Germany’s Position on Palestine: Twice on the Wrong Side of History?

Activists protest against the anti-BDS resolution adopted by German parliament. (Photo: Courtesy of BDS Website)

By Ilan Pappe

There is no doubt that Nazi Germany was on the wrong side of history, and it took an enormous amount of international effort to bring Germany over to the other side of history after the end of the Second World War. A noble way of doing it was by strengthening the democratic basis of post-Nazi Germany, and by re-writing its educational curricula as well as granting it a leading role in the struggle against racism at the heart of the continent. This was complemented by a noble attempt to regulate the local arms industry and arms exports so as to ensure as a comprehensive restitutive process as possible.

However, one important element of this restitution, still believed to be crucial by the German political system, is unconditional support for Israel. A position that creates the impression that Germany, as a State, might err again. This time, it is much less dramatic than the previous deviation from normalcy and humanity but, nonetheless, is highly worrying and deeply disappointing that Germany as a State – and hopefully not its society – did not deduce fully and honestly the moral lessons its darker history should have taught it.

Germany, that is West Germany until the late 1980s, and the West in general, believed that the road to West Germany’s rehabilitation and re-admission to the “civilized nations” had to go through the legitimization of the colonization of Palestine. Thus, within three years after the end of the Second World War, the West was asking the world to grant, simultaneously, legitimacy for the new Germany and for the creation of a Jewish State over much of historical Palestine, as if the two demands were logically and, worse still, morally connected. Hence, Israel became one of the first states to declare that there was a “new Germany”, in return for unconditional support for its policies, complemented by huge financial and military aid from West Germany.

After the unification of Germany and the hegemonic role it played since then in the EU foreign policies, the German position on Israel and Palestine became paramount and influenced the continent’s overall policy. It is only recently that those of us who are active for, and on behalf of, Palestine noted the slippery road on which Germany – as a state – slides once more onto the wrong side of history.

It was unavoidable that large sections of the German Civil society, especially among the younger generation, would navigate successfully between their acknowledgment of the Nazi past and their contemporary local and international moral agendas. In fact, the past produced a generation of conscientious young Germans joining others in the West in fighting for human and civil rights, wherever they are violated.

For any German with a modicum of decency in them, it would be impossible to exclude from this moral conversation the racist Israeli policies. The inevitable result was the emergence of a strong German solidarity movement with the Palestinian people and their just struggle for liberation.

As happened elsewhere, in particular after the First Intifada, and even more so in this century, Israel reacted forcefully to this shift in European public opinion. When this original solidarity impulse swelled into a massive social movement, galvanized and encouraged by initiatives such as the BDS – Israel went to war. Israel weaponized anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in order to prod the German political system to do its utmost to silence the more conscientious voices in its civil society.

I experienced the result of this campaign. Every now and then, my lectures in Germany were canceled at the last moment, and the organizers had to move me and other speakers to alternative venues, organized in haste and with little time to re-publicize the events, which was the main purpose of these acts of intimidation from above.

German politics deteriorated further and even deeper into a moral abyss when, on May 17, 2019, almost three years ago to date, the German federal parliament – the Bundestag – passed a resolution in which the BDS movement was condemned as anti-Semitic. Governmental institutions of Germany were called on not to support any activities of the BDS movement or any groups that “are anti-Semitic and/or demand the boycott of Israelis and Israeli companies and products”. This unusual move of the parliament was consensually endorsed by all the political parties: the Christian Union parties (CDU and CSU), the Social Democrats (SPD), the Liberal Party (FDP) and the Green Party.

The distorted logic of this resolution is based on equating anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel and Zionism. Since it was passed, it led to the cancellation of academic and cultural events associated with Palestine or – which is more draconian – it applied to any event organized by people known to be pro-Palestinian. Moreover, German citizens were in danger of losing their jobs and jeopardizing their career prospects if they take part in pro-Palestinian demonstrations or any act of solidarity.

In its overall foreign policy, Germany is no different from other member states of the EU. A policy which is a mixture of indifference towards Israel’s abuse of Palestinian rights, while solidifying strategic, military and economic ties with Israel. At the same time, it succumbs to pro-Israeli lobby groups in an attempt to bring down politicians who dare to identify with the Palestinian cause and stifles any significant debate on Zionism and Israel’s policy. In Germany, however, the policy of silencing is even more draconian, and the military aid and economic connections are even stronger than of any other EU member State.

This is not just fear of Israel or guilt about the Holocaust. These factors are important but there is another darker history that official Germany does not want to face. Even a relatively cursory discussion on Germany’s responsibility for the suffering of the Palestinians will show clearly that it was post-Nazi Germany that enabled the world to absolve, not only West Germany but Europe as a whole, from the Holocaust, by fully supporting the dispossession of the Palestinians. It was much easier to choose this road to rehabilitation than to properly deal, not only with anti-Semitism, but with all forms of European racism, manifested mainly nowadays as Islamophobia, but also as racism against “non-European” or “non-white” minorities all over the continent.

Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians is racist to its very core, and one cannot create hierarchies of racism or a club of “accepted” racism, or a legitimate one. You would have expected Germany to lead the anti-racist campaign, not only in Europe but in the world at large, instead of leading the support, as a state, to one of the longest racist projects in our times in the historical land of Palestine.

There is no telling when and how this erroneous and immoral German position will come back to haunt Germany. What is clear, and encouraging, is that there are a large number of Germans who do not want to slide on this slippery road and are doing all they can to stop this immoral deterioration and demanding the making of a real “new” Germany, which we are all craving for as conscientious and moral human beings.

- Ilan Pappé is a professor at the University of Exeter. He was formerly a senior lecturer in political science at the University of Haifa. He is the author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, The Modern Middle East, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, and Ten Myths about Israel. Pappé is described as one of Israel’s 'New Historians' who, since the release of pertinent British and Israeli government documents in the early 1980s, have been rewriting the history of Israel’s creation in 1948. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)

1 Comment

  1. I dont agree with the headline but as so often Illan Pappe hits the nail squarely on the head. His reviewing of the so called history of the creation of the state of Israel radicalised my own understanding (no, ‘radicalised’ isn’t the right word, moved it from a position of successful propaganda aka bullshit, to history). Now he wakes me up to this…yes Germany is such a GREAT example of coming to terms with its past (learn from it Austria and later the UK/US)…but whilst we celebrate this…their guilt r more, anxiety of how they are perceived makes them occupy this position of hypocracy.

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