In the wake of newly elected German President Joachim Gauck’s visit to Israel, this guest article was written exclusively for HonestReporting by Ulrich Sahm. Son of a well-known diplomat, Sahm was born in Bonn, Germany and grew up in London, Paris, Moscow and Ankara. Sahm came to Israel in 1970, first as a student and later as Middle East correspondent for various German media outlets and has lived in Jerusalem observing war and peace, uprisings and Israel’s hi-tech revolution.
The worst curse for a German is to call him “anti-Semite”. Yet nobody really knows what that is. Many claim that it is “forbidden” to criticize Israel. Those who “resist” by breaking this non-existent taboo, like the authors Günter Grass or Martin Walser, are considered “courageous heroes” but dislike being called anti-Semites because of the obvious undertones.
German media reflects the German mentality.
After World War II the Germans turned into blind pacifists. They were reluctant to join NATO forces in Serbia, Somalia and Afghanistan. They sent “reconstruction workers” or medical personnel. They do not admit that they would rather let their American and other friends do the dirty work fighting and getting killed, while protecting the Germans.
The lesson of WWII atrocities was not learnt from what the German Army had done to Russians or Poles. They rather experienced the “horrors of war” when their own cities were bombed. The British bombing of Dresden in fact is often called a “holocaust”.
Many Germans adhere to the Christian belief to have mercy for the weak. Before 1967, the majority sided with Israel. But that changed instantly when Israel was victorious and conquered “Arab Land”. In an Internet forum, a virulently anti-Israel activist wrote: “The moment the Palestinians defeat the Jews, I would immediately change sides.”
Germans feel guilt towards Jews because of the Holocaust. Therefore they feel a responsibility for Palestinians, as “victims of the victims”. Germans do not deny the Holocaust. They rather blame the Jews for shaming them. The Germans do not like to be reminded of that shame, e.g. when the Israeli Prime Minister warns of another “Holocaust” in case Iran should destroy Tel Aviv with an atom bomb. One often quoted formula says: “The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz”.
Perfect as they are, the Germans have created the most efficient democracy in the world. Yet some do not forgive the Americans for forcing democracy on them after WWII. The left-wing revolution of the “young generation” in 1968 resulted in strong “anti-imperialist” feelings, which turned anti-American. While the Vietnam War raged, they sided with Ho Chi Min, Mao Tse Tung and even with the Soviet regime. In this framework sympathy grew with “freedom fighters” like Yasser Arafat and the PLO.
The greatest power in German media lies with the DPA, the German Press Agency. Many editors suffer from a disease called “Agenturgläubigkeit”, a blind belief in absolute truth of agency reports.
The so called “cottage cheese uprising” last summer in Israel was quickly compared to the Arab Spring, claiming that it was all about “illegal settlements in the occupied territories” and overthrowing the “right wing regime of Benjamin Netanyahu”. Needless to say, these were incorrect assumptions.