By Abraham Cooper and Manfred Gerstenfeld*
The focus of many Jewish commentators on the results of the recent German elections has been the stunning success of the AfD. To the shock and dismay of many, these extreme rightists have emerged as the country’s third largest party with 12.6% of the votes. It would however be a great mistake to assume that the far right is the sole or even the dominant German issue which should worry Jews.
For well over a decade, there has been dramatic erosion in the German mainstream’s views on Israel. Seven polls between 2004 and 2015 about the Jewish State (carried by the University of Bielefeld and Bertelsmann Foundation) asked Germans two overlapping questions. The first was whether people agreed with the statement that Israel acts toward the Palestinians like Nazis behaved toward the Jews. In the 2004 poll, 51% agreed. By 2015, the percentage was 41%.
The other question was whether the interviewees agreed that Israel was conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians. In 2004, 68% said yes; indicating that the great majority of Germans believed that Israel was a genocidal nation.
Acting like Nazis or having genocidal attitudes is the contemporary expression of absolute evil. In Nazi Germany the Jews were seen as absolute evil. In the “new Germany” this perception of absolute evil has mutated into Israel.
In 2014, the most recent study which asked the ‘war of extermination” question, showed a decline to a still-outrageous 40% of German society-- far more than the 12.6% who voted for the AfD.
Germans know from their history that wars of extermination don’t unfold over decades. If the canard about a genocidal Israel had been true, there would be no Palestinians left in the West Bank and Gaza. In reality, the number of Palestinians has increased over the years.
So who is responsible for Israel’s “demonization image” among so many Germans? Few German mainstream politicians make such remarks. No, the dominant culprits can be found within the German media as a few examples illustrate.
--The Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal has conducted an analysis of articles in the leftwing daily, TAZ. Its correspondent in Israel seemed to condemn terror attacks in Germany, but created understanding for Palestinian terror against Israelis. TAZ also published articles favoring the extreme anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign and raised the specter of dual loyalty by publishing an accusation that the Central Council of Jews in Germany was an instrument of Israel—a left wing rehash of a Nazi canard.
The fate of the documentary "Chosen and Excluded, The Hate for Jews in Europe," co-produced by Joachim Schroeder and Sophie Hafner for German Public TV and the German-French Arte broadcaster this year, provides further insights into the depths of mainstream media bias. In addition to reporting on European right wing anti-Semitism, Chosen also exposed massive left wing and Muslim hatred. The sponsoring TV networks initially refused to air a documentary they had funded. Only after international protests did German Public TV, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), finally broadcast the documentary—but only after declaiming the film it had initially approved and paid for.
Yet another example was the publication in 2012 of an anti-Israeli hate poem in the Süddeutsche Zeitung written by the German Literature Nobel Prize Winner, Günther Grass. Without providing any proof, he asserted that Israel is aiming to commit nuclear genocide against the Iranian people. The publication of such an extreme lie can only be explained by deeply anti-Israeli attitudes among this important paper’s editors.
And then came in 2015 and 2016 the massive rapid influx of mainly Muslim refugees into Germany. They came from countries where profound and widespread anti-Semitic attitudes are inherent to society. The Simon Wiesenthal Center asked Germany’s Justice Minister what steps Germany would take to tackle these biases. No serious answer was ever forthcoming—because there is no gameplan to counter this new additional source of hatred against Jews.
The election success of the far right is one brutal reminder among several others that there is a big price to be paid when leaders fail to act or act wrongly. It may be very difficult for Germany to admit and take into account that the past huge crimes still impact on the nation’s mindset. This is coupled with the failures of contemporary democratic leaders to take into account the societal impact of the mores and attitudes of the many million Muslims living in the country. The AfD phenomenon and the radicalization of this party over the past year are warnings of where Germany could be heading if it fails to confront and defeat hatred — including anti-Semitism -- wherever it rears its ugly head.
*Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the former Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the SImon Wiesenthal Center’s International Leadership Award