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(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
German media's ignoring of IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi's visit to Germany is a sign of the internal contradictions of the so-called German-Israeli "special relationship."
Dr. Alexander Brenner, a former head of the 12,000-member Berlin Jewish community and an ex-diplomat in Israel and the former Soviet Union, expressed disbelief on Tuesday about the feeble German coverage of Ashkenazi.
"Extremely strange" is how Brenner termed the paltry coverage.
That there was scant coverage in the German press on Tuesday after Ashkenazi's robust speech the previous day defending the IDF at the Holocaust memorial located on platform 17 of the Grunewald train station suggests a lack of reception for his core message: "The IDF, the protector of the Jewish nation, is not a warmongering military, but a defensive military," he said.
While Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly stressed that Iran's calls to obliterate Israel are a dire threat to the existence of the Jewish state, many German media outlets write that Iran's statements are empty political rhetoric or the result of faulty translation.
A Forsa Institute poll earlier this year showed that during the IDF's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, roughly 50 percent of Germans considered Israel to be an "aggressive state."
A radical pacifist culture that developed after the defeat of Nazi Germany coupled with anti-Israeli sentiments because of contemporary anti-Semitism plays a role in the failure to understand Israel's security interests. The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung daily devoted a two-page interview in mid-October with a young Israeli who refused to serve in the IDF.
Most of the large left-wing dailies show hardly any interest in examining the compelling need for Israel's military forces. That might help to explain the dearth of coverage regarding Ashkenazi. Jews who flex their military muscles and are prepared to defend themselves are not a terribly attractive topic for many Germans who harbor a post-WWII aversion against the military and stick to a distorted, prejudicial view of Jews as a bunch of bookworms.
According to Israeli diplomats, the most pressing worry is the pooh-poohing of the Iranian threat. A telling example: The high-circulation, left-wing SÃ¼ddeutsche Zeitung newspaper frequently publishes articles from Katajun Amirpur, a German-Iranian writer, who argued in the paper that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not say he plans "to wipe Israel off the map."
Critics of the Iranian regime in Germany such as Nasrin Amirsedghi say that Amirpur and the BÃ¶ll Foundation Iran specialist Bahman Nirumand downplay the Iranian threat toward Israel and the West. Nirumand writes for Die Tageszeitung, and works for the German Green Party-affiliated BÃ¶ll Foundation, which carries currency in shaping public opinion about Iran.
While both Germany and Israel on the governmental level go to great lengths to stress their rock-solid military and political relationship, fault lines have repeatedly surfaced regarding Germany's failure to rein in its booming trade relationship with Iran. Last week, an Israeli diplomat in Berlin issued an indirect rebuke of Germany's refusal to follow Britain's lead and ban trade with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. The Hamburg-based company Leonhardt & Blumberg chartered a ship to the shipping line that carried ammunition allegedly destined for Syria or Hizbullah.
The German-Iranian trade relationship and its impact on Israel's security is relegated to a largely inferior status within German media coverage and the government. And the growing rift between German anti-Israeli public opinion and the Merkel's administration's commitment to the Germany-Israeli special relationship remains a thorny problem for bilateral relations. Dr. Julius Schoeps, a German Jewish historian who head the Moses Mendelssohn Center in Potsdam, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that "Israel is increasingly moving outside of Germany's interests."He cited the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as foreign policy priorities for the German press.