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Dr Steinmeier’s disconnect with Israeli reality

Columnist Ron Jontof-Hutter takes a swipe at German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (pictured) over statements the latter made supporting John Kerry’s roasting of Israel at a news conference in Paris last month. Steinmeier, says the writer, “was proud that the European Maccabi Games were held in Berlin, even if he grossly exaggerated the number of Jews in Germany, or ignored the fact that participants were advised to use taxis and hide their Jewish identity.”

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Israel

RON JONTOF-HUTTER

 When Secretary of State John Kerry recently thundered that Israel could choose to be a Jewish state or a democratic state, but not both, he was enthusiastically supported by German Foreign Minister Walter-Frank Steinmeier.

Dr. Steinmeier has often made a point of expressing his friendship to German Jews. For instance, he was proud that the European Maccabi Games were held in Berlin, even if he grossly exaggerated the number of Jews in Germany, or ignored the fact that participants were advised to use taxis and hide their Jewish identity.

German


RIGHT: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier attends a news conference after a meeting in Paris last month (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)


 

Steinmeier reflects the conflict that Germans experience in their perceptions of Jews: Holocaust guilt combined with ambivalence towards the Jewish State of Israel.

The roots of this PC form of anti-Semitism can be found in the doctrine of Christianity’s founder, Augustine, who condemned Jews to pariah status in his ‘eternal witness’ concept. Jews were to be seen as unwelcome, homeless, unloved and pitied. They were to exist (the ‘right to exist’ in today’s PC parlance) in order to remind those of Christendom’s triumph. 

Ironically, Steinmeier’s doctoral dissertation was on state intervention and homelessness. Seemingly, one of the world’s oldest victims of exile and homelessness, the Jews, escaped his thought processes.

Augustine’s dictum became the basis of European culture from Luther to Wagner, from Goethe to Kaiser Wilhelm ll, from Degas to TS Elliot, and later, Israel’s standing in the UN. Ban ki Moon acknowledged that Israel is unfairly and disproportionately singled out. Most political resolutions in the UN are about condemning Israel.

Theodore Herzl asked the Pope in 1904 to endorse a Jewish national homeland. He declined, raising the Augustinian principle. In 1964, Pope Paul lV, refused to meet Israeli leaders when he visited Jerusalem for a day. Neither he nor other democracies condemned the illegal Jordanian refusal to grant Jews worldwide, access to their holiest site.

German LeftMore recently, President Hollande of France, was pressured to address the Knesset, the very symbol of Israel’s sovereignty. President Obama, visiting Israel, also declined this honour, thereby sending a message to Europe, the Arab countries and the UN.

Steinmeier has jumped on the politically correct and populist bandwagon. Regardless of any future political settlement, yet demanding ethnic cleansing of Jews in the disputed territories, Steinmeier has exposed his hypocrisy.


LEFT: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier


From his office in Berlin, Steinmeier would be aware that the Jewish King David made Jerusalem the capital of the United Kingdom of Israel, 2000 years before Germans settled in Berlin near existing Slavic settlements, in what is today Museum Island in central Berlin.

If Steinmeier attended a performance of Bach’s popular Christmas Oratorio, he would have heard the opening lines, “Joseph went to Judea, the Land of the Jews,” acknowledging Jews as the indigenous people of Jerusalem and Judea.

Endorsing the absurd statement that Israel cannot be both Jewish and a democracy, Steinmeier also condemns Germany and Europe.

Steinmeier is part of the coalition headed by Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Bavarian partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Yes, Christian and democratic.

Most public holidays in Germany date back centuries and celebrate some religious event. While holidays vary according to state, they celebrate Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Whit Monday, Corpus Christi, Assumption Day, Reformation Day, All Saints’ Day, Day of Prayer and Repentance, Christmas day, St Stephen’s day, St Martin’s Day and St Nicholas day. Not a small number for a democracy. The cross also appears on many European flags and other symbols like Germany’s Grand Cross Medal.

Israel is similar to the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe, with holidays rooted in their religious heritage. Israel has always been successful as a Jewish and democratic state, with non-Jewish minorities represented in the Knesset, judiciary, military, media and more. Whatever a final settlement might bring, Israel will remain a Jewish democratic state.

Does Steinmeier believe that Christian Germany cannot be a democracy? If he ridicules that notion, why demand a different set rules for the Jewish State of Israel where Ramadan is also respected and Christians given free gifts of Jerusalem Pine Christmas trees by the authorities?

Steinmeier is an enthusiastic supporter of the Islamic State of Iran and the Iranian nuclear deal agreement. Despite being a totalitarian country with public executions of “undesirables” such as gays and dissidents, Iran is also the prime sponsor of international terror. It has a vast spy network in Germany. It sponsors the annual Al Quds Day marches in Berlin, calling for the annihilation of Israel. Yet Steinmeier rushed to visit that country, smile at photo ops with mullahs, while downplaying Iran’s open threats to continue where Hitler left off. Steinmeier has stated that the rejection of capital punishment is a key German human-rights policy—when it suits.

While Steinmeier raises concerns about ‘a Jewish’ Israel, he has been very lenient to non-democracies such as Russia and China. Realpolitik is all relative for Steinmeier who fails to recognise, that despite a future agreement, Jews are the indigenous people of the disputed territories.

Mr Abbas has been a guest of Germany. In his interviews, he referred to terrorists as ‘martyrs.’ He lied by justifying attacks against Israelis as ‘defending the Al Aqsa Mosque.’ His anti-Semitic rants of ‘Judaizing’ Jerusalem and that Jews ‘would never be allowed to defile the holy sites with their dirty feet,’ never raised red flags for Steinmeier.

In reality, Abbas should have been arrested. Not only is he a Holocaust denier, a crime in Germany, but Abbas was the paymaster for the Munich Olympic Games massacre of Israeli athletes in 1972. Arafat and Abbas kissed operations chief, Abu Daoud, and wished him luck before that attack. In 2016, Abbas referred to that massacre as a “heroic operation.”  Steinmeier does not see that as a problem, but is concerned about a ‘Jewish’ State of Israel.

Steinmeier welcomed UNSC Resolution 2334, demanding Israel return to its 1948 indefensible ceasefire lines. Steinmeier on the other hand is part of a government that upholds Israel’s ‘right to exist,’ whatever that means.

Ethnic cleansing of Jews is not democratic. Endorsing a ban on Jews in Eastern Jerusalem and their holiest site, the Western Wall, shames Steinmeier, both as a German and as a western foreign minister.

Steinmeier would do well to understand his own history that includes not only Augustine and Luther’s legacies, but also his predecessor, Walther Rathenau, the only Jewish cabinet minister in German history. He was murdered by fanatical German nationalists in 1922.

As a Doctor of Law, Steinmeier could also read opinions of international jurists such as Stephen Schwebel and Jacques Gauthier about the Israeli occupation’s legality.

Having endorsed Kerry’s advice to Israel, Steinmeier should now hasten to return the honorary doctorate he received in 2015 from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, which is partly in ‘occupied territory.’

Why would he flout the very resolution he supports?

  • Ron Jontof-Hutter is a Fellow at the Berlin International Centre for the Study of anti-Semitism. He is the author of the acclaimed satirical novel, “The trombone man: tales of a misogynist.”

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Israel-UAE deal brings hope of further normalisation

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Bahrain, Kuwait, Mauretania, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia… will these be the next Arab or Muslim states to establish full diplomatic and economic ties with Israel?

They could be, if the seeds of moderation and normalisation sprout successfully in the wake of the Israel-United Arab Emirates (UAE) deal.

Unthinkable a decade ago, the new discourse in the Middle East is about peace and prosperity, rather than the Palestinians.

This message emerged from a Zoom webinar on Monday night, ‘Israel/UAE Deal: Insights from behind the scenes’, hosted by the South African Zionist Federation. Moderated by Mpho Tsedu, chief executive of the Institute of Foreign Affairs, the speakers were Dr Nir Boms, a research fellow at Tel Aviv University and member of the Israeli Council on Foreign Relations, and Haisam Hassanein from Egypt, an expert on commercial diplomacy in the Middle East, recently based in Abu Dhabi.

On 13 August, the UAE became the third Arab country to formally recognise Israel’s right to exist, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The telephone lines have been unblocked, and an El Al flight overflew Saudi airspace for the first time last week as it brought diplomats and businesspeople to Abu Dhabi. Embassies are set to open in both states soon.

Dubbed the ‘Abraham Accord’, this deal did not emerge overnight. Relations were subterranean for decades. There was substantial interaction by entrepreneurs, academics, and civil society organisations before an elite peace deal was struck. Some 500 Israeli companies already operate in the UAE, according to Boms.

“It was the right time to bring these relations into the open, from under the table,” Boms said. “It was a win-win-win formula for Israel, the United States (US) [which backed the deal] and the UAE. Their interests aligned.”

The agreement supports Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political approach. US President Donald Trump could do with a foreign policy win heading into the November elections, to show the world and his constituency that he can, in fact, make a deal. For the UAE, it promised closer collaboration with both countries, including for military hardware and Israel’s high-tech knowhow.

“This agreement offers Israel the greatest chance to restore its image in the region,” Hassanein said. “It has been seen through the prism of Arab nationalism since the 1950s, and was negatively portrayed. The peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan never resulted in normalising people-to-people relations.” The Arab countries punished their citizens for drawing closer to Israel, which had a chilling effect.

Hassanein sees the Israel-UAE deal differently. Both sets of leaders and businesspeople have given interviews on each other’s TV stations and in newspapers. Intellectuals in both countries have supported the accords. Soon, Muslims from around the world may be praying at the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount by travelling through Abu Dhabi. The geopolitical centre of the Arab world has shifted from Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad to the capital cities of the Persian Gulf.

Neither analyst was naïve enough to believe this rapprochement would be universally praised. As expected, there has been opposition for the UAE’s enemies, including Iran, Qatar, and Turkey. Much of the Arab media has rubbished the deal. “But it has opened the door for more moderate voices to speak up for the first time, to speak about the advantages of peace,” Hassanein said.

Boms said that the deal could break a stalemate. “Ten years ago, everything was seen through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arab Spring changed that paradigm, but it ushered in an Islamist Winter … the Gulf States are worried about Shi’a radicalism from Iran and Sunni radicalism from ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood, and their interests align with Israel’s.”

Hassanein noted that there is a difference between the older generation of Arab nationalists that blamed everything on Israel, and a younger generation that recognises the havoc Iran is causing. Boms agreed, noting that 70% of the Middle East’s population is under the age of 30.

Boms said the UAE offers a positive third way, different from the Islamism of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and the anti-normalisation and delegitimisation strategy of the Palestinian Authority. “The Palestinians have to realise that the train may leave without them,” said Boms. “If this deal works, if it brings better medicines, technology and jobs, it’s an alternative to old ideologies. It must therefore show tangible results and progress.”

There are early signs that this normalisation can spread to the region and to Africa. Malawi is opening an embassy in Jerusalem and Serbia, and Kosovo and Mali are talking about moving their embassies from Tel Aviv. The UAE is the only place in the Arab world where the Jewish population is growing, and a kosher restaurant has opened in Abu Dhabi.

Boms said this new discourse and mindset made South Africa’s support for the delegitimisation of Israel “obsolete”.

Asked Hassanein, “Who should South Africa applaud and support? Those demonstrating peace, tolerance and acceptance, or those who destroy and have no vision?”

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Malawi may be first African country to open embassy in Jerusalem

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The president of Malawi has said that his country would open an embassy in Jerusalem, making it the first African country to take this step, either for a diplomatic office or an embassy.

Local analysts say this is a significant move and may have been influenced by the recent ‘Abraham Accords’ between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Malawian President Dr Lazarus Chakwera made the announcement on Saturday. “The reforms will also include a review of our diplomatic presence, including our resolve to have new diplomatic missions in Lagos, Nigeria, and Jerusalem, Israel. I will be sharing more details about this in the near future,” he said as he addressed his country’s parliament. He became president in June 2020. Although he spoke of a diplomatic mission, experts believe he is referring to an embassy.

Chakwera was in Israel in November 2019 and visited Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Western Wall. Malawi is a mostly Christian country with 19.2 million inhabitants. Israel’s non-resident ambassador to Malawi, Oded Joseph, is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

On Sunday, chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat announced that the Palestinian Authority would sever relations with any country that opens an embassy in Jerusalem. Within Malawi, a group of concerned citizens voiced their opposition to the plan, according to the Nyasa Times. “We object to having a Malawi embassy in Jerusalem. If Malawi is to open an embassy in Israel, let it be approved by parliament, and the mission should be in Tel Aviv,” said a member of the group, Mussa Ibrahim.

The head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs, Steven Gruzd, says: “The announcement could be connected to the positive momentum generated by the UAE deal.

“Remember, Chakwera is a newly-elected president in a court-ordered rerun election in Malawi,” says Gruzd. “He is setting out his governing agenda. Although both countries have maintained relations since 1964, neither has had an embassy in the other country.”

Gruzd says the announcement is significant. “If a small and resource-strapped country like Malawi sees opening an embassy in Jerusalem as strategic for its interests, it may encourage others to move their embassies from Tel Aviv. It may also be a move to draw closer to the Trump administration. Once it is opening an embassy, it does not make sense to open in Tel Aviv and then have to move.”

He believes the move may encourage other countries to think about opening embassies in Jerusalem. “It may well have a demonstration effect. In the last five years, Prime Minister Netanyahu has put considerable effort into wooing African states and breaking the anti-Israel bloc in forums like the United Nations.

“These efforts seem to be paying off. The decision to move embassies is a highly politicised one, and not without risks. So far, only Guatemala has followed the United States lead on moving its embassy. Kosovo, Serbia, and Mali are said to be considering it. But sovereign states will make their own choices.”

Local political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga says: “I think the opposition victory in Malawi provides an interesting turn of events, and anomaly in the region. I do not find it surprising the country is intending to open an embassy in Jerusalem – this seems to usher different politics in the country.

“Malawi is trending an interesting path that has not been seen in the region. A response to this on a regional level is difficult to anticipate, in the sense that most member countries on the continent seem to prioritise a bilateral relationship with Israel, while at the same time maintaining solidarity on the Palestine matter at the United Nations level or at a multilateral level,” he adds.

“The global community would watch in anticipation how Malawi might further break the ranks with other countries in the region or the continent on Israel matters or other matters. A lot is possible with Malawi, yet one cannot tell exactly how it will go.”

Sara Gon, head of strategic engagement at the Institute of Race Relations, also believes that the UAE deal has opened the space for Malawi, even though it is not a Muslim country.

“I suspect that it has wanted to support Israel wholeheartedly hence going for an embassy in Jerusalem, but the opprobrium that has faced the United States for the move has held it back,” she says. “The UAE deal makes it less risky. I think the fact that it is going to Jerusalem signals that Malawi wants a completely normal relationship with Israel – no-holds-barred. The intention is a good, solid relationship.”

Looking at how this may impact Israel’s relationships with other African countries and if they will also think about opening embassies in Jerusalem, she says: “I think they might, on the basis that in diplomacy there are usually other countries who want to make the same move but they need just one country to make the first move. I think this is particularly so with the majority of Christian countries who are tired of having to show support to the Palestinians and hatred against Israel just because they belong to the block of what were once ‘non-aligned states’.”

Regarding the global community’s response if Malawi went ahead with this, Gon says she “suspects it will be more muted than previously, except of course from the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah, etcetera”.

She continues: “The problem is they have nothing to offer Malawi, so they’ll be ignored. Obviously, Malawi is desperately poor and not particularly influential, and it needs what Israel can offer it, but it is a start.”

“The South African Zionist Federation warmly welcomes Malawi’s decision to establish an embassy in Jerusalem as the recognised capital of Israel,” says its national chairperson Rowan Polovin. “This news is part of a momentous tide of improved relations between Israel, the Middle East, and Africa. We encourage the South African government to participate in this momentum of improved relations that Israel is achieving across the world, and share in the benefits that it will bring.”

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Arab-Israeli actor finds himself with Fauda

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For Arab-Israeli actor Ala Dakka, a character isn’t just a role. It’s another identity. Known to millions as Bashar the boxer from hit Israeli TV series Fauda, the 25-year-old superstar commits himself to acting in the most authentic way possible, and his career is on the rise.

Dakka shared stories from on and off the set with South Africans this past Saturday night in a live Zoom event hosted by the SA Jewish Report in partnership with the South African Zionist Federation and World Zionist Organization.

Born to Muslim parents, Dakka was raised in Be’er Sheva, surrounded by a predominantly Jewish population. “I grew up in the Jewish community, and throughout my life, I wondered where I belonged,” he said. “I didn’t know where to put myself. As a kid, I just wanted to be popular, so I decided to be friends with everyone.

“My life was pretty usual. I didn’t experience racism, though I knew I was different, and it made some things a little harder. I grew up in a beautiful mixture of all kinds of identities that you find in Israel. At the time, though, I cared only about soccer.”

A career in acting was never a foregone conclusion, says Dakka. In fact, he set his heart on becoming a singer, but only towards the end of his high-school career.

“I never sang before I was 17,” he laughed. “It was only in Grade 12 that I stood on a stage and sang. It really came late for me. Only when I turned 22 did I feel I wanted to be an actor, and until today, I’m not sure if I will be an actor for the rest of my life. I’ll just go with the flow.”

Dakka spent a year doing volunteer work with children in Bat Yam after matriculating, and when he contemplated a career, his family wanted him to pursue law.

“My dad is a lawyer, and he really wanted me to go to law school,” he says. “I wasn’t sure, but after volunteering, I realised that I wanted to do something that had nothing to do with law or university just yet. I wanted to be a singer.”

Dakka auditioned on the Israeli version of The Voice, but his initial reception wasn’t too encouraging. None of the judges turned their chairs when he performed, casting doubt on his aspirations.

“It was heartbreaking,” he says. “It took me some time to be willing to try again as an artist. I haven’t been back on stage as a musician since then, but I decided then to become an actor. I’m still optimistic about going back to music one day but acting quickly became the best thing in my life.”

Dakka honed his skills, starring in productions at his local theatre in Be’er Sheva, slowly growing in ability and confidence. He eventually auditioned for roles in television and film, landing his first screen role in an Israeli comedy series before starring in his first film, Beyond the Mountains and Hills, in 2016. More was to follow.

“The roles came one after the other, and I started making a living as an artist, which is a lot more than you can wish for,” Dakka says. “My parents were very scared, afraid I wouldn’t be able to support myself or a family. They’re still scared, but they saw I could be successful.”

Dakka clinched his now famous role in Fauda last year after hearing about the role of Bashar in July.

“I signed up at the gym and started running, slowly changing my way of living,” he says. “I was a smoker, and used to wake up late. I realised I needed to give it 100%, so I committed to getting up to go to gym and change my state of mind. It wasn’t easy, but it gave me a new opening in life.”

After auditioning in July, Dakka was informed that he had landed the role only in December. He says he took to the role immediately, finding a boxing coach and giving himself completely to the part. Even his family seemed to welcome the development.

“My family admits that I’m talented, and my dad says I should be proud of myself,” Dakka says. “Since I started, my family has started believing in me more and more, and it’s brought me closer to them. They really like the show, and are proud of what I have done.”

“The role in Fauda taught me how much you need to put yourself through for a role. I was never an athlete, so I needed to learn how to be one first. My commitment has enabled me to make a living and be proud of what I do, so I enjoy every moment.”

While shooting scenes can be gruelling, Dakka enjoys the time he shares with his co-stars on and off set.

“It’s a 12-hour day,” he says. “It’s tough, but it’s fun, and it’s what we love doing. We want it to be unique. We always try to make it the best we can for the audience so they can enjoy it and feel it’s authentic.”

There’s is a real bond on set, he says. “We spend hours together. We’ve had parties together, and we’re still in touch today. As an actor, you work with a team and have to make sure everyone feels comfortable. If one person is upset on set, we all feel it. We build connections between us, and we share the same love.”

Dakka has received mixed reviews from fans and detractors of the series, but says he welcomes all views because the show itself presents a variety of viewpoints.

Fauda talks about a conflict and its complexities,” he says. “How good people become evil or how evil people become good. The good and bad is so mixed, you never know what’s actually good or bad.

“The fact that it talks about the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is what’s making a change. People are talking about it, and the fact they are is a good thing.”

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