German is spoken here

It's not what you say, or in what language you say it that counts. It's what you do that matters.

By
March 24, 2008 19:20
German is spoken here

Merkel 248.88. (photo credit: AP [file])

I have never been to Germany. I have been invited on a few occasions but each time it was to promote some kind of tourism project. Somehow I just can't imagine ever putting pen to paper - or finger to keyboard - and actually suggesting that Jerusalem Post readers should travel to Bavaria for the scenery, beer or skiing or whatever, no matter how wonderful I understand them to be. I'm sure that any trip to German soil would be unforgettable. The Jewish relationship with Germany will forever be about remembering, after all. But if I am to pack a suitcase and travel to Deutschland - dragging all the emotional baggage that that entails - it would have to be for a more principled reason than a free trip. And that is why I salute German Chancellor Angela Merkel for traveling to Jerusalem, holding a joint cabinet meeting with the Israeli government and standing at the Knesset podium and committing to back Israel on the Iranian issue. I don't boycott Germany or German products. Like others in my family, Wagner's Tristan and Isolde can transport me to a different sphere and I resent the way the "Ride of the Valkyries" has been hijacked by various movies in such a way that it is difficult to hear it with any degree of pleasure any more. I even studied German in school, admittedly more by default than desire. I was given the choice between two more years of Latin or learning modern German. Having already spent two years declining Latin nouns it was easy to decline learning more of the dead language even if German history and Kultur were not appealing. Heaven knows, the Romans' record in this part of the world was far from perfect. But German grammar, it turns out, is even worse than that of the ancient Romans, shooting verbs to the end of sentences for no good reason this London-born lass could think of and complicating the gender issue with a neuter. To this day I think there is something odd about a society in which the word for young woman - Mädchen - is not feminine. THE DISCUSSIONS about whether Merkel should have been allowed to address the Knesset in German, however, sounded hollow. Sensitivities are obviously high - although she's not the first German leader to address the Knesset in her native tongue. I understand that there are Holocaust survivors who still tremble at the harsh sounds of the guttural language. And I lower the volume when playing Wagner, however sweet the tones. But to me the fact that she was willing to say what she did in a language that her electorate could understand was important. Her message was not aimed only at Israelis. Europe also needs to hear what she said. In my subjective opinion, it's hard to make German sound nice. However, it's not the language that is at fault. After all, there is a wealth of literature and philosophy in German that has made the world richer. And Theodor Herzl himself used German to set out his plans for a Jewish homeland in a book entitled Der Judenstaat. That Angela Merkel and members of her cabinet made the official trip to Jerusalem to honor Israel's 60th anniversary was praiseworthy. It was also symbolic. The week after the Anschluss with Austria was commemorated and a few days ahead of Purim, there could be no greater statement of Israel's existence and Jewish survival than such a visit. No matter what language it was made in. And boldly Merkel, in the country for the third time, did her best at speaking a few sentences in Hebrew, which does not exactly trip off a Teutonic tongue. My schoolgirl German largely forgotten, I had to rely on the translation of the speech. It made it sound so much better. All the words, including verbs, in the right spot: "Especially in this place, I emphasize: Every German government and every chancellor before me was committed to the special responsibility Germany has for Israel's security," Merkel declared. "If Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons, it would have disastrous consequences... We have to prevent this." And she added that it was not up to the international community to prove that Teheran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program, but rather for Iran to prove that it was not. She also stressed during her visit that her government would do everything possible to secure the release of Gilad Schalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the three IDF soldiers abducted in 2006 by Hamas and Hizbullah. The chancellor expressed support for a two-state solution to "der Konflikt," but wisely noted that Israel does not need unsolicited advice from outsiders. I COULDN'T follow what the German press made of the visit but it is hard to imagine that this was a particularly popular move - especially since a week ago it was reported that according to Dr. Benedikt Haller, the German Foreign Ministry official who serves as special representative for relations with Jewish organizations, German youth are experiencing "Holocaust fatigue." And certainly the rest of the world has little problem applying the pejorative "Nazi" to Israel and its policies. Even Arab MKs have used the term with no apparent irony, although one of the biggest Israel bashers - MK Ahmed Tibi - serves as a deputy Knesset Speaker. Nazi Germany didn't allow the Jews to live, let alone serve in the parliament, petition the Supreme Court, receive free medical treatment and education and so on. There can be no comparison. And it is in this light that Merkel's trip should be viewed. The visit with such a large and high-level entourage was about the future, even though we can never forget the past. This was no pleasure trip for Merkel. She was made to feel welcome but her discomfort was obvious, particularly during her tour of Yad Vashem. She has taken a giant step in the right direction and said all the right words - even if you want to argue about which language she should have said them in. Now, for all our sakes, she needs to follow them up with deeds. Having stood up in the Knesset and received a standing ovation, Merkel needs to take a stand at home and stick by the promise to get tough with Iran, no matter what business interests are involved in Germany; no matter what financial ties neighboring Switzerland might be fostering with Teheran. Just listen to what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is saying and hear history's warning. A nuclear holocaust, after all, threatens more than the Jewish state.


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