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Germany and the Middle East


German Chancellor Merkel's visit to Israel and Knesset speech were far from routine. They were symbolic of the miraculous transformation of German-Jewish relations following the horror of the Holocaust..

As Rami Khouri points out, the exceptional rapprochement between Germany and the Jews should be an example to all the countries of the Middle East:

Exceptional indeed, but not only because of the almost unimaginable magnitude of the Nazi genocide against the Jews and the mass murder of other victims. It was also exceptional because it showed how honest, decisive leaders can overcome the immense burdens and constraints of the past and transform chronic, distrustful enemies into colleagues, friends and even partners in solidarity, mutual security, and development....Arab and Israeli leaders alike might consider pausing for a moment, to ask themselves if they have anything they should be ashamed of in their treatment of their foes, their neighbors or their own citizens. In the meantime, we can each in our own way salute Germany's leadership for its timely lesson in humility and humanity

The power of rapprochement is the first lesson of Merkel in Jerusalem.

Actually, the Irish and South Africans, and a few others, have also shown us that when the political realities are favorable, rapprochement can work wonders. The lesson of China and Japan, shows that something more is required than the passage of time to generate rapprochement. The German drama in Jerusalem required two actors, and it was a political drama. Israel and the Jews have no particular moral reason to forgive Germany or Europe for the Holocaust. Those who cry out so anxiously for "justice" in Palestine or elsewhere, should consider the example of the Holocaust. If Israel and the Jews were to base their attitude on moral behavior of countries during the Holocaust, their friends would be limited to Denmark and perhaps Holland. There is no means of obtaining justice for the murder of six million people, for the complicity of nearly the entire European continent in this murder, for the complicity of Nazi Arab Palestinians like Hajj Amin al Husseini in this murder. There is no means of obtaining justice for the mostly successful attempts of the German government and others to protect guilty parties, whose names were safely locked away in the Bad Arolsen archives until they were all dead, or for American and Soviet collaborators like Loy Henderson who released or pardoned Nazi war criminals for political expediency. Merkel did not apologize for the German role in protecting the guilty, just as no other country has apologized for its complicity in the Holocaust. But Israel needs the Germans, as it needs the Americans and the British and the French. If Germany was a weak and tiny state, perhaps it would be different. In Jerusalem, we witnessed a political act as well as a moral one, an act based on compromise, because even in "justice" there must be compromise. That is the second lesson to be drawn from Merkel in Jerusalem.

The third lesson of Germany for the Middle East is not directly related to Merkel's visit to Jerusalem, or to Israel and the Palestinians. Germany and Japan were rapidly industrializing countries that wanted their place in the sun. Their rise aroused fears and jealousy. They chose to make their way with armed force. The result was two horrendous world wars that eventually left Germany and Japan in ruins.

Then quietly, without a Wehrmacht, or an navy or a Luftwaffe, both countries got to work in peaceful construction. All the effort previously channeled into making aircraft carriers, bombs, V-2 rockets, camps for murdering Jews and camps for enslaving Chinese, was turned to making transistor radios and cameras and automobiles. The Nazi designed Volkswagen put Germany on the autobahn to prosperity and real world power. The "fourth Reich" has its capital in Brussels, not Berlin, but everyone knows what country is the economic power house of Europe. The Japanese achieved their "coprosperity sphere" in Asia, without enslaving people. These examples hold lessons for the Middle East that are far more important and less banal than the lesson of rapprochement. Every country in the Middle East, as well as the United States, should consider very carefully the best ways to achieve "democracy" or the "restored Caliphate" or whatever grandiose goals they are pursuing today by military means. Likewise, everyone should contemplate what it took to dissuade these countries from the military path. Mr Bush and Mr. Ahmadinejad, take note.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 1 Comment

I think Ami you omit one key factor in the Germany / Japan scenario that is not present in the Middle East. The Axis powers dreamed of domination and in pursing this dream with absolute fanaticism not only teetered on the edge of the precipice, they fell head long into the abyss. In particular in Germany the consequences of the war was to bring the conflict into the centres of civilian habitation. The firestorms, the mass rapes, the breakdown of society have no parallel in the Middle East.
So absolute was the destruction for both Germany and Japan that they foreswore militarism.
As much I would like to see the potential you describe I still see repeated images of Arab men and boys depicted as warriors, swaggering resplendent with their uniforms and their glossy guns. These images are much too much like pre-WW1 or inter-war Germany and Japan. To me it seems that the Arab populations are too much in love with the fantasy of war to be ready to make the peace that germany and Japan have made. I only hope that they do not have to experience the horrors of WW2 to learn the lessons, but I suspect they will.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 04/15/2008 09:57 PM CST

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