Israel's 60th Anniversary The Poisoned Congratulations of German Know-It-Alls

Israel's right to exist is questioned on a daily basis -- not just by radical Palestinians, but also by prominent intellectuals. As the country celebrates its 60th anniversary, they are sending their case against Israel in messages disguised as birthday greetings. But their supposed concern about the Middle East is really just a cloak for their own guilt complexes.

By Henryk M. Broder


If you drive north out of Tel Aviv for about 15 minutes you come across Herzliya, a settlement founded in 1924 by seven immigrant families and named after Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism. More than 80,000 people live there today, and countless tourists visit each year. Herzliya has a long seafront promenade with many hotels, a harbor for yachts and even a small airport.

A torn Israeli flag: Sometimes starting from scratch can be an advantage.
REUTERS

A torn Israeli flag: Sometimes starting from scratch can be an advantage.

And of course there's a monument to Theodor Herzl. It's a huge water tank next to the motorway, with a slim male figure standing on top of it with his arms crossed and looking down at "his" town in a pose in which Herzl is often portrayed -- the visionary.

The man who wrote "The Jewish State" died at the age of 44 in 1904, 44 years before the foundation of the state of Israel. Those who believe in Kabbalah and the mysticism of numbers may see a hidden message in those digits: It's hard not to ask oneself what Herzl would think were he to visit Herzliya today.

He'd probably think: "This isn't how I imagined it, but I like it." Because he would see a high-tech center with laboratories in which hundreds of experts work for Microsoft, Motorola and Nokia, surrounded by shopping malls and restaurants. Some 20 years ago this was an area of auto repair workshops and warehouses, and 40 years ago there was nothing but the wind whistling between the dunes.

The whole country has changed as rapidly as the small town of Herzliya. Other societies took 150 years to develop from agricultural economies to the post-industrial age, but Israel managed it in 60. Sometimes starting from scratch can be an advantage.

But there is something that hasn't changed, a strangely constant element in the turbulent, crisis-ridden life of the world's smallest major power. Something that not even the visionary Herzl could foresee. Israel's existence is called into question day after day -- not just by militant Palestinian organizations such as Fatah and Hezbollah and the president of Iran, but also by congenial European intellectuals who devote themselves to the "Middle East question" with the dedication of someone who has long since completed all his other homework.

Recently a group of German thinkers including the political scientist Johano Strasser, Green Party parliamentarian Claudia Roth and writer Gert Heidenreich published a paper to mark Israel's 60th birthday entitled "Congratulations and Concerns."

In it they praise Israel's "development, the cultural diversity, the scientific and technological successes, the intellectual productivity and the democratically organized pluralism." But they also voice doubt about whether the Israelis are really doing enough to settle the conflict with their neighbors.

Israel, the writers warn, is endangering "its own existence", "making a fool of the whole world," and "deceiving itself." The paper calls on German politicians "not to lose sight of the connection between the extremely difficult economic and political situation of the Palestinians on the one hand and the uncertainty and menace facing Israel on the other."

The entire paper is a collection of cheap platitudes concocted by hobby astronauts zooming through virtual space on their games consoles, convinced that everything hinges on their navigation skills.

The paper "Congratulations and Concerns" was preceded by another position statement: "Friendship and Criticism," written by 25 political scientists who accuse Israel of instrumentalizing the Holocaust for its own political ends and who call for a rethink of the "special relationship" between Germany and Israel in order to render the "internal German discourse" between "non-Jewish, Jewish and Muslim Germans" broader and more impartial.

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