While Germany’s social democratic leader and chancellor hopeful Sigmar Gabriel recently termed Israel an ‘Apartheid regime’ during his visit to Hebron, the Berlin youth chapter of the left-liberal party, Jusos, broke ranks with, according to their comments, the anti-Israeli hostility of the party’s leadership.
The Jusos passed , arguably, the most pro-Israel resolution in the history of the Federal Republic on Sunday at their party conference and their officials have voiced unconditional solidarity with the Jewish state in the major media.
‘If Iran continues to work on a nuclear weapon, we are arguing for a preventive attack,’ said the Berlin Jusos chairman Kevin Kühnert in the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung The roughly 4,000 members of the Berlin Jusos are under the age of 35. The organization serves as both a platform to cultivate future leadership and as an idea factory.
Fabian Weissbarth, the 24-year-old deputy representative of Jusos Berlin, told me on Thursday via telephone, that the resolution serves to jumpstart ‘a discussion within the party’ about support for Israel. When asked why Jusos Berlin launched the resolution, he said there has been a culture of ‘criticizing anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism’ within the youth group. As an example, he cited the Jusos decision in 2006 to defend Israel’s right to counterattack Hezbollah rocket attacks.
In sharp contrast to a kind of naïve pacificism of most of Germany’s political establishment, including the defense and foreign affairs ministers, the Jusos Berlin section has redefined the debate about what constitutes meaningful solidarity with Israel. The decision to retain the military option conforms with the positions of the Dutch, British, US, and Israeli governments.
Bizarrely, the Merkel administration, the only European government to declare Israel’s security interests to be integral to the security of the Federal Republic has a rather large security blind spot on the issue of military intervention in Iran. What should be self-evident for German politicians, namely, the retention of military strikes to force Iran to abandon its illicit nuclear program, is not.
There is a prominent exception. The 32-year-old deputy Philipp Missfelder, who serves as the spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party (CDU) in the Bundestag, understands the need for more sticks than carrots when dealing with Tehran. He told me in early March that ‘It was a mistake in the fall to rule out a military option.’
Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle—a product of pro-business trade policies towards Iran and the ambivalent Israel position of his Free Democratic party—has vehemently rejected, even as a last resort, military strikes to knock out Iran’s nuclear systems.
Missfelder, the federal head of the CDU youth organization (Junge Union), however, noted that ‘Obama was correct in how he handled [relations with Iran]. The military option must remain on the table because, if not, the negotiating strategy will not be taken seriously by Iran.’ The Junge Union has 130,000 members and is considered the largest political youth organization in Europe. As its federal head, Missfelder has breathed new life and fire into practical Israel solidarity in terms of the Iranian threat.
Is there a generation gap unfolding in terms of supporting Israel’s security in Germany? It may be too early to know.
What we do know is this: There has been no shortage of theoretical and abstract support for Israel in Germany. It is rather the concrete, practical support where the gaps—or better put, large holes—exist.
As if to fill these gaps, the most recent Jusos resolution on Israel states, “Our self-concept: Solidarity with Israel, theoretical and practical.” Will Jusos (and the Junge Union) influence a radical change in the behavior of German political and civil society?