Analysis: Can Israel count on Germany at the UN?

Critics charge Berlin engaged with ‘anti-Israel, anti-Semitic forces’ at world body; FM Westerwelle confronted with "new democratic test."

By
August 24, 2011 05:02
German FM Guido Westerwelle and PM Netanyahu.

westerwelle and netanyahu_311. (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)

BERLIN – Germany’s scattered and unpredictable UN policy has placed large question marks over German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s commitment to Israel’s security interests, efforts to combat UN-sponsored anti- Semitism, and advance democracy movements in the Arab world.

Germany faced in March a major democratic litmus test at the UN: Either vote with the leading democracies, the United States, Britain and France, to impose a no-flight zone over Libya or abstain with Russia and China.

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Westerwelle directed Germany’s UN Ambassador Peter Wittig to join forces with the non-democracies.

Westerwelle is now confronted with – it can be argued – a new democratic test.

Will Germany’s diplomats participate in an anti-Israel UN Durban III commemoration conference? The slated Durban III event, which pays tribute to the Durban I political document attacking Israel, will take place on September 22 in New York City.

The first UN anti-racism conference held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 degenerated into a pro-racism and anti- Semitic event, in which participants circulated flyers with Hitler’s photo, which stated “What if I had won? The good things: there would be no Israel.”

Defending Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s decision to walk away from the Durban III event on Tuesday, her spokesman said “We have not been convinced that the high-level meeting will avoid unbalanced criticism of Israel and the airing of anti-Semitic views.”

Australia now is part of the anti-Durban camp, which includes Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Israel, the United States, and the Czech Republic.

What makes Germany’s pro-Durban position so vexing for critics is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s oft-repeated declaration that Israel’s security interests are “non-negotiable” for the Federal Republic.

Germany’s plan to move forward with its participation in Durban III prompted Dieter Graumann, the head of Germany’s 105,000-member Jewish community, to urge Westerwelle on Monday to not take part in this “disgusting show trial.”

Graumann appeared to go public with his frustration and criticism because Westerwelle failed to respond to a letter from Germany’s Central Council of Jews complaining about the Foreign Ministry’s position toward Durban III.

“But Germany has been silent so far,” said Graumann. He called on Westerwelle to not join the “festival of hostility towards Jews,” adding that “Germany must not give this hate campaign the appearance of legitimacy.”

When asked about the letter, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that “Graumann’s letter arrived yesterday and will be immediately answered.”

The Foreign Ministry spokesman reiterated Germany’s position that it will “prevent the Durban process from being used to pillory Israel.” According to critics, that is precisely the built-in mechanism of Durban since its founding in 2001, namely, to pillory Israel.

With Graumann’s public rebuke of Westerwelle, Germany is now immersed in criticism domestically and internationally.

Anne Bayefsky, who is the principal organizer of a counter-Durban III event in New York with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, told the Post on Tuesday “Germany’s behavior on the forthcoming Durban III conference is sending very troubling signals. By remaining fully engaged with the worst anti-Israel and anti-Semitic forces at the UN, this German government is playing with fire.”

Bayefsky, who is director of the Touro College Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, said “It is a far cry from the leadership role in combating anti- Jewish discrimination that ought to be Germany’s trademark.”

Sacha Stawski, who heads the pro- Israel NGO Honestly Concerned in Frankfurt, told the Post on Tuesday that “Australia is out, just like Canada, the Czech Republic, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States, so why is Israel’s supposed ‘best friend’ still vowing to attend a conference at which the holocaust-denying Iranian president is going to be speaking? “For me, there is absolutely no excuse for Germany still not to have withdrawn its participation in Durban III.

Durban I and Durban II proved to be anti-Semitic hate fests. This commemorative year is promising to be no different.”

The rift between Westerwelle’s reported lack of sympathy for the Jewish state and Chancellor Merkel’s pro-Israel reflexes was stressed by Stawski, who is planning Europe’s largest pro-Israel conference in October. An expected 3,000 participants plan to attend the Frankfurt event.

Stawski said, “While German Chancellor Angela Merkel has the reputation of being a ‘true friend for Israel,’ this is the time to put words into action and to prove it. This is the time to tell her Foreign Ministry to act upon her words and promises and to be unmistakable about their condemnation of one-sided attacks against the Jewish State.

“This is the time to bring her Foreign Minister, Westerwelle, who has a controversial history when it comes to condemning and stopping anti-Semitism – even in his inner-circle – in line with Germany’s raison d’etat, to defend Israel’s security.”

In Post interviews with Alex Feuerherdt and Nasrin Amirsedghi, two of three founders of a German initiative started in 2009 to pressure Germany’s then Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to abandon Durban II in Geneva, both criticized Germany’s government for joining an event where Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will speak and garner support from other UN members.

Feuerherdt, a journalist who writes extensively about Israel and the Middle East, termed Germany’s declarations of solidarity toward Israel as “mere lip service.”

He said if Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Westerwelle were serious about support for Israel, the two politicians should have boycotted Durban III long before countries such as the Czech Republic, Italy and the Netherlands pulled out of the UN event.

Amirsedghi, a prominent German- Iranian academic and author, sees a form of “pathology” in Germany’s treatment of Israel and its decision to participate in Durban III. She said German foreign policy supports the “gang of murderers in Iran and Hamas” and at the same time urges Israel to strive for peace.

While German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stated she opposes the Palestinian effort to win recognition as the 194th member of the UN in September, her erratic UN policies may be good cause for Israel to have doubts about whether the Jewish state can count on Germany.


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