Netanyahu and the Germans

By Dow Marmur

Jerusalem (April 30, 2017) – Breaking the Silence is an Israeli NGO that collects testimonies from Israeli soldiers about their actions and experiences in the occupied territories. The accounts are at times less than complimentary to Israel’s military establishment. B’Tselem is another Israeli NGO that publishes documents about Israeli human rights violations in the territories. Both organizations are legal in Israel.

Defense is central to Israel’s existence. The survival of the Jewish state depends on the resourcefulness of the military. This has been proven in the wars that Israel has fought since its inception as well as in the way it interrogates and perhaps intimidates Palestinians in the territories in its efforts to prevent terrorist attacks, and to punish perpetrators and those who aid them.

The impression one gets is that some of it is ugly. The two organizations publicize the ugly. Much of the money that keeps them going comes from abroad, apparently mostly from non-Jewish — sometimes foreign government — sources.

Israel’s defense establish­ment is the nearest to what’s sacred in the consciousness of the country’s Jewish population.

That irks the current government of Israel. Even the major opposition parties tend to distance themselves from both groups. Israel’s defense establishment is the nearest to what’s sacred in the consciousness of the country’s Jewish population. Explicit or implicit criticism of the Israel Defense Forces is tantamount to sacrilege.

That’s the background to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s refusal to meet with the foreign minister of Germany when he visited Israel last week because the latter chose to meet with representatives of both Breaking the Silence and B’tselem, allegedly even without informing his hosts.

Germany is Israel’s most important and closest ally in Europe. The foreign minister himself is a known supporter of the Jewish state, even though he seems to believe that the opposition also deserves a hearing and perhaps material help.

So why did Netanyahu choose to snub him?

Needless to say, I’ve no access to the facts, but that doesn’t stop me from speculating. Here are are some suggestions:

  1. the German foreign minister is a Socialist and Socialism has become another right-wing anti-symbol in Israell;
  2. Likud, of which Netanyahu is the head, has a long history of anti-German sentiments: Menachem Begin even advocated the refusal of German reparation money;
  3. Netanyahu didn’t want to be outflanked once again by the torch bearer of the political right in Israel today, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Habayit Hayehudi party. There’re no doubt also other reasons.

The effect of Netanyahu’s ostensibly patriotic gesture was the opposite of what was intended: both Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem now got the kind of international exposure they could previously only dream about. No doubt additional funds from abroad will come their way as a result. And more ominous: the relationship with Germany has become more strained with Israel as the loser, despite official attempts at reassuring statements.

Seasoned politicians like Binyamin Netanyahu should know enough about unintended consequences to avoid them. Short-term what he may consider to be gains of the kind listed above aren’t worth the long-term losses his grandstanding has incurred.

Rabbi Dow Marmur is Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He lives in Jerusalem.

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