the scenes, offering their “help.” More than 1,000 NGOs are active in the West Bank alone, all of them stepping on each other’s toes.
And just as poverty has given rise to a poverty industry in Germany, one that makes its living from tending to the poor, so Israel and the Palestinian Territories have seen a peace industry establish itself, one which makes its living from the fact that there is no peace. Most Israeli peace initiatives, such as B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence and Women in Black are also subsidized by European or American organizations, without whose help they wouldn’t even be able to print the flyers they hand out in pedestrian zones.
All these actions, initiatives and projects serve not to pave the way for peace, but to preserve the status quo. Their sole purpose is to guarantee a secure living and income for a few hundred or thousand activists. They are job-creation measures that would have to declare themselves redundant if they ever reached their stated goals. They strive for the horizon, knowing they will never reach it.
Eject the Profiteers
If peace is to have a chance, those who benefit from the lack of peace need to be sent away: The foreign foundations, the Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, but above all UNRWA — the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, a “temporary aid program” that has been serving Palestinian refugees for 60 years. These refugees numbered around 900,000 in the late 1940s and early 1950s; today they are more than 4.5 million. That means the number of recognized refugees has increased fivefold. The same situation applied to Germany would mean around 60 million displaced people now living along the country’s borders, needing to be provided for until they could return to their home country.
UNRWA is not only an extremely long-lived “temporary aid program,” it is also the region’s largest employer, with about 29,000 employees. It had a budget of nearly $950 million (â‚¬780 million) in 2006, provided in roughly equal parts by the UN and the EU.
The billions spent to maintain the refugees’ current lot since UNRWA’s creation could have been used instead to get the refugees out of the camps and permanently rehabilitated. But this would work against UNRWA’s self-preservation instinct. The organization keeps needing more and more money and employing more and more workers in order to serve more and more refugees.
There’s no end in sight to this spiraling madness, unless UNRWA is dissolved. I know, my dear colleague Follath, that this is roughly as likely as the Vatican declaring bankruptcy in response to the wave of abuse scandals. Yet even two days before the Berlin Wall was built, no one reckoned with such an event. The Canadian government announced this January that it would no longer contribute to funding UNRWA. It’s a start, anyway, isn’t it?
As soon as the NGOs, the foundations and UNRWA have discontinued their activity, the Israelis and Palestinians will have to adjust to a new reality — one without mediators, without sponsors, without the Friedrich Ebert, Friedrich Naumann, Hanns Seidel and Rosa Luxemburg foundations.
The Eternal Showdown Has to Stop
Israel is a wealthy country and doesn’t need any foreign aid; it will have to come to the Palestinians’ aid financially out of its own self-interest. Establishing humane conditions in Gaza would cost less than the last war did. The West Bank has infrastructure, it only needs to be further developed. There’s no lack of capital or know-how.
And for the Israelis and the Palestinians to realize that they will only succeed if they cooperate, the eternal showdown has to stop. You know, dear colleague, that spontaneous demonstrations are always announced ahead and take place at set times — so that they make it onto prime time news in the US. What that means is that television needs to be banned from the Holy Land for a while. I know, it sounds nutty, but we’re not talking about the reporting of events here, we’re talking about events that are staged for television.
When I was in Israel a few weeks ago, the mufti of Jerusalem called on Muslims to enter the city en masse to prevent the Jews from occupying Al Aqsa Mosque. He wanted images to be seen around the world of Israeli soldiers beating up young Arabs, deaths and injuries included. Unfortunately or perhaps thank God, he miscalculated. The Muslims understood his appeal the same way it was meant — as a provocation — and stayed home. There was no riot and the TV teams had to leave.
I think I may still need to hone my peace plan a bit. But don’t worry: Both of us will continue to be able to report about Israel and the Palestinian Territories, you from one side and I from the other. We’ll just toss a coin — heads or tails. Haifa or Hebron. Jericho or Jerusalem. Shalom or salaam.
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
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