Israeli Navy Dolphin-class submarine 390 (R).
Dolphins are a unique species. Their intelligence, their playfulness, their
friendly smiles – the mere sight of them warms our hearts.
So much so, in
fact, that they have been used to treat medical conditions such as autism and
blindness for many years.
No wonder, then, that Dolphins – albeit a
different kind, with a different set of skills – now might play a role in
treating a socio-political version of autism and blindness. The kind that has
been growing in the heart of German-Israel relations and is now in urgent need
Only a nominal relative of the real angels of the sea, the
Type 800 Dolphin class refers to a German-made submarine, developed for the
Israeli Navy, the sixth of which was sold to Israel last March. A deal signed by
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his German counterpart, Thomas de Maizière,
includes German funding for one-third of the costs of the vessels. With de
Maizière’s signature, the German government demonstrated that Chancellor Angela
Merkel’s historic commitment to Israel’s security in her 2008 Knesset speech was
more than a symbolic gesture.
Beyond this strategic milestone, there has
been a growing trend of political warmth and fruitful exchange between the two
countries over the past decade. The term “normalization” appears in most
official speeches and the term “friendship” is ingrained in the German-Israeli
political vocabulary like “change” in US President Barack Obama’s.
where is the socio-political autism and blindness? While the political relations
between Merkel’s and Netanyahu’s governments are positive and strong – enough so
to withstand occasional tensions – the problem lies in the German
Autism and blindness describe how this problem is treated by
those who have the means to change it – those with political leadership. Many
debates, commissions and slogans but little creativity, strategy or
Back to the street: According to a recent Stern survey, 59
percent of Germans view Israel as aggressive, 57% believe Israel is leading a
war of extinction against the Palestinians and only 21% think Israel respects
human rights. The trend is increasingly negative.
Along with these and
other shocking figures on the perception of Israel in Germany came a wave of
theories by Israeli publicists and bloggers; some say it’s a new form of
anti-Semitism while others claim “It’s the settlements, stupid,” as Carlo
Strenger titled a recent Haaretz op-ed.
It’s stupid, but it’s not the
settlements. Nor is it anti- Semitism alone.
Many Germans criticize
Israel’s settlement policy and still are outside these statistics. They base
their criticism on factual – if disputable – opinions. They raise the
settlements finger while remembering the context in which they emerged. They
know settlements are reversible – as Ariel Sharon proved in 2005 – while
Palestinian Authority-sponsored incitement of Palestinian children against
Israel and Jews isn’t. Last but not least, they do not obsess about criticizing
Israel: they are neither blind nor deaf to facts that contradict their views or
to world events that take place outside Israel.
Who is? Take, for
example, the mayor of Jena, a picturesque university town in eastern Germany;
Three days after the Houla massacre, in which 108 civilians, including 30
children, were butchered by the Syrian regime, he threw his public weight behind
a boycott- Israel campaign set in scene by the Catholic organization Pax Christi
at a local supermarket. The sacred cause: to prevent innocent German citizens
from committing a crime against humanity by buying nonlabeled bananas from the
West Bank. To be on the morally safe side, they shouldn’t buy from the Jewish
state at all. A heroic quest for peace, while the mutilated corpses of Houla
were still warm.
Underlying these trends is a cocktail of issues that
will require an army of Dolphins to treat. A selective urge for political
activism, blown out of proportion by the extremely complex historical context
within which Germans relate to Israel and Jews; a mixture of (secondary)
guilt-complexes, flawed – if any – historic education; and frustration with the
perceived perpetrator stigma, to name a few. Agents of socialization hardly
provide adequate impulses to cope with these difficulties.
omit Israel-related subjects, afraid to anger Muslim students. Many clumsily
teach the Holocaust, afraid to bore their students.
Add to this a lack of
objective information about Israel, its policies and people – an information
vacuum that has been filled with subtle or blunt incitement by major media
outlets and NGOs. This, of course, is not the sole responsibility of the German
leadership. A more professional, proactive and fine-tuned information policy by
Israel would come in handy.
Sound waves don’t spread in a vacuum as as we
learned in intro to physics, but sound bites do – and these are proactively
produced and distributed by those who thrive on their resentment of Israel and
those providing juicy anti-Israel propaganda, including the well-oiled machinery
within the Arab world.
When incitement precedes balanced information
about Israel’s policies, when the receiver of such information has “issues”
coping with Germany’s history in a healthy way, propaganda meets fertile
Very fertile. Feeling the anti-Israel breeze in his homeland and
the calling only a former-SS-memberturned- radical-leftist can feel, Nobel Prize
winner Günter Grass recently provided those “resenters” with a seal of
legitimacy by publishing a masterpiece of incitement against Israel and
German-Israeli relations that shows the deadly cocktail in action.
op-ed alias poem, Grass “unmasks” Israel, rather than Iran’s ayatollah regime,
as the world’s greatest threat and blames Germany for helping Israel wipe out
the Iranian people by providing submarines.
Ergo, he cries out to prevent
Israel from becoming the inhumane perpetrator Germany once was. Following an
international tsunami of publications debating the poem, the Grass affair is
over. The genie it unleashed, however, has just begun its work.
previously made Israel/Third Reich comparisons in silent subtexts, who whispered
that Israel exploits Auschwitz, now more than ever feel the duty to save the
world from Israel’s “aggressions.”
This new anti-Israel public discourse
in Germany ignores geo-political and historic facts. It recycles leftist slogans
from the past, flips upside-down the threat constellations in the Middle East
and engages in secondary anti-Semitism, applying Holocaust vocabulary and
scenarios to Israel’s politics.
Last week’s cover story in Der Spiegel on
the German- Israeli submarine deal shows that the Grass genie has borne fruit.
The Dolphin’s capacity to carry nuclear warheads was dramaturgically presented
as the pantheon of secrecy, although it has been publicly discussed for years.
Why risk losing the reputation of serious journalism? Because sensationalism
As does the authors’ pseudo-morality: “Is Germany, the country of
perpetrators, allowed to help Israel, the country of victims, in establishing a
nuclear weapons force which can be used to extinguish hundreds of thousands of
human lives?” The subtext is clear: Israel plans to wipe out the Iranian people
and is thus equivalent to the Third Reich. The second message: Israel should
give up on its capacity to defend its existence, for the sake of Germany’s moral
How well this version of reality resonates with its readers was
proudly displayed in the next edition, in which a selection of letters to the
editor included the following statements: “I am ashamed to be governed by people
who let themselves be blackmailed by Israel” and “whoever arms submarines with
nuclear weapons plans on launching them. This way we come closer to the truth
and to Grass.” Proportionate to the above statistics and the magazine’s quest
for a quota, nine of the letters published bought into the Grass narrative while
three were friendly toward Israel.
So the Dolphins are a wake-up call. An
opportunity for the government to back its friendship with Israel with a
strategy equipped to reverse the current trend. A trend that endangers not only
the future of German- Israel relations, but also Germany’s socio-political
Beyond the “special responsibility” aspect of the Dolphin deal,
which doesn’t interest the man in the street, Germans must understand that the
ayatollahs’ ballistic missiles can reach Europe. That Ahmadinejad’s and radical
Islam’s intentions toward Israel are intentions toward the West, including
Germany. That the friendship with Israel is based on strategic interests, shared
values of freedom and democracy, and not on guilt.
leaders, in cooperation with their Israeli counterparts and the Jewish
communities in Germany, should develop a creative strategy focusing on the
education of the young generation in an era in which Facebook suppresses history
books, and inaccurate sound bites travel at the speed of light. If educating
young people about Germany’s relations with Israel is left to people like Günter
Grass or Jena’s mayor, if this vacuum is not filled with competent information
about the reality and values behind the building of this bond, Stern had better
not publish next year’s survey results – out of courtesy to survivors and the
healthy remnants of the street.
The writer is a political communications
and strategy consultant in Israel and Germany. She is the winner of Israel’s
2006 The Ambassador competition.