The web of relationships between Israel, Germany, and Palestine is complex, especially because its historical coordinates are easy to decode, indeed obvious: That Germany committed monstrous crimes against the Jews in the 20th Century and that Jews carried out the Israeli state-building process on the backs of the Palestinians is evident. However, the question arises of the causal relations between both historical events and their relevance for the current
web of relationships. The foundation of the Zionist State is based on the urgency of a sanctuary for Jews as a consequence of the Shoah (Holocaust) and accelerated by the international consensus in its favor. Therefore, the connection between the Shoah and Israel arises by itself. However, consequently, as well with the necessary adaptation made, the connection of the Palestinians to Germany: If the foundation of Israel was a consequence of the Shoah caused by the Germans, this also implies a German connection with the historical injustice committed to the Palestinians by Jews through the founding of the state.
Even if one wants to assert that the Zionist enterprise should be disassociated from the Shoah, it can be hardly denied that the Shoah augmented the Zionist act of founding a state with a global-historical significance. This significance was soon to become the perception matrix of the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state, both in its own political culture, including the state ideology on which it was based as well as in access and attitude of large parts
of "the world" to Israel. However, therein lies the reason for the general ideological coloring of this historical constellation, which transformed the political-territorial conflict between the Arabs/Palestinians and the Jews of Israel to what Gilbert Achcar postulated as the “war of narratives”. In the 1990s, Azmi Bishara problematized the implicit conjunction of “The Arabs and the Shoah” by stating that the Arabic perception of the Shoah differs fundamentally from
the German and the Jewish perception. This is because the Arabs were neither victims of the Shoah nor did they view the extermination of the Jews with feelings of guilt.
The connection between the Shoah and Israel has a strong ideological dimension
However, even in the inner-Jewish context, things are not as clear as they seem. Because the monstrous genocide happened before the existence of the Israeli state, in a region far from today's Israel, to people many of whom had neither the possibility to be Israeli citizens nor any implicit affinity to a future Jewish state. And till today, half of the Jews continue to live outside the borders of the Israeli state. Indeed, many survivors of the Shoah did not move after the the establishment of the state to Israel because they did not perceive the state of Israel as a place for their new start after the catastrophe. This already proves that the connection of Israel and Shoah is rather ideational and has been from the beginning influenced by a strong ideological dimension of external appropriation.
If one considers that the supposed self-evidence of the connection between Israel and Shoah rests on the establishment of the state of Israel as an answer of the Jews to the Shoah, the resulting causal connection emphasizes the founding of the state as one of secondary phenomena which resulted from the historical catastrophe of the Shoah. However, taking the horrific nature of the Shoah as a turning point in human history into consideration, and considering it a “breach of civilization,” the fact of Israeli state-building can’t contribute to an understanding of the Shoah. The attempt to understand or explain the Shoah thus becomes inevitably sui generis, uniquely self-explanatory.
The perpetrators and the victims, a highly problematic relationship
But how are things in the relationship between Germany and Israel today? Just the mentioning of both country names in one breath attracts attention. A soft feeling of discomfort creeps in, which feeds itself off the historical catastrophic connection: The historical guilt of Germany as a “Täterland” (perpetrator country) and Israel, not only but as a following consequence of the Shoah, as the country of the victims. This essay will not offer an explanation about the processes which led to the circumstance that Israel claimed and activated a governmental monopoly over Shoah remembrance. Israel understood itself to be a sanctuary for the survivors and was perceived by many survivors in that way. It should be clear from the beginning that the relationship between Germany and Israel has been marked by a precariousness of a highly problematic mix of guilt feelings, practical interests, and interest - driven debt redemption ideology, which manifests itself in today's relationship between both states.
The Israeli state was not founded in a territory without any historical record. The deliberate choice for its location was made in the preliminary Zionist era, which allows the state to assert its historical tie to biblical times. Since this territory, despite some Zionist, ideological claims, was not unpopulated during the start of the colonialization, this process was not just as a guilt-filled world saw it, a national salvation for persecuted Jews, but rather to a great degree a big historical injustice towards the Palestinians, which lies at the heart of the Middle East conflict today.
In the pathos entrenched slogan of the Jews turning from the victims to the preparators, moralizing is not necessary to understand that the tragic necessity for a Jewish state after the Shoah was paid for by the catastrophe of the Palestinian people. Whoever consciously ignores that connection might find it easier to maintain a sense of guilt-ridden responsibility towards the Jews. However, this does not lead to a better understanding of the nature of the bloody conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
This applies especially since 1967. For over 50 years, Israel has maintained an occupation regime which is marked by violence and repression, especially in the West Bank. Furthermore, the erection of the settlement blocs over the last decades, which turned into a state within a state, has maneuvered Israel into a dead-end. Consequently, Israel is not able to pursue peace policies in the spirit of the two state-solution. Yet it is also not able to persevere in a situation with a lack of options, if Israel does not want to support the binational state which would put an end to Zionism. Therefore, Israel does not only inflict unmeasurable pain on the Palestinians, it also suffocates on its policies, and no longer knows how to deal with its self-generated status quo. Whoever presents a critique of Israel’s politics today should consider himself not only a partisan of the suppressed Palestinians, but should also feel no less worried and concerned about Israel's genuine interests. For quite a while now, a significant portion of Israel’s citizens has been driven by the perception that Israel must be saved from itself if it wants to survive.
Criticism of Israeli politics is not automatically anti-Semitism
Israeli politics and the public debate culture of the country, which is determined by them, ignores that circumstance. Criticism of Israeli politics, even in cases of apparent injustice and blatant violations of international law, has always been, but especially in the last years of right-wing government coalitions, branded as anti-Semitism. The ideological part of that reaction becomes evident by untenable connections that are made: The anti-Zionism of Arab countries, which derived from the Middle East conflict, is automatically attributed to voices which criticize Israel's politics (and therefore are automatically assumed to be taking the Palestinian side), primarily when those critical voices originate from Europe. Many Israelis consider Europe to be anti-Semitic because it is the continent of the Shoah. The anti-Zionism, which is attributed to the Arabs/Palestinians as a result of the political territorial conflict with Israel, is in connection with Europe often seen at first as tendending towards anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are, therefore, becoming for many Israeli and non-Israeli Jews to be one big mishmash. This is often used to ward of justifiable criticism towards Israeli politics, though the claim of anti-Semitism usually has nothing in common with real anti-Semitism.
The “Lessons of Auschwitz” and the Jews
This basic set of relations have, over the decades, merged into the matrix of relations between the Germans and Jews, therefore between Israel and Germany. The profound truth of the assertion expressed by Israeli psychoanalyst Zvi Rix (probably half-ironically) that the Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz, lies in the circumstance that the collective narcissism of the Germans will be influenced for generations by the monstrosity of the German history. The associated aggression towards the origin of such a burden, the “Jews”, must be channeled at the same time, since you can’t lay the blame on the victims of your acts and for what one cannot cope with, even if they continue to exist. However, since the “Lessons of Auschwitz” have been learned, and anti-Semitism has thus been expelled to the sphere of moral reprehension, it requires a sublimated approach to the latency of this unease towards the “Jews.” In recent years, different strategies have been used to deal with this dilemma. As early as the 1960s, German neo-Nazis were engaged in a blatant anti-Semitism, which was directed towards the state of Israel and the Zionist movement. These manifestations of the periphery of the political culture of postwar-Germany were counteracted not only by left-wing criticism and acts, they were also offset by organized expiatory activity, directed mostly at and towards Israel. Out of this initial, utterly genuine dismay and sincere remorse grew a complementary to the anti-Jewish resentment, namely an overidentification with Jews, derived from unbreakable solidarity with Israel. This created a political stand against everything which could be
interpreted even rudimentarily against the object of one’s own projected identification needs and solidarity fetishes. Those who do not subordinate themselves to the given order of obedience to the solidary rite with “Jews,” “Israel” and “Zionism” can easily be labled anti-Semitic. Since one wants to identify oneself as a victim, one identifies oneself with the Jews as a victim. However, if one wants to act out, which is forbidden by the memory of Germany's criminal history, one can also express solidarity with Israel as an occupying force.
The precarious of this circumstance is that Germans hardly ever have the possibility to remain objective. Genuine criticism of Israeli policies must always expect to be categorized as anti-Semitism. This also applies to a simple recognition of the historical and current suffering of the Palestinians, especially an expression of solidarity with them. Even the sheer support for peace efforts in the Middle East conflict can become a political threat. particularly if these efforts are not seen to be corresponding with what is declared to be “Israeli interests,” or are not able to obtain the approval of the Israeli Embassy or even the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Such a matrix of ideological orientation manifests itself not only in the agitation of specific extra-parliamentary groups but also influences German politics as well as the political discourse within a major part of the hegemonic media. It is remarkable how those who once tried to challenge and combat Germany's official domestic and foreign policies as an extra-parliamentary opposition now have become part of the national consensus and the winking benevolence of the political establishment.
Is total German solidarity with Israel an absolute necessity? Isn't such solidarity entirely self-evident, as if it was the responsibility of every decent German? Due to the genocide committed by the Germans against the Jews, solidarity with Israel cannot be assumed to be either morally or politically-opportunistic. But when questions about Israel and Israeli policy arise, according to the indispensable solidarity-based presumption, can it be said that such doubts originate from anti-Semitic impulses or from full-fledged anti-Semitism?
Hitler’s extended arms are at work here
Nonetheless, there is a fundamental misconception at work here. The attempt to simply identify Jews with Israel and with the Israeli state doctrine of the Zionism may serve the psychological need to grasp collectivities in succinct conceptual formations and to subsume their heterogeneity under easily manageable ideas of order. Nonetheless, it fails to address the diversity of the inner-Jewish discourses about the Jewish collective or the divergent policy clashes about the claim of a general binding Jewish identity. And if this is a betrayal of the nature of Judaism and Israel, one should imagine the extent of the betrayal of this analogy of ideology to the Palestinians. In many respects, Hitler's extended arms are at work here.