Dir. of Legislative Affairs Op-ed in the Algemeiner: Time for a New Chapter in German-Israeli Relations
The Algemeiner published an op-ed by Eric Fusfield, B'nai B'rith director of legislative affairs and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy, calling for Germany to reassert its position as Israel’s leading defender in Europe in the face of rising anti-Israel sentiment.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has taken office, becoming the first Social Democrat born after the end of World War II to head the federal government.
His rise to power comes during a year when thousands of protesters, many of them on the political left, demonstrated against Israel’s defensive operations in Gaza. Cities across Germany erupted in violence, as rioters burned Israeli flags, while flying Hamas banners.
Last year, Jusos, the Social Democratic Party’s youth wing, passed a resolution declaring its PLO-Fatah counterpart, which has called for Israel’s destruction, its “sister organization.”
Germany’s outgoing Chancellor, Christian Democrat Angela Merkel, repeatedly spoke about the crucial nature of Israel’s existence. But her statements were belied by Germany’s frequent votes in favor of one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations. In 2019, German UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen equated Hamas rockets with Israeli bulldozers at a time when Hamas was firing projectiles at Israeli civilians.
The growing normalization of anti-Israel activity in Germany tends to confirm the fears of Jews, who have long worried that the generational shift taking place in Germany works against the long-term German-Israeli relationship. With new leaders in power who neither lived through World War II nor its immediate aftermath, the lessons of the Holocaust might fade more easily — their resonance with a younger generation diminished or lost altogether.
The false perception of Israel as a colonial occupier in the Middle East, nurtured on the European left since the 1967 Six-Day War, has made German support for the Palestinian cause, and even open hostility toward Israel, increasingly palatable. Gone for some is the once bedrock assumption in German politics that Germany owned a special responsibility for maintaining Israel’s security.
The rise in Muslim immigration to Germany has helped shape this dynamic. Refugees and migrants from the Middle East often bring with them a viewpoint that is decidedly anti-Israel. They consequently resist the sense that they are integrating into a country with a historic responsibility to protect Israel.
Chancellor Scholz has said some encouraging things about the German-Israeli relationship. At an Israel solidarity rally near the Berlin Holocaust memorial in May, he affirmed Merkel’s famous pledge that Israel’s security is Germany’s “reason of state.”
But a look at the coalition agreement the Social Democrats have formed with their governing partners, the Free Democrats and the Greens, reveals some disturbing departures from former pacts. Israel is not referred to as a Jewish state in the document, while language critical of settlements and calling for a return to 1967 borders suggests the West Bank will be a sticking point in bilateral relations. Also, the agreement insists on negotiations with Iran, but does not decry the Iranian nuclear program.
The passage of time and the increasingly casual embrace of anti-Israel public attitudes in the country that gave rise to the Holocaust has hastened the need for the new left-of-center government to reassert Germany’s position as Israel’s leading defender in Europe. The German government should vote against anti-Israel resolutions at the UN, and persuade other European Union countries to follow suit. In a country that refuses nuclear weapons of its own, the government should insist that Iran be barred from acquiring nukes. And Germany should focus its attention on terror, incitement, and the Palestinian Authority’s consistent refusal to negotiate as the biggest obstacles to peace — not Israeli settlements.
Germany’s “reason of state” ethos demands that it take these proactive measures and embrace its historic role as Israel’s principal ally in Europe. With anti-Israel sentiment increasingly morphing into antisemitism, the urgency in rebuking anti-Israel activity — at the UN, within the EU, and among the German public — is greater than ever. Germany’s new government should infuse the German-Israeli relationship with new purpose and vitality. Seventy-six years after the Holocaust, history, and the future, demand it.
The Algemeiner included B'nai B'rith International's praise, along with other Jewish organizations, of Germany's decision to boycott the United Nations' event marking the 20th anniversary of its World Conference Against Racism.
Major Jewish groups applauded Germany’s decision to boycott the event marking the 20th anniversary of the UN’s World Conference Against Racism to be held in Durban, South Africa.
First held in 2001, the conference has become notorious for serving as a forum for antisemitic materials and virulent anti-Israel activism.
This year’s 20th anniversary event is already being boycotted by the United States, Israel, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Austria, Canada, Australia, and the Czech Republic.
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said Saturday, “Germany has again asserted leadership in the global fight against antisemitism,” adding that the country “laudably recognized the discredited nature of the original conference, held in Durban, South Africa. We hope other nations will follow suit.”
“Confronting true racism around the world is a noble cause, but singling out one country, Israel, and one group of people, Jews, for continual censure is grossly unjust, and undermines the global fight against antisemitism and other forms of bigotry and hatred,” Harris added.
B’nai B’rith International tweeted, “We welcome the news that #Germany will not participate in @UN commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Durban conference, which was overtaken by anti-Jewish, anti-Israel bigotry.”
“All democracies must do similarly,” the group said.
Swissinfo.ch (SWI) shared an op-ed by B'nai B'rith International Geneva Representative Anita Winter about remembering Kristallnacht and her family's personal history during the Holocaust.
Kristallnacht - what a creation of a word. Broken windows become sparkling stones that glitter in the night. Reichskristallnacht. What a masterpiece of propaganda. In the collective memory of the National Socialists, the night of November 9, 1938, was to be associated with something beautiful, something to be celebrated.
My father was a witness
In fact, many people were in an exuberant mood at the time. When my father walked alone through the streets of Berlin on the morning of November 10, 1938, he saw not only the destruction of the previous night, but also how the SA soldiers (from the Nazi paramilitary wing), women and men, young people and children continued to rage happily. No one intervened.
My father was 16 years old when he understood that being a Jew meant that he had to leave Germany as soon as possible. Because the broken glass scattered everywhere could only be a harbinger of much worse things to come.
How right he was – that night was the first step on the path to the Final Solution. What he had seen with his own eyes in Berlin had happened all over Germany. Everywhere the SA had destroyed and looted Jewish shops, burned down synagogues, abused Jews, murdered hundreds and deported thousands to concentration camps.
The last witnesses of the Shoah
My father, Walter Strauss, used to tell me, my siblings and his grandchildren, even at a very old age, again and again about that night, this orchestrated outbreak of violence. But he would also talk about the period that preceded it, when the Jews had been increasingly marginalised.
Even the Iron Cross, which his father had been awarded during the First World War, was of no help to the family. Jewish families were integrated in society but found themselves outside of it within a very short time.
Back then my father was still a pupil in Heilbronn but he was not allowed to study for the only reason that he was a Jew. And so he came alone to Berlin to do an apprenticeship with a tailor. Here, he witnessed the night of November 9, 1938 – alone, hidden behind a cupboard, filled with fear and horror. From here he fled alone via detours to Switzerland. Only because of this he escaped the Shoah.
After the Second World War, many believed that the Holocaust – the murder of six million Jews – would mean the end of anti-Semitism. My father was much more pessimistic. He did not believe that people had really learned from this break in civilization.
In his old age he witnessed anti-Semitism flaring up again. That is how he, my beloved father, Walter Strauss, died – warning us, the next generation. And that is also how the remaining witnesses of the Holocaust will die.
Memory against forgetting
Reichskristallnacht – the crystals stand for the cynical cold and the frosty ice in which the faces of all those who have participated or remained silent are reflected.
Reichskristallnacht – Reichspogromnacht, the Night of the Pogrom. What we ultimately call this night is irrelevant, as long as we understand what happened that night: that the broken glass was only the prelude to extermination. Today we know it and we can fight it, as long as we keep the memory of November 9 alive. It is about the importance of never forgetting, never remaining silent, and never being indifferent.
Neue Zürcher Zeitung shared an op-ed by B'nai B'rith International Geneva Representative Anita Winter about remembering Kristallnacht and her family's personal history during the Holocaust.
In dieser Nacht vom 9. auf den 10. November 1938 brennen in Deutschland die Synagogen, von Berlin bis Hamburg werden jüdische Geschäfte zerstört und geplündert, die Friedhöfe geschändet und die Juden zu Tausenden verschleppt – mindestens 400 Juden werden ermordet oder sterben an den Haftfolgen. Es ist keine «Kristallnacht», wie die Nationalsozialisten die Ereignisse fortan beschönigend nennen, sondern eine Pogromnacht.
«Stürmischer Beifall. Alles saust gleich an die Telefone. Nun wird das Volk handeln.» Diese Sätze, niedergeschrieben von Joseph Goebbels, belegen die organisierte Gewalt, die bei Polizei und Partei ihren Anfang nahm und die Bevölkerung mit einschloss. Es zeigte sich hier der sich anbahnende Zivilisationsbruch: Die Pogromnacht markiert den Übergang von der Diskriminierung der Juden zu ihrer systematischen Vernichtung. Der 9. November 1938 hat darum zu Recht eine besondere Bedeutung im kollektiven Gedächtnis: So wird in Deutschland und anderswo in jedem Jahr an diese Schreckensnacht erinnert. Zeitzeuginnen und Zeitzeugen bündeln noch einmal ihre Kräfte, treten an Veranstaltungen oder in Schulen auf, um nochmals Zeugnis abzulegen. Um den jungen Menschen zu berichten, wozu Menschen fähig sind, wenn die Saat von Intoleranz und Hass aufgeht.
Wo die Zeitzeugen verstummen
2020 ist alles anders. Es ist nicht allein die Corona-Pandemie, welche die Begegnung zwischen den betagten Opfern und der nächsten Generation verunmöglicht. Die Zeit lässt die Stimmen allmählich verstummen. Es werden immer weniger, die über die Reichspogromnacht und den Holocaust erzählen können.
Mit Walter Strauss ist einer dieser Zeitzeugen im letzten Jahr verstorben. «Wir wurden gedemütigt und gepeinigt: In Berlin wurde die antisemitische Hetze immer penetranter», hat sich Strauss wenige Monate vor seinem Tod in einem Gespräch mit der NZZ erinnert. Geboren wurde der Sohn eines Arztes 1922 im deutschen Heilbronn. Der Vater war im Ersten Weltkrieg mit dem Eisernen Kreuz ausgezeichnet worden, seine Mutter stammte aus dem aargauischen Baden, verlor aber bei der Heirat ihre Schweizer Staatsbürgerschaft. Nach Hitlers Machtergreifung im Jahre 1933 verschlechterten sich die Lebensumstände der jüdischen Familie rasch: Die Eltern flohen nach Liechtenstein, und Walter begann in Berlin eine Lehre als Schneider, weil ihm eine akademische Ausbildung verboten war.
Walter Strauss fuhr am Morgen des 10. Novembers allein als 16-jähriger Junge mit der Strassenbahn durch Berlin und beobachtete fassungslos das Ausmass der Zerstörung. An seinem Arbeitsplatz in der Nähe des Alexanderplatzes stand der Betrieb still. Fast alle Angestellten der jüdischen Textilfabrik waren geflohen oder von den Nazis verschleppt worden. «Während ein jüdisches Porzellangeschäft kurz und klein geschlagen wurde, herrschte eine geradezu ausgelassene und fröhliche Stimmung im Volk. Die Polizisten standen zwar herum, machten aber keine Anstalten einzuschreiten», erinnerte sich Strauss. In diesem Moment wurde es dem Jungen klar, dass er so rasch wie möglich das Land verlassen musste. Ihm gelang die Flucht in die Schweiz, und er konnte sich trotz bürokratischen Hürden dank seiner Familie in Baden niederlassen, wo er bis zu seinem Tod lebte.
Wohin Intoleranz führt
Europa erlebte nach dem Krieg eine Zeit der Sicherheit, aber sicher ist nichts, davon war Walter Strauss überzeugt. Kurz vor seinem Tod sagte er im Interview: «Ich glaube nicht, dass die Menschen aus der Geschichte lernen und gescheiter werden. Ich bin Realist. Der Weg von der Zivilisation zur Barbarei ist kurz.»
Wie gehen wir mit dieser Vergangenheit um? Die Schrecken der Pogromnacht sind dank den Berichten von Zeitzeugen dokumentiert. Aber damit ist es nicht getan. Ohne die direkte Begegnung mit den Menschen, die den Holocaust überlebt haben, braucht es neue Formen des Erzählens und Lehrens, um die Erinnerung an den Holocaust auch bei der nächsten Generation wachzuhalten. Wir müssen aufzeigen, wohin Intoleranz, Fremdenfeindlichkeit und Antisemitismus führen. Wir müssen aufzeigen, was Menschlichkeit bedeutet. Wir müssen beweisen, dass wir dem Hass etwas entgegenstellen können. Dies ist unsere Aufgabe, dies ist unsere Verpflichtung gegenüber den letzten Zeitzeugen. Dies muss unser Versprechen sein. Denn, wie Walter Strauss sich ausdrückte: «Wir müssen wachsam bleiben. So etwas darf nie mehr geschehen.»
The Jerusalem Post quoted B'nai B'rith International President's Charles O. Kaufman's letter decrying the actions of the Jewish Museum Berlin's Director Peter Schäfer in its coverage of Schäfer's resignation from his post.
The director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum, Peter Schäfer, announced his resignation on Friday “to avoid further damage,” a week after The Jerusalem Post first reported that the institution endorsed the BDS campaign on the museum’s Twitter feed.
“All those responsible must help ensure that the Jewish Museum Berlin can again concentrate on its important work in terms of content,” German Culture Minister Monika Grütters, who oversees the board of the museum foundation, said on Friday. Schäfer’s deputy, Martin Michaelis, will assume responsibility for running the museum until a successor can be hired.
Pressure to remove Schäfer grew over the past week, and experts in the field of antisemitism told the Post that they implored Grütters to take action against Schäfer and the antisemitism scandals at the museum.
“What’s crucial now is for the museum to identify leadership that commits to professionalism and the truth of sharing the long and rich Jewish life of Germany,” B’nai B’rith International president Charles O. Kaufman, who sent a letter last week to Schäfer about the museum’s anti-Israel direction, told the Post on Friday. “This museum must earn the name Jewish Museum, and in doing so, earn the trust of the country, Europe and all visitors from around the world. It must not immerse itself in politicizing history, stooping to propaganda, and worse, revisionism.”
British journalist Tom Gross was invited to tour the museum by Schäfer’s office last year and expressed his dismay afterward at some of the anti-Israel political aspects he saw.
“The important thing now, since the museum is currently replacing its permanent exhibit, due to reopen next year, is to make sure Schäfer’s replacement is someone who is more interested in remembering the enormous contributions of Berlin’s Jews to German and world history, and in accurately explaining the sheer sadistic horrors of the Holocaust, rather than engage in anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, extreme left-wing posturing,” Gross told the Post.
Katharina Schmidt-Narischkin, spokeswoman for the museum, was summarily dismissed, according to a Munich-based media outlet. The paper reported that she had written the anti-Israel tweet.
The Post asked Schmidt-Narischkin numerous times last week for a comment, but she declined to respond. The museum is widely considered a hot-bed of anti-Israel resentments.
“Enough is enough,” said Dr. Josef Schuster, president of the nearly 100,000-member Central Council of Jews in Germany. “The Jewish Museum Berlin seems to be completely out of control. Under these circumstances, one has to think about whether the term ‘Jewish’ is still appropriate.”
His comments came after the museum tweeted an article from a left-wing Berlin-based paper calling on the Bundestag to reverse its anti-BDS resolution, which classified BDS as antisemitism.
The council added that the museum’s management “has lost the trust of the Jewish community in Germany.”
Schuster said on Friday that Schäfer’s decision to toss in the towel was “an important step.”
Schäfer has been facing criticism over the years for promoting a one-sided exhibit on Jerusalem that plays down the role of Jews in the city, according to critics. In March, Schäfer invited the antisemitic Iranian regime diplomat Seyed Ali Moujani to the museum. Ali Moujani used the meeting to promote the view that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. Schäfer regretted the interaction last week, but in March he welcomed the anti-Israel tirade against the Jewish state.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, first coined the phrase the “anti-Jewish Museum” in 2012 in connection with the institution hosting the pro-BDS academic Judith Butler, who promoted BDS at the museum in 2012, after having expressed support for the terrorist entities Hezbollah and Hamas in 2006.
“Understanding Hamas/Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important,” said Butler at the time.
The arrival of Elie and Marion Wiesel was greeted with explosive applause by the German consular staff. Wiesel was led to the podium next to a window overlooking a breathtaking sunlit view of Manhattan with St. Patrick’s Cathedral nearby.
Touting the presentation of the medal as “a humble gesture of my country showing gratitude for your lifetime achievements and relentless efforts to keep the memory alive of the worst crime in all of history—the Shoah– against the Jewish people,” minister Steinmeier declared: “With this order of Merit we want to honor the writer, the philanthropist, historian, professor, the outstanding Mentsch that you are!” During the presentation Marion Wiesel never took her eyes off Elie.
“Thank you for your words of kindness,” responded a contemplative Wiesel. “To receive a medal of recognition from Germany is not a normal thing in my life,” he said softly.
“The past is here. The past is not absent from the present. We remember things that happened two thousand years ago as if they happened yesterday. Every day in our prayers we remember the good, we remember the bad. The choice, is always ours — ultimately.”
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