Germany Can Show True Repentance by Confronting Iran
In the aftermath of World War II, Germany has tried to atone for the Holocaust: It is illegal to deny the Holocaust in Germany. There are Holocaust memorials everywhere. Holocaust education is mandatory in schools. Reparations were paid to Israel after its founding and are still being paid to Holocaust survivors (though the numbers don’t even come close to the money stolen from Jews by the Nazi regime). And trade between Israel and Germany is strong.
Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher, taught that true repentance is based on the Biblical model of the Joseph story: There must be acknowledgment of the sin, remorse — and when the opportunity arises to commit the sin again, one must reject it.
Germany has done much to repent. But there is one more step needed to complete the process.
There is another nation now that has vowed to destroy the Jewish people and will soon have, or already has, the means to do it: Iran.
Iran’s repeated, public, and official policy is the annihilation of the Jewish state. It has taken over southern Lebanon through its proxy Hezbollah, and has placed an estimated 100,00 missiles aimed at Israel; it has a base in Syria; it has proxies and arms Gaza. Israel is surrounded. And Iran is clearly closing in on getting nuclear weapons. The threat is real and imminent.
If any other nation on Earth were threatened with total annihilation by another nation, wouldn’t there be a giant cry heard everywhere? Would there not be international outrage? And condemnation?
In light of Iran’s threats, Germany has the opportunity and the moral challenge of doing the only right thing for true repentance — it must stand with Israel so that another Holocaust is averted. It must ensure that Jews are no longer threatened with mass death on its watch.
The challenge is the following: Germany cannot physically protect Israel. But as the strongest voice in the European Union, it has great authority. Its commercial influence is enormous. Germany has the moral responsibility to let it be known that it considers Israel an essential nation on the world stage, and will not stand with or trade with any nation that threatens it.
Germany should encourage all nations to follow its lead, and work within the UN, EU, and G-7 to demand real changes in Iran’s behavior.
Germany has already set a precedent for asserting its moral and legal rights: a former member of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s secret police was convicted by a German court of facilitating the torture of prisoners. German prosecutors invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes to bring the case forward.
Israel will do whatever it can to defend itself from Iran. Sunni Arab nations, now allied with Israel, fear Iran as much as Israel does, and will no doubt be of invaluable assistance. But the United States, an indispensable ally, seems to think it can appease the Iranian mullahs, and world bodies like the UN and ICC will never do anything but condemn Israel for its very existence.
No, there is no evading the inevitable challenge facing Germany. It cannot escape its history and its destiny. Now, even with rising neo-Nazism — in Germany and elsewhere — is the moment for Germany to achieve something never seen in world history: a country that attempted to destroy a people afterward coming to that people’s defense in a courageous and bold move of moral courage.
It would be unprecedented. It would be right. It would be moral. It would renew hope that universal justice can exist in this world.
Dr. Paul Socken is Distinguished Professor Emeritus and founder of the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Waterloo.