German Foreign Minister Walter-Frank Steinmeier’s Disconnect on Israel
by Ron Jontof-Hutter
When Secretary of State John Kerry recently thundered that Israel could choose to be a Jewish state or a democratic state, but not both, he was enthusiastically supported by German Foreign Minister Walter-Frank Steinmeier.
Steinmeier has often made a point of expressing his friendship to German Jews. For instance, he was proud that the European Maccabi Games were held in Berlin, even if he grossly exaggerated the number of Jews in Germany, or ignored the fact that participants were advised to use taxis and hide their Jewish identity.
Steinmeier reflects the conflict that Germans experience in their perceptions of Jews: Holocaust guilt combined with ambivalence towards the Jewish state of Israel.
The roots of this PC form of antisemitism can be found in the doctrine of Christianity’s founder, Augustine, who condemned Jews to pariah status in his “eternal witness” concept. Jews were to be seen as unwelcome, homeless, unloved and pitied. They were to exist (the” right to exist” in today’s PC parlance) in order to remind those of Christendom’s triumph.
Ironically, Steinmeier’s doctoral dissertation was on state intervention and homelessness. Seemingly, one of the world’s oldest victims of exile and homelessness, the Jews, escaped his thought processes.
Augustine’s dictum became the basis of European culture from Luther to Wagner, from Goethe to Kaiser Wilhelm ll, from Degas to TS Elliot, and later, Israel’s standing in the UN. Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that Israel is unfairly and disproportionately singled out. Most political resolutions in the UN are about condemning Israel.
Theodore Herzl asked the Pope in 1904 to endorse a Jewish national homeland. He declined, raising the Augustinian principle. In 1964, Pope Paul IV, refused to meet Israeli leaders when he visited Jerusalem for a day. Neither he nor other democracies condemned the illegal Jordanian refusal to grant Jews worldwide, access to their holiest site.
More recently, President Hollande of France, was pressured to address the Knesset, the very symbol of Israel’s sovereignty. President Obama, visiting Israel, also declined this honor, thereby sending a message to Europe, the Arab countries and the UN.
Steinmeier has jumped on the politically correct and populist bandwagon. Regardless of any future political settlement, yet demanding ethnic cleansing of Jews in the disputed territories, Steinmeier has exposed his hypocrisy.
From his office in Berlin, Steinmeier would be aware that the Jewish King David made Jerusalem the capital of the United Kingdom of Israel, 2,000 years before Germans settled in Berlin near existing Slavic settlements, in what is today Museum Island in central Berlin.
If Steinmeier attended a performance of Bach’s popular “Christmas Oratorio,” he would have heard the opening lines, “Joseph went to Judea, the Land of the Jews,” acknowledging Jews as the indigenous people of Jerusalem and Judea.
Endorsing the absurd statement that Israel cannot be both Jewish and a democracy, Steinmeier also condemns Germany and Europe.
Steinmeier is part of the coalition headed by Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Bavarian partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Yes, Christian and democratic.
Most public holidays in Germany date back centuries and celebrate some religious event. While holidays vary according to state, they celebrate Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Whit Monday, Corpus Christi, Assumption Day, Reformation Day, All Saints’ Day, Day of Prayer and Repentance, Christmas day, St Stephen’s day, St Martin’s Day and St Nicholas day. Not a small number for a democracy. The cross also appears on many European flags and other symbols like Germany’s Grand Cross Medal.
Israel is similar to the US, Canada, Australia and Europe, with holidays rooted in their religious heritage. Israel has always been successful as a Jewish and democratic state, with non-Jewish minorities represented in the Knesset, judiciary, military, media and more. Whatever a final settlement might bring, Israel will remain a Jewish democratic state.
Does Steinmeier believe that Christian Germany cannot be a democracy? If he ridicules that notion, why demand a different set rules for the Jewish State of Israel where Ramadan is also respected and Christians given free gifts of Jerusalem Pine Christmas trees by the authorities?
Steinmeier is an enthusiastic supporter of the Islamic State of Iran and the Iranian nuclear deal. Despite being a totalitarian country with public executions of “undesirables” such as gays and dissidents, Iran is also the prime sponsor of international terror. It has a vast spy network in Germany. It sponsors the annual Al Quds Day marches in Berlin, calling for the annihilation of Israel. Yet Steinmeier rushed to visit that country, smile at photo ops with mullahs, while downplaying Iran’s open threats to continue where Hitler left off. Steinmeier has stated that the rejection of capital punishment is a key German human-rights policy — when it suits.
While Steinmeier raises concerns about “a Jewish” Israel, he has been very lenient to non-democracies such as Russia and China. Realpolitik is all relative for Steinmeier who fails to recognize, that despite a future agreement, Jews are the indigenous people of the disputed territories.
Mr. Abbas has been a guest of Germany. In his interviews, he referred to terrorists as “martyrs.” He lied by justifying attacks against Israelis as “defending the Al Aqsa Mosque.” His antisemitic rants of “Judaizing” Jerusalem and that Jews ”would never be allowed to defile the holy sites with their dirty feet,” never raised red flags for Steinmeier.
In reality, Abbas should have been arrested. Not only is he a Holocaust denier, a crime in Germany, but Abbas was the paymaster for the Munich Olympic Games massacre of Israeli athletes in 1972. Arafat and Abbas kissed operations chief, Abu Daoud, and wished him luck before that attack. In 2016, Abbas referred to that massacre as a “heroic operation.” Steinmeier does not see that as a problem, but is concerned about a “Jewish” State of Israel.
Steinmeier welcomed UNSC Resolution 2334,demanding Israel return to its 1948 indefensible ceasefire lines. Steinmeier, on the other hand, is part of a government that upholds Israel’s “right to exist,” whatever that means.
Ethnic cleansing of Jews is not democratic. Endorsing a ban on Jews in Eastern Jerusalem and their holiest site, the Western Wall, shames Steinmeier, both as a German and as a western foreign minister.
Steinmeier would do well to understand his own history that includes not only Augustine and Luther’s legacies, but also his predecessor, Walther Rathenau, the only Jewish cabinet minister in German history. He was murdered by fanatical German nationalists in 1922. As a Doctor of Law, Steinmeier could also read opinions of international jurists such as Stephen Schwebel and Jacques Gauthier about the Israeli occupation’s legality.
Having endorsed Kerry’s advice to Israel, Steinmeier should now hasten to return the honorary doctorate he received in 2015 from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, which is partly in “occupied territory.”
Why would he flout the very resolution he supports?
Ron Jontof-Hutter is a Fellow at the Berlin International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism. He is the author of the acclaimed satirical novel, “The trombone man: tales of a misogynist.” This piece first appeared in the Jewish Journal.