Germany’s anti-Semitism commissioner Felix Klein’s recently stated plans to condition German funding of foreign organizations and initiatives on the grounds the money not be used by organizations involved in any type of anti-Semitic activity could be a turning point in one of the more problematic aspects of German-Israeli ties.
Amazingly, the same Germany that prides itself on having learned the lessons of its Nazi past and heralds its deep friendship with Israel at every opportunity in practice supports organizations, in particular in Arab and Muslim states, that disseminate the hatred of Jews and Israel, or demonstrate scandalous tolerance for such hatred. This phenomenon is associated primarily with the Palestinian territories but in its broader scope impacts what goes on in schools run by UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, in Arab countries.
In his statement, Klein emphasized that a violation of this clause would result in an immediate halt in the transfer of German funds. Should the plan move ahead, it would make Germany a pioneer on the issue in Europe—a role the country should have taken on itself some time ago. That is the real test.
We should not dismiss the extent of the opposition to this initiative from the German ministries affected by the move—in particular, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, which considered a bastion of the German left, is responsible for a significant portion of Berlin’s funding to foreign countries. Among German Foreign Ministry officials, there will also be those who will hesitate to welcome Klein’s move because, going by the international definition of anti-Semitism, certain forms of Israel criticism could keep Berlin from support a number of organizations, some of them based in Iran, whose problematic stances the ministry has made every effort to ignore.
This important statement from a senior German government official comes at a point in time when Jerusalem has finally decided to wake up from the passive slumber characteristic of Israel’s official approach towards the duality of the German position that sees Berlin declare its commitment to Israel’s existence and security, while at the same time throw its support behind bodies that undermine the existence and security of the Jewish state. For decades, Israel’s government has preferred to ignore the increasingly problematic nature of Germany’s hypocritical policy, not only as far as concerns foreign countries are concerned, but within Israel and Germany themselves. Israel’s explanation for this has been that officials sought to avoid taking any action that could undermine its close ties with Berlin, which as they put it, “has given Israel so much.”
Indeed, Germany does invest quite a bit of money in Israel. While the extent of this investment is unknown, we are talking about extensive activity by government, political, private and cinematic funds. One of the reasons so little is known about the extent of Germany’s funding is that many Israelis—among them artists, politicians, journalists and civil organizations that receive scholarships, funding, travel and conference invites—benefit from this “generosity.”
At first, Germany’s substantial investments in Israel were focused on molding the relationship between the two countries, and mainly at creating a positive image of Germany that would allow it to leave the Holocaust episode behind and ensure the murder of 6 million Jews remained a distant memory. Once this stage was deemed a success, thanks largely to Israel’s efforts to market the country as “a different Germany,” Berlin was able to move on to the second phase of their strategy and direct their funds towards efforts to change the face of Israel by intervening in its internal affairs.
The current Israeli government decided to discuss this troubling phenomenon, unbefitting of the friendly bilateral ties we both could and should have with the government in Berlin. While one would think such a move would be necessary, it is only in Israel that those familiar elements, among them those funded by the German government in particular, see this as sheer impudence. As a sovereign state, Israel has the right and obligation to raise concerns regarding Berlin’s funding of German bodies that promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which calls for Israel s destruction, whether they be a Jewish museum or an international film festival.
Eldad Beck is an Israeli journalist and author.