“Jews sell news” in Germany. With those words, an Israeli journalist colleague explained the cynically voracious appetite of many German-language media outlets for Jewish and Israel-based topics at a podium discussion on the media in Germany we both attended a number of years ago.Last week’s Der Spiegel cover story “Operation Samson” rekindled the podium discussion in the southwestern city of Stuttgart, and the—at times—rather absurdly obsessive preoccupation with the Jewish state.
The Der Spiegel magazine story about Germany manufacturing submarines for Israel’s navy that can be equipped with nuclear weapons turned out to be the non-scoop of the year. Veteran journalists have long written about the Dolphin submarine capability to launch nuclear warheads. Writing in the Jungle World, Ivo Bozic, noted there is “nothing new” in the Spiegel article. Bozic’s view seemed to be the consensus assessment among seasoned analysts of German-Israeli relations.
Gil Yaron, an Israeli journalist who is fluent in German, wrote a detailed article in the weekly German Jewish newspaper (JüdischeAllgemeineZeitung) chronicling why the Spiegel piece contained no new revelations. He added that the Israeli media was largely indifferent to the story. In short, the fact that the IDF can arm its submarines with nuclear weaponry is nothing new under the sun for Israelis.
The popular pro-Israel German Blogger Lizas Welt tweeted that the “Der Spiegel must have right now a real problem with circulation “
That perhaps explains the hype of the lukewarm non-scoop. Moreover, following the logic of Lizas Welt, the publication of the pro-Iranian and anti-Israel Günter Grass poem in the SüddeutscheZeitung in April probably influenced Der Spiegel to capitalize on the sensation of the Grass lyric and boost its shrinking circulation.
Similarly, last year, Der Spiegel used a bizarre cover picture and sensational rhetoricin their article, “Israel’s secret killer commandos: David’s avengers” to describe Israel’s assassinations of radical terrorists.
Although segments of the German media whip up hyperbolic criticism of Israel, there is a sizable rift between the mainstream democratic German parties and many news outlets. After all, the German social democratic and the Green party coalition government approved in 2005 the delivery of a Dolphin submarine deal to Israel. The Merkel administration carried forward the German-Israeli military tradition of the left of center parties (as well as the Christian Democratic Union and Free Democratic liberals).
My take is the robust discussion about Germany’s commitment to Israel’s security is an encouraging sign. The lively debate forces lines to be drawn in the sand about the definition and implementation of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s rhetoric, particularly in terms of Iran’s jingoistic clerical regime and its burning desire to build nuclear arms to destabilize the Mideast.Rewind to 2008 in the Israel’s Knesset. Chancellor Merkel said, “For me as German Chancellor, therefore, Israel''s security will never be open to negotiation. And that being the case, we must do more than pay lip-service to this commitment at this critical point.”
Fast forward to last week’s mass circulation German Bild interview with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: “I take her commitment to Israel very seriously. There is a commitment to Israel’s security that is exemplified by the recent sale of another German submarine, an important adjunct to our national security, so I believe this is all real and tangible.”There is cause for optimism. According to a March article in the conservative Frankfurter AllgemeineZeitung, also known as the FAZ, Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak convinced the Germans to fulfill aspects of their pledge to champion Israel''s security. The FAZ piece reported that the Merkel administration will "immediately" support Israel and provide rocket-defense systems and specialized personnel if requested by Israel in order to bolster its defenses during a conflict with the Iranian Islamic Republic.
The real litmus test, however, for a mature German foreign policy would be to follow the lead of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and place the military option on the table to compel the Islamic Republic to abandon its nuclear weapons work.
In part two of the Bild interview, Mr. Netanyahu said, “Israel in many ways is the beginning of Europe and the forces of militant Islam that are crashing against us are ultimately directed against you.” Will Germany internalize the message that Iran is the greatest threat to Europe in particular and international security in general?