This week’s Hamburg-published stern magazine (15 January 2009), which has a “liberal” reputation (typified by its “cool” lower-case title), goes some way to explaining why Germans might be expected to have lopsided ideas about Palestine. The one image from the current Israeli military aggression against Gaza is a photograph, spread across pages 16-17, of a blonde denim-clad woman of European appearance lying on the ground beside two little boys. All three are clearly safe and sound. The heading is “Israel - A protecting hand.” The text reads in part:
“The mother has taken refuge behind a car with her two sons after an ALARM IN THE DFAR ASA KIBBUTZ and holds her protecting hand over them … Despite the danger the two boys look curiously towards the photographer. On Monday militant Palestinians fired 20 rockets at Jewish settlements.”
The next two pages display a smiling Tom Cruise and his smiling mother.
Not surprisingly, therefore, a Forsa Institute poll for stern has just found that 35 percent of Germans blame both sides for the current conflict, while 30 percent blame Hamas and only 13 percent blame Israel.
Nonetheless, the picture isn’t as unambiguous as this might suggest. Some 60 percent of Germans believe that “Israel pursues its interests without consideration for other countries” while 49 percent believe that Israel is an “aggressive” state. Only 30 percent are convinced that Israel respects human rights. While 47 percent consider Israel to be a “fascinating” tourist destination and 45 percent actually like the place (“ein sympathisches Land”), fully 59 percent “find it alien” (“ist mir fremd”), whatever that means: possibly the unavailability of pork sausages “wie zuhause” (“like at home”) is what they find alienating.
Startlingly, 13 percent of Germans go so far as to deny Israel’s right to exist, a figure that I suspect is larger than would be the comparable figure were such a poll to be held in Britain or France. These include more than one in four supporters of the flourishing Left Party (Linkspartei).
Coming to the thorny question of Germany’s “special responsibility” towards Israel, things aren’t looking so good for the future from a Zionist point of view. Only 35 percent of citizens believe that such a responsibility still exists, primarily older people (45 percent) and supporters of the Green Party (48 percent). A whopping 60 percent believe that such a special responsibility is a thing of the past; this figure breaks down into 70 percent of younger people, 60 percent of Germans from the “former East,” and 72 percent of Left Party supporters.
Given that “unconditional support” for Israel remains the official policy of the ruling coalition government of Social and Christian Democrats, a position that has been given particularly crass utterance on several occasions by Chancellor Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union), this poll suggests that the gulf between government and citizens on this issue is vast and growing. This is remarkable given the spectacularly mendacious coverage of the Israel/Palestine issue in both the mainstream media and the more leftist press, with the marked exception of the daily paper rather endearingly called Junge Welt (“young world”), which has a minuscule readership. The most respected German newspapers and journals - Frankfurter allgemeine Zeitung, Die Zeit, Die Welt, Der Spiegel, Sueddeutsche Zeitung - are Zionist to a degree matched only in the United States. Television and radio news programs similarly toe the official line and use language straight from the Israeli lexicon.
Clearly younger Germans, familiar with the Internet and disrespectful of the traditional organs of propaganda, are fed up with the incessantly repeated fallacy that unconditional support for a semi-fascist rogue state somehow proves their post-World War II allegiance to democratic values. This process is not to be confused with the much exaggerated rise in right-wing extremism, which remains a fringe phenomenon; furthermore, Germany’s new racists, like their equivalents throughout Europe, hate Muslims as much as Jews, and are quite likely to admire Israel for its militaristic brutality.
While the opinions of those who blame Hamas or “both sides” may be directly influenced by the dire coverage of the present Israeli aggression, the other figures suggest, encouragingly, that Germans are making up their own minds about Israel and that the days of “unconditional support” for Zionism may be numbered.
Raymond Deane is an Irish composer and activist (www.raymonddeane.com).