German professors: Nazis helped establish Israel

Say Berlin "paid off" debt to Jews, call for German impartiality towards Israel, Arabs.

dov ben meir 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
dov ben meir 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Twenty-five German professors have signed a manifesto published in the Frankfurter Rundschau calling on Germany to stop giving Israel "preferential treatment," because, among other reasons, the country "helped" establish Israel by expelling Jews from Germany during the rule of the Third Reich. Approximately 160,000 Jews who were expelled from Nazi Germany ended up in Mandate-era Palestine and strengthened the Jewish presence here at the expense of the Arab population, they said. Visiting in Israel as guests of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) and the Academic College of Netanya, four professors and co-signatories of the manifesto held a debate Monday with Israeli academics. The debate was initiated by Dov Ben-Meir, one of the heads of the college's Center for Strategic Dialogue. Prof. Moshe Zimmerman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an expert on German history, was also sitting on the Israeli side. The Germans said the Jews who arrived in Palestine expanded the amount of land controlled by Jews from just six percent during the British Mandate to 60% after the War of Independence. Additionally, the Germans said, their country has "paid off" its debt to the Jewish people by reparations it has given the Israeli government and survivors. They admitted that the Holocaust was, nevertheless, an indelible stain on Germany's history. The professors called on the German government to improve its relations with Arab countries by adopting an "even-handed" approach.. Ben-Meir, who published a counter-manifesto, rebuked each of the Germans' claims. First and foremost, unchecked data presented as fact led the Germans to reach conclusions which, Ben-Meir told The Jerusalem Post, were unjustified. For example, regarding the manifesto's statement that 60% of nation's land was controlled by Jews after the War of Independence, Ben-Meir said most of the land in question did not belong to Arabs but was, in fact, unclaimed "state land." Ben-Meir said that due to Israel's recognition of Germany following the Reparations Agreement between the countries, the entire world had come to see the nation as "a different Germany." He said Israel purchased from Germany 10 times more merchandise than what the Germans offered Israel as part of the Reparations Agreement, stressing that these funds should not be construed as "special treatment" and should be considered the "debt of a rogue to his victim." Ben-Meir warned about Germany returning to the "black days" of Hitler if the country stopped its special treatment towards Israel. Prof. Gert Krell, a retired professor of international relations at Frankfurt's Johann Wolfgang Goethe University who specializes in the Middle East conflict, admitted after the panel finished its discussions that the manifesto was "well-meant but not good enough." "We did apologize. We have learned a lot from the discussions and from the criticism - the next publication will not be a manifesto; we may arrange a conference," he told the Post. But Krell added that there "have been follow-up studies already, which corrected some mistakes." However, Krell said Ben-Meir was "too much of a positivist," who believed that "he had all the facts and we didn't." "We agreed that in relations between Israelis and Germans of our generation [Krell was born in 1945] there are hidden emotions which may disturb clear thinking and distort our approach to the issues [at hand]," Krell said. "It is important to talk about [these hidden] emotions and discuss them, but not let them obscure concrete solutions." Krell said the Frankfurter Rundschau had published responses ranging from letters to the editor to full-fledged articles, including Ben-Meir's "counter-manifesto." Krell said he and his colleagues "explicitly supported" the publication of responses because they had intended their manifesto as a "document for public debate." Krell mused that the paradigm of criticism and pressure might, in itself, be a wrong approach. "It might be more important not to criticize the sides, but to come up with positive suggestions that would ameliorate and reduce the level of conflict, and to find a solution to the current situation [between Israelis and Palestinians]," Krell said.