Understanding Germany’s ties with the Jewish state

Interview with Munich-born Israel expert reveals a complex web of relations.

MELODY SUCHAREWICZ (photo credit: Metin Cherasi)
(photo credit: Metin Cherasi)
BERLIN – Melody Sucharewicz, who has earned a reputation as the voice of public diplomacy for Israel in the Federal Republic, spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Saturday.
Sucharewicz, a communication and strategy consultant with a focus on political public relations, was born in Munich in 1980 and made aliya as a 19- year-old. She earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and sociology, and a master’s in management, both from Tel Aviv University.
In 2006, she won the second season of Channel 2’s HaShagrir (“The Ambassador”) competition, picked as the most promising potential diplomat by the show’s panel of judges, who chose her for a year of overseas Israel advocacy.
How would you characterize the state of German- Israeli relations?
Too important for both sides to become even an inch less close, less solidaristic. They emerged in a highly complex context and demand careful maintenance, mutual understanding and a large dose of goodwill to overcome “difficult times.” Germany’s dispatch of a negotiator to help free Gilad Schalit is a powerful symbol for German-Israeli relations.
Germany remains Iran’s No. 1 EU economic trade partner, and the Bundestag recently invited a delegation of Iranian lawmakers to Berlin. What more can Germany do to apply pressure on Iran to end its nuclear program and stop the repression of its pro-democracy movement?
Germany should immediately end all economic ties with a regime that only last week Tony Blair described as the “West’s No. 1 threat,” just as lawmakers of this irrational, Holocaust-denying dictator regime should by no means be hosted by the Bundestag.
As an economic and political leader in the EU, and considering its [current non-permanent] seat in the Security Council, Germany should use its strategic weight to boost the Iranian freedom movement.
Libya and Syria, as well as Iran in 2009, have been brutal showcases of the toll it takes to fight a regime that doesn’t shy away from terrorizing its people.
Now is the time to put every possible effort into helping the Iranian people free themselves from their oppressive ayatollah cage, while surviving to experience “the day after.”
Last year, Bundestag deputies from all parties unanimously condemned Israel’s seizure of the Mavi Marmara Turkish vessel seeking to break the naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza. The UN Palmer Report vindicated Israel’s blockade as legal. How should Germany’s Bundestag react to the Palmer Report?
The Palmer Report provides an opportunity to at least symbolically alleviate this political error. More than the resolution’s content and language, which were not so unbalanced, it was the very proposal of a Bundestag resolution that singles out Israel, as well as the parliamentarians’ collective, public pride in unanimously passing it – that were worrying.
Remember that in 2008, the parliamentarians could not reach consensus on a resolution condemning China’s policies on Tibet.
I am optimistic that the Flotilla Resolution was a onetime lapse, rather than the beginning of a political trend.
The Merkel administration opposes the PLO’s unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) drive at the UN. What more can Germany do within a divided EU?
[Chancellor] Angela Merkel was remarkably quick and firm in her opposition to the UDI – already last April she stated, “It is not certain that unilateral recognition will contribute to promoting peace.” Today, she clearly opposes the UDI adventure, understanding the dangerous potential of unilateralism at the expense of direct negotiations between the PA and Israel on the many complex issues to be settled.
While most EU governments have understood by now that the PA still lacks an action plan to turn “Palestine” from a UNsound bite into a functioning state (questions about border control, currency, water supply, terror prevention, not to speak about the Hamas-Fatah rift – still remain unanswered), and that chaos and violence are likely to erupt “the day after” if not before, some still insist on voting in favor.
France’s special envoy to the Middle East, Valerie Hoffenberg, was fired only few days ago for expressing her opposition to UDI – a worrisome signal for President Sarkozy’s intentions. This is the time for Germany to share its legitimate worries about the escalation and the painfully long delay of peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians this could imply, and to try to convince its allies to follow suit.
The Social Democratic Party and its leaders Frank- Walter Steinmeier and Andrea Nahles are pushing a Bundestag resolution to force Chancellor Merkel to recognize an independent Palestinian state at the UN. How do you explain the Social Democrats’ preoccupation with Israel? And are the Social Democrats endangering the so-called German-Israel special relationship?
There still is quite a difference between Nahles and Steinmeier – Nahles has only recently been described as over-eager, very leftist. Nahles is driven by ideology.
Steinmeier holds a pragmatic position vis-a-vis Israel.
Only last summer he criticized Development Minister Dirk Niebel for his Israel-criticism.
The pro- and contra elements within the SPD seem to balance out each other, but of course, the more leftist, the more anti-Israel, with anti-capitalist, anti-American and pro- Palestinian resentments shaping political views more than geo-political, historical and moral facts.
According to a recent academic survey, 47.7 percent of the German population believe that Israel is waging a war of extermination against the Palestinians. How do you explain this percentage?
This is mainly due to the picture of Israel most German media reports draw – some more subtly, some more bluntly. There is usually little context information and lots of distortion.
If your sole source of information about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict is the mainstream media in Germany (just as in the UK or France), feeling antagonism against Israel is almost inevitable. Add to this the complex feelings many Germans have towards Israel for the obvious reasons – some willingly adopt the image of Israel as a pariah, rather than as victim.
Some, a minority, are driven by anti-Semitism and see evil in everything Israel does.
Another problem is the accumulated deficit in Israel’s political PR. Israel is a country of brilliant, creative communicators, technologically and culturally. Unfortunately, this capital hasn’t yet sufficiently been channeled towards where it is most needed: the “information war” front.
But in those Germans who have a personal relation with Israel or simply enough common sense to question mainstream media’s tendencies, those who see beyond headlines and understand the immense complexities Israel has been facing while evolving into one of the world’s most dynamic, most modern hi-tech societies, and judge Israel’s policies accordingly – in those Germans, Israel has a crucial mass of precious friends.