By Ron Jontof-Hutter, BICSA Senior Research Fellow
In 321 CE, Constantine made reference to Jewish communities living along the Rhine. At about the same time, pagan Germans started a process over some centuries of adopting Christianity. In the 8th century, Charlemagne saw the value of Jews, who despite discrimination thrived under his rule. However, the Crusaders in 1096 massacred Jewish communities along the Rhine and five centuries afterwards in 1543, Martin Luther advocated the destruction of Jewish life—his wish would be granted about 400 years later when the Nazis implemented their Final Solution. After the European Enlightenment and its limited extension of civil rights for Jews, 700-800 Jews in Germany and Austria converted annually in the 19th century through to the Weimar period so as to advance their social and professional lives. Famous examples were Heine who could not get employment despite being a doctor of law, and Mahler who had to convert in order to take the post of conductor of the Vienna Court Opera . After the First World War, German Jews were finally admitted to all universities.
Jewish and Christian Germans have had a long symbiotic relationship extending about 1800 years. With liberation and in many cases conversion, about 22% of Germany’s pre-1933 Nobel laureates were Jews despite being less than 1% of the population. So what happened to this prosperous symbiotic relationship?
Germany’s greatest cultural icons are arguably Luther, Goethe, Wagner and more recently Gunter Grass who posed as the ‘post-war conscience of Germany’. While Luther ‘s hatred of Jews was mostly theologically based, the others also included a cultural-ethnic hatred. Apart from Grass who served in the Waffen SS, Hitler embraced Goethe and Wagner as reflecting his national-socialist worldviews.
The basis of the modern church has been the teachings of Augustine who inter alia condemned Jews to pariah status with his ‘eternal witness’ dictum. This status has been a central feature of European art, literature, politics and European soccer that persists to this day. One result of this pariah status has been Europe’s cold and ambivalent attitude towards Israel, both before and after the Six Day War of 1967. Augustine’s ‘eternal witness’, which glaringly contradicts the notion of a thriving independent Jewish state— Israel—has never been repudiated. Indeed, Israel became the personification of Augustine’s unwanted, wandering Jew which Wagner depicted metaphorically in his operas.
In 2017, Luther’s Reformation of 500 years ago will be celebrated in Germany and much of Europe. The Jewish community of Germany has requested that his violent hatred of Jews be finally condemned. It should have been repudiated at least 70 years ago after the Shoah—without prompting.
Gunter Grass, the pacifist who accused Israel of being a threat to world peace, as the Nazis did with the Jews, claimed that though he served in the SS, he never killed anyone. Groening, also in the SS, recently convicted as the Auschwitz ‘bookkeeper’ and accessory to mass murder, also claimed he had never killed anyone. But then neither did Wagner nor Luther. Yet all were ideologically similar in their hatred of Jews and belief in the betterment of the world free of Jews.
Some years after the Shoah, Germany embarked on a ‘special relationship’ with Jews and Israel though not without objection. German scientists were instrumental in developing rockets for Egypt.
The ‘special relationship’ has been a mixed success. This year has marked the 50th anniversary of German-Israel diplomatic relations. Dr Merkel has stated that Germany’s raison d’etre is the State of Israel. While well meaning, Merkel’s Germany is ambivalent to the Jewish State. Most Germans surveyed in a recent BBC Poll as well as other polls, regard Israel negatively which includes Holocaust inversion. True, despite opposition by some lawmakers, Germany sells submarines to Israel. On the otherhand, Germany does not have a good voting record with Israel at the UN including the recently one-sided UNHRC resolution.
Germany’s ambivalence to Israel has been a feature of its ‘special relationship’. While Germany was a major supplier of military equipment to Israel until 1967, it nevertheless backed out of an agreement in 1965 to supply tanks to Israel. In 1970, Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt in contrition at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial , yet the same Willy Brandt denied German landing rights to American planes bringing urgent military supplies to Israel, which was facing defeat in the initial stages of the Yom Kippur War. In 2011, Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) under government pressure pulled out of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem fast train project because it passed through ‘occupied territory’.
Also in 2011, Germany decided to phase out nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster. It was considered potentially too dangerous for German citizens. Yet recently, Germany slammed Israel for criticising the Iran-P5+1 agreement which appeased an Iran that is developing a nuclear-missile program, supports international terror organizations and regularly threatens to wipe out Israel. Apparently remote nuclear-power accident risks for Germans are not OK, but close-by nuclear holocaust risks for Israel are worth taking.
Dr Merkel has acknowledged that Jews in Germany require synagogues to be guarded which she deems shameful. A post –war generation has not rid itself of prejudice. In German schools, the word ‘Jew’ is a common curse word among children. Moreover, crude anti-Semitic cartoons have occasionally been depicted in respectable newspapers such as the Sueddeutschezeitung. Recently a journalist with NDR (North German Broadcasting) referred to the new conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic as a ‘ Jewish caricature and… gnome’, while Die Welt commented that three of Berlin’s prominent conductors were Jews. Seventy years after the fall of Nazi Germany, participants in the annual Iranian-sponsored Al Quds Day March through Berlin call for the death of Israel and curse Jews. Each year, the government has been deaf to appeals to ban this anti-Semitic event. Yet giving the Nazi salute is punishable.
As Holocaust survivors die out, it appears that Germany will align itself more with the EU foreign policy. Policy makers will at best pay lip service to the ‘special relationship’. Trade with Iran that regularly threatens Israel’s very existence, is seen as the last major economic frontier to be exploited, regardless of Israel. Economics minister and Merkel’s deputy Gabriel, who shamefully referred to Israel as an ‘apartheid-state’ rushed to visit Iran to advance lucrative deals with a regime that executes some three people per day including gays, juveniles and religious minorities. His formal PC statement of ‘Israel’s right to exist’ rang hollow which was immediately rejected by the Iranian president.
Avarice and opportunism appear to be part of German and European determination to advance agendas regardless of the consequences. Germans believe they have paid their debt to the Jewish people, despite Merkel’s raison d’etre assertions. While Germany supports Israel’s ‘right to exist’, it nevertheless supports policies that endanger that right, including the demand to return to the 1948 cease fire lines that most military experts deem indefensible.
Germany’s ambivalence to Jews and Israel is rooted in the beliefs of Augustine and Luther. Their call to ostracise Jews has never been repudiated. It is long overdue, because it is the basis of the BDS campaign, EU hypocrisy at the UN, as well as European and church-sponsored NGOs that have radical anti-Israel agendas. NGO Monitor has documented these activities in detail.
In 2012, the Bundestag-appointed Longerich Commission on anti-Semitism recommended new strategies to combat widespread prejudice, clichés and ignorance about Jews and Judaism. The report gathered dust. Occasionally dramatic incidents like the Paris Hyper Cacher supermarket or Copenhagen synagogue murders elicit public handwringing. The ambivalence continues.
Germany can help lead the way in Europe by embarking on new creative strategies to uproot its anti-Semitic culture. Some points of departure:
- Repudiate Augustine’s ‘eternal witness’ dictum and denounce Luther’s incitement against Jews. It is long overdue.
- Recognise and teach that Jews, though the indigenous people of Israel, have a unique history that includes a symbiosis with Germans over 1800 years. Additionally, German school children should learn about the Jewish contribution to civilization over 4000 years—not just about the Shoah which in any case is now often viewed as having ‘victimised’ the Palestinians.
- Educate audiences at relevant cultural events like the prestigious Wagner Festival, by explaining the meaning of Wagner’s opera metaphors in the program notes.
- The churches should come clean with their double-speak about Jews and Israel’s ‘right to exist’ while indirectly supporting the overthrow of the Jewish state though radical NGOs. The recent warm welcome given to Bishop Tutu promoting his mendacious BDS activities is inappropriate, while the explicit rejection of the inflammatory Kairos Palestine Document would be a good start.
- Include Hebrew in university studies of the Classics. The language of the Bible and a basis of western thought should surely be studied along with the cultures of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. That Hebrew has never been included in Classical Studies is puzzling.
Germany as the leading nation in Europe, can demonstrate its sincerity and determination in checking anti-Semitism. It can move beyond the Holocaust as the alpha and omega of its Jewish problem, its increasing alignment to European hostility towards Israel, and embark upon a bold new direction. Does it have the political will to do so? Or will Germany maintain the status quo and manage rather than try and resolve its anti-Semitism?
Ron Jontof-Hutter was born in South Africa from German parents. He has a background in the performing arts, clinical psychology and professional writing. His satirical novel called ‚The Trombone Man: Tales of a Misogynist‘ on political correctness, misogyny and anti-Semitism is to be released soon.
First published with the Times of Israel, August 13, 2015.