Niebel’s comments on Israel draw fire from German Jews

Minister had called blockade "evidence of unspoken fear."

IDF soldiers at Gaza border 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
IDF soldiers at Gaza border 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
BERLIN – Stephan J. Kramer, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, sharply criticized on Sunday Germany’s federal minister of economic cooperation and development, Dirk Niebel, for exacerbating the issue of Israel’s denying him entry into Gaza.
Niebel had said the blockade of the Gaza Strip “is not a sign of strength, but rather evidence of unspoken fear.” This is “the last chance” for Israel, he said.
Kramer told the Neue Ruhr/Neue Rhein newspaper that Niebel’s statements and posture toward the Israeli security situation are “childish and cynical, given the Israeli victims in Sderot and elsewhere from missile attacks from the Gaza Strip.”
Writing in the daily Die Welt on Monday, foreign affairs commentator Clemens Wergin noted, “Apparently the minister has learned from his former party colleague, Jürgen Möllemann, that it’s possible to get into the headlines with even minor teasers on slow-news weekends. In fact, Niebel was able to present himself on [on the television news show] heute journal as a humanitarian fighter for justice and to score points with the Israel-skeptical German population, which would hardly have noticed the minister’s trip without this staged scandal.”
Jürgen Möllemann died in what appeared to be a skydiving suicide in 2003. His mass-mailing of election flyers bashing former prime minister Ariel Sharon caused a political nadir between the Free Democrats, Niebel’s party, and Israel during the 2002 Federal election.
Möllemann’s campaign strategy was widely viewed as the first public use of anti-Semitism to win over voters since the Hitler movement. The Free Democrats have made efforts to rid their party of hardcore anti-Israeli sentiments since Möllemann.
Niebel is vice president of the German-Israeli friendship society, and told the Post in 2008 that he supports a ban of Hizbullah, which remains a legal political organization in Germany and has 900 active members.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday there is “no strain” in the “close and very trusted” relationship with Israel. However, she and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle supported Niebel’s decision to travel to Gaza.
Niebel’s recent statements resonated with the liberal daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, which noted in an editorial on Monday that Israel’s decision to deny Niebel entry to Gaza is “an imperially arbitrary act of an empire.”