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.”
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.
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.
More 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.”
Helen Mirren to play Golda Meir in upcoming film
(JTA) Academy Award winner Helen Mirren will portray Golda Meir, Israel’s only female prime minister, in an upcoming biopic set during the Yom Kippur War.
Production Golda will begin later this year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The news follows the announcement last month of another star-powered production on Meir, a series titled Lioness led by Israeli actress Shira Haas of Unorthodox fame.
While Lioness will follow Meir from “her birth in Kiev to her American upbringing in Milwaukee, her role in the formation of Israel, and her rise to become the new nation’s first and only female prime minister”, according to a report in Deadline, Golda will focus on the turbulent Yom Kippur War period.
Along with the rest of Israel, Meir and her all-male cabinet were taken by surprise by the attack on the eve of the holiday in 1973 by Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian forces. The ensuing bloody conflict – chronicled in the recent acclaimed Israeli production Valley of Tears on HBO Max – shattered the nation’s growing sense of confidence at the time in an embattled region.
Golda will be directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv, who won the 2018 Academy Award for best short for Skin, a film involving neo-Nazis that he later made into a feature.
“As someone who was born during the Yom Kippur War, I’m honoured to tell this fascinating story about the first and only woman to ever lead Israel,” Nattiv said. “Nicholas Martin’s brilliant script dives into Golda’s final chapter as the country faces a deadly surprise attack during the holiest day of the year, a core of delusional generals undermining Golda’s judgement.
“I couldn’t be more excited to work with the legendary Miss Mirren to bring this epic, emotional, and complex story to life.”
Bibi or not Bibi – is there even a question?
“Citizens of Israel – thank you!” wrote Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Hebrew on Twitter shortly after Israeli polls closed on Tuesday night, 23 March.
A few hours later, a delighted crowd welcomed him at his Likud party headquarters in Jerusalem. “Bibi, Bibi!” they shouted, filling a large hall with balloons, banners, and Likud COVID-19 masks.
But the excitement might be misplaced and premature at best.
As the hours ticked into Wednesday morning, the exit polls started changing their initial predictions. Only on Friday afternoon will the final tally be known.
What won’t alter is the fact that the prime minister’s Likud party won the most parliament seats by a large margin. President Reuven Rivlin will therefore task him first with forming a government. But then it gets tricky.
At the time of writing (at midday on Wednesday) exit polls predicted Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc fell short of the 61 seats it needed to secure a majority coalition. The kingmaker could well be the prime minister’s former ally and defence minister, Naftali Bennett. His Yamina (Rightwards) party won at least seven seats, and although Bennett avoided explicitly declaring who he would support, it’s widely expected he’ll join Netanyahu. In return, he’ll exact a high price in terms of ministerial positions and other powerful appointments.
This would bring Netanyahu closer than ever to a narrow government that would include the most extreme elements of Israeli society. Exit polls showed the Religious Zionist Party, that includes far-right and homophobic elements with roots in the overtly racist Kahanist party, receiving enough votes to enter parliament.
Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Israel Democracy Institute, warned that such a coalition could back Netanyahu’s attempts to find a political solution to his legal troubles. “In this case, it will be imperative that elected leaders from across the political spectrum, civil society organisations, and all those who advocate on behalf of a vibrant Israeli democracy, make it emphatically clear that the results of this election don’t constitute a license to promote radical proposals aimed at eroding the legal system and curtailing the rule of law. The health and vitality of Israel’s democratic system could hang in the balance,” he said.
Meanwhile opposition leader Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid (There Is a Future), said he, too, would try to build a coalition to “create a sane government for Israel”.
Speaking early on Wednesday morning, he declared, “At the moment, Netanyahu doesn’t have 61 seats but the change bloc does. We’ll wait for the final results but as it stands, there won’t be a government based on the votes of the racists and homophobes.”
The anti-Netanyahu bloc is far from a homogenous group, consisting of left, right, and centrist factions. They have fewer options in forming a coalition than Netanyahu. Should neither side succeed, it will be back to the polls for Israelis – the fifth election in two years.
Which in part explains why Tuesday’s turnout was the lowest since 2013. Voter fatigue and apathy are starting to sour even the most ardent supporters of Israeli democracy.
The lack of enthusiasm was most noticeable in the Arab community. Many residents confessed they had lost confidence in their representatives and the two main Arab blocs – the Joint List and the breakaway United Arab List (Ra’am), headed by Mansour Abbas – warned of a “disaster” due to the low turnout.
In the 2015 election, the Joint List became the third-largest party in parliament after it won 13 seats. In the 2020 election, it increased to 15, remaining the third-largest party until Yesh Atid split off from Blue and White to lead the opposition.
Earlier this year, Abbas quit the Joint List, indicating his willingness to join a coalition headed by Netanyahu. And the prime minister welcomed him. Whereas in the past Netanyahu “incited” against the Arabs, this time around, he changed his strategy and appealed to Arab-Israelis to vote for him.
He paid rare visits earlier this year to Arab cities in the north of the country purportedly to encourage citizens to get coronavirus vaccinations, but many were suspicious that he was taking advantage of the rift within the alliance of Arab parties.
Netanyahu appeals to some Arab voters because they believe he can make things happen. He’s also promised to focus on the growing violence and crime in the Arab community, economic issues, and the recent normalisation of Israel’s relations with several Arab countries.
As in the previous three rounds, this election was largely seen as a referendum on the tenure of Netanyahu. Personality politics has so overtaken the race that there has been almost no mention of the Palestinians after years of frozen peace talks.
The day before the vote, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh described the election as an “internal” matter for Israelis, but decried the effect on Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
Netanyahu used these elections to once again portray himself as a global statesman uniquely qualified to lead Israel through its many security and diplomatic challenges.
But unlike the previous election held last March, he didn’t have the support of former American President Donald Trump smiling alongside him in campaign posters. Instead, Netanyahu made Israel’s coronavirus-vaccination campaign the centrepiece of his re-election bid, repeatedly stressing that he was personally responsible for Israel’s impressively fast rollout.
Only a few short months ago, it seemed that COVID-19 would kill his chances of winning another election, and his critics still accuse him of bungling the management of the pandemic for most of the past year. But most Israelis appreciate his efforts.
This was the first election held in the throes of the pandemic, and five thousand additional polling stations were set up to deal with the situation. Workers in hazmat suits collected ballots in hospital wards while buses were parked outside some polling stations to serve as remote ballot drops for coronavirus-positive or quarantined voters.
As things stand now, it’s unclear if four rounds of elections have resolved the longest political crisis in Israel’s history. The country remains as divided as it has been over the past two years.
Israelis assists Eswatini with vaccine rollout
The success of Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine programme may seem like a far-away reality, but it’s actually much closer to home – over the border in fact. An Israel-based non-governmental organisation is working feverishly to assist Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) to build its COVID-19 response, including vaccine rollout, logistics, and public education.
The tiny landlocked nation has been hit hard by the pandemic, symbolised for many in the demise of Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini four weeks after he contracted the virus. Now IsraAID, the largest humanitarian aid organisation in Israel, is helping it to pick up the pieces and turn its story around.
From earthquakes and hurricanes to epidemics and forced displacement, IsraAID has been at the forefront of responding to major humanitarian crises worldwide since 2001. It has worked in more than 50 countries and at any one time, has about 300 staff members worldwide.
A seven-member team from IsraAID landed in Eswatini on 8 March 2021 for a two-week visit. They were invited by the government, which has vaccines in the pipeline, and wants help with logistics and public education ahead of the rollout. The mission is being funded by South Africa-based Nathan “Natie” Kirsh, a citizen of Eswatini.
The global chief executive of the Kirsh Foundation, Carly Maisel, told the SA Jewish Report that Eswatini’s COVID-19 case load and death count probably exceeded reported numbers. “The country has the highest COVID-19 death rate in Africa, and the highest HIV prevalence in the world. With just more than one million people, nearly 60% of whom live under the national poverty line, it would be easy for Eswatini to be left behind in the global vaccination race.”
Speaking from Eswatini, Molly Bernstein, IsraAID’s development and communications manager, says, “We made it here on one of the first flights following Ben Gurion Airport’s reopening last Sunday. We arrived with experts who can give insight into the main aspects needed to implement a vaccination campaign of this kind: an operations expert; a psychosocial support expert; our medical sector lead and public health nurse; an epidemiologist and physician who specialises in vaccines; our head of global programmes; and a communications and public-outreach lead.
“Since the start of the pandemic, IsraAID has been working non-stop,” she says. “We have responded to COVID-19 in 17 countries worldwide. We aim to use the models we develop in Eswatini to inform further vaccination campaigns around the world, specifically in the global south, through a new Global Vaccine Access initiative. IsraAID has longstanding expertise in public health, emergency medical care, and mental health capacity building. We will utilise the know-how developed during Israel’s successful vaccination rollout to inform its planning in Eswatini, from here moving to other potential locations.
“This visit is an assessment mission to understand the capacity, assets, and needs on the ground, and identify how we can best support these aspects moving forward,” says Bernstein. “We’re working with the government to put together a plan.”
Because the country has been hit so hard, Bernstein says that a crucial component of its work will be to focus on mental health and resilience, particularly in regard to the country’s frontline health workers.
“In order to build an effective public health response, we have to think holistically and prioritise the needs of local communities. We are meeting many inspiring people here on the ground who want to work hard to help Eswatini push forward with vaccinations to decrease the day-to-day impact of the pandemic,” she says.
“The people of Eswatini, including community leaders, government officials, and everyone we’ve met, have been extremely warm and welcoming. They are excited about learning about the vaccination experience in Israel and working together as the rollout launches here in Eswatini.”
Maisel says that the Kirsh Foundation wanted to play a role because it believes that “successfully overcoming the pandemic will be possible only once there is equitable access and widespread adoption of vaccines across all nations”. The Kirsh family has responded to COVID-19 around the globe, particularly in Southern Africa, through food relief, unemployment support, medical equipment, and bridge-loan funding.
In addition, “Mr Kirsh’s roots are firmly in Eswatini, the place he calls home, and his legacy of philanthropy there is extensive,” Maisel says. “Eswatini is the country where he founded his entry into business and where he raised his family. It will forever be an integral part of his identity. Watching the country ravaged by COVID-19 has been heartbreaking for him and the Kirsh family.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Kirsh Foundation has responded to short-term needs such as PPE [personal protective equipment] and food relief [in Eswatini],” says Maisel. “Additionally, the foundation has been examining how it can support the country over the long term, such as by sponsoring local oxygen capabilities.
“Now, we have partnered with IsraAID to help the nation and frontline health workers prepare for vaccine distribution and a potential third wave of the virus. Mr Kirsh speaks to the IsraAID team via video calls, and he has told them that they will have a universal effect on the country.”
IsraAID Chief Executive Yotam Polizer told the SA Jewish Report, “It’s ground breaking because there are few initiatives to support the global south during COVID-19, specifically with vaccination campaigns. It’s also ground breaking because it’s the first time that an Israeli organisation is using the expertise developed in Israel as part of its vaccination campaign, and is bringing this know-how to some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.”
The Kirsh Foundation has been a longstanding supporter of IsraAID’s world-renowned global initiatives. “Bringing together the two countries central to Mr Kirsh’s philanthropic vision was a ‘no brainer’ in this case,” says Maisel.
“IsraAID has become synonymous with rapid response to humanitarian crises around the world. We know that it’s up to the daunting task of preparing for a national vaccine rollout, not just because of its proven ability to deliver on its mission, but because of the unique insights it will bring from the unparalleled success of Israel’s vaccination campaign.
“We hope IsraAID will be able to leverage its experience in Eswatini to roll out its global vaccine initiative throughout the rest of Africa, where many countries are in need of its logistical and medical insight,” she says.
Asked if the organisation would carry out a similar mission in South Africa, Polizer says, “Our goal at IsraAID is to support the most vulnerable, regardless of politics. We’ve worked in countries that didn’t even have diplomatic relations with Israel, and we would be happy to support communities affected in South Africa in the future. We believe that through long-term humanitarian work, we can build bridges between people and countries. We would also love to discuss opportunities to partner with individuals and institutions in the South African Jewish community in the future. COVID-19 won’t be over for us, here [in Israel], until it is over for everyone, everywhere.”
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