A flower is placed by next to the name of a former concentration camp inside the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem on April 24. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

The German and the Israeli


I’m not sure how to view what happened at lunch today. Coincidence? Serendipity? Or “bashert”, the Yiddish word that means “meant to be”.

I know several now-middle-aged Germans who never met a Jew until, as adults, they traveled outside their country. Nearly twenty years ago, one such German was my seatmate on a long, delayed trans-Atlantic flight. Andreas, from Cologne, was happy when I mentioned that my mother was born in Germany; his expression, however, turned somber when I explained that we’re Jewish, and she and most of the rest of her family managed to escape their “heimat”, or homeland, in the years after Hitler came to power. Other relatives, of course, were not so lucky.

Whenever I meet young Germans, here or during my four trips to that country, I do my best to make relevant and real what seems like ancient history to them. We ended up speaking for hours about my family’s experience in the Holocaust and his family’s actions during the Third Reich. Although he knew neither Jews nor Shoah survivors, he was surprisingly sensitive to my stories and clearly moved by them.

Andreas and I became friends on that flight, and have stayed in touch since then. I visited him once in Cologne, and he’s visited me at my home in New York, where he travels every year for business.

He was in town this week, and we went to lunch at a pleasant Long Island restaurant overlooking a pond. The conversation inevitably turned to politics and history, and we discussed whether there is any basis for comparing America’s current leader to Germany’s long-dead Fuehrer. We spoke about his two sons, ages 14 and 11, and what they know of Germany’s history.

After we finished eating, we went outside to the restaurant’s balcony to take some pictures with the spring scenery. We were alone for a couple of minutes until an elderly white-haired woman stepped outside and asked us if it was OK to smoke there. I said I had no idea, and she apologized, saying she’d mistakenly thought we were restaurant employees. By that time I’d recognized her accent, and asked in Hebrew, “You’re Israeli, right?”

She was surprised, but laughed and confirmed my hunch. Continuing in Hebrew, I asked if she’d been born there. Again, laughter, and the response “What, you want to know my whole complicated life story?”

Well, I answered, I’m a reporter, and yes. Go right ahead! After she spoke for two minutes in Hebrew, I stopped her and said (in Hebrew), please repeat that in English, as I want my friend, a non-Jewish German, to hear this.

So Maya told us how she was born in Tel Aviv in 1938, but the following year, her parents inexplicably decided to return to Europe, where they’d been born, with her and her eight-year-old brother. To their horror, they soon were entangled in the Nazi web, fleeing from place to place, country to country, hiding in forests, being caught and escaping detention… all in all, a typical Holocaust survivor’s story (if it can even be said that there is such a thing). Maya only remembered the last, frantic years of the saga clearly, from ages four to six; she discovered the rest of the details years later from her parents and brother.

“And then”, she concluded, “we finally returned to Tel Aviv from Europe after the war ended, and we were all almost killed in a huge explosion. We made it into the shelter in the nick of time”.

With that, Maya said she had to get back to her friends, having decided to forego her smoking break for our entirely unexpected chat.

She went inside, and I turned to Andreas. He looked stunned, his eyes wide with astonishment at what he had seen and heard over the previous five minutes. I had to smile. “This is not exactly the kind of unplanned conversation you might have with a stranger in Deutschland, is it?”, I said. “In fact, I guess this is the first time you’ve actually met someone who survived the Holocaust”.

Andreas nodded. “You know”, he said slowly, shaking his head in disbelief, “I was thinking the most interesting thing I would tell my kids next week was about the 35-mile bike tour I took from Jersey City. But now I have a very different story to share with them.”

Why I love Berlin when I was supposed to hate it


The following article was originally published in German in Fluter.de, a German political magazine for young adults ages 18-25.

I was supposed to hate Berlin when I first visited from Tel Aviv in 2014. I came with my American father, who wanted to see the former Displaced Persons camp in Hannover where his Polish parents, Auschwitz survivors, gave birth to him. I may not have come had a good friend from Los Angeles not recently moved to Berlin. My Israeli mother opposed the trip. While her parents are Iraqi, she still swears off German cars.

I admit, when I first walked the Berlin streets, I didn’t see a modern city. I’d imagine Nazi banners strewn across the buildings. I’d wonder from which of these adorable Alt Bau apartments Jews were dragged out. I’d hear German: the language that murdered my grandparents’ families. I’d take a train: to what death camp? This creepy Holocaust awareness must be common for Jews during a Berlin initiation.

That same year, Berlin made headlines in Israel in what became known as the “Milky Controversy.” An Israeli Berliner angered Israeli parliamentarians when he encouraged Israelis to move to Berlin, comparing grocery receipts that put Berlin’s chocolate pudding one third cheaper than Israel’s famous “Milky” brand. By 2015, when I returned to work with my friend on a music project, I started to understand why young Israelis flock to Berlin. (Although I recently learned that the German brand is made with unkosher beef gelatin.)

With the obligatory visit to the Holocaust Memorial and Topography of Terror already out of the way, I could focus on enjoying Berlin as the creative, vanguard, affordable capital it is. My friend and I still made occasional Holocaust jokes (like when we’d behold a stunning blue-eyed, blonde German who looked like an “Aryan” poster boy), but overall, we made music, went out, and socialized with friendly locals, forgetting the city once housed SS headquarters.

As I struggled to like Berlin, I interviewed young Germans living in Tel Aviv, its Israeli “sister-city”, to find out if the attraction was mutual. Naturally, the Holocaust came up, and one woman said that I can’t blame her generation for the sins of the fathers. “I wasn’t born when it happened,” she said, while acknowledging she feels a special responsibility for Jewish safety today.

I realized Germans and Israelis are quite alike – we come from two people struggling to rebuild and make sense of a troubled yet soaring national identity after a great trauma. Even though we come from opposing sides – the persecutor and the victim – we, this third generation, carry a burden that may be best unpacked together.

Still, I shocked fellow Israeli patriots when I told them I planned to spend Summer 2016 in Berlin. They scratched their heads when I started adding heart emoticons around Berlin on my Facebook statuses. Their shock had run out when I announced my decision to stay, indefinitely.

The artistic vibe, the historical richness (and scars), the ease of getting around, and, of course, the insanely cheap groceries and beer all make Berlin loveable to many internationals: Australians, Argentinians, Brits, etc.

But the pleasure I get from just walking the streets is deeper; it’s like a transmutation of the pain Jews must have felt here, once, in fear of deportation, of torture, of death – a fear I don’t have to feel anymore. Now I don’t see Nazi banners, but delightful café signs; I don’t see “Aryanized” Jewish apartments, but apartments I’d like to own; I hear German: a challenge; I take the train: to which party?

While growing up in the US, I learned about Germany through horror stories almost as much as I learned about Israel through heroic legends. Hence, my strange familiarity and connection to this land. And as much as the Jewish state is a modern miracle, so is the re-transformation of Berlin into a force for liberty.

Episode 33 – Israel and Germany: An unsettled past with Eldad Beck


The words ‘Germany’ and ‘Israel’ probably raise many differing connotations in various people’s minds but one probably stands out among them all: the Holocaust.

Germany-Israel diplomatic ties began in 1952 when Germany finally offered to pay reparations to the survivors of the Holocaust. For obvious reasons, this relationship was not without its fair share of trials and tribulations. Over the years the challenges have persisted, often exacerbated by events such as the massacre of the Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic games in Munich.

As the chief correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth in Germany, Eldad Beck has become well acquainted with German internal politics, diplomatic affairs and public opinion. He has written two books on the subject of Germany: “Germany, at Odds” and his most recent “The Chancellor”. Beck joins 2NJB to talk about the two countries’ strained relations and his career as a journalist.

Eldad Beck’s Facebook and Twitter

‘Germany, at Odds’ on Amazon

Direct Download

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking to the media in Berlin, Germany on June 29, 2015. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Germany says trust in Israel ‘shaken’ by legalization of West Bank settlements on Palestinian land


Germany condemned a controversial new Israeli law that retroactively legalizes settler homes built on private Palestinian land.

Berlin said Wednesday that the “regulations law” undermines trust in Israel’s seriousness about reaching a compromise with the Palestinians.

“Many in Germany who stand by Israel and feel great commitment toward it find themselves deeply disappointed by this move,” a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement. “Our trust in the Israeli government’s commitment to the two-state solution has been fundamentally shaken.”

The law, which the Knesset passed in a raucous late-night session Monday, allows the state to seize private Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built, as long as the settlers were not aware of the status of the land. In cases where the landowners are known, they are entitled to compensation.

Censure of the law has come from governments around the world, including the United Nations, the European Union, France, Britain, Turkey, Jordan and the Palestinians. The United States has refused to comment. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that it “will be obviously a topic of discussion” when President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet later this month.

Most of Israel’s political opposition and even members of the governing coalition oppose the legislation. Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said he would not defend it before the Supreme Court. It was the first time that an Israeli attorney general has made such a refusal, legal experts told JTA.

“In view of the many reservations which the Israeli attorney general, among others, has affirmed once more, it would be good if the bill could soon undergo a critical legal review,” the German statement said. “We hope and expect that the Israeli government will renew its commitment to a negotiated two-state solution and underpin this with practical steps.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose Jewish Home party was the law’s staunchest supporter, is meeting Wednesday with her German counterpart, Heiko Maas.

Israeli tourist injured, wife missing in Berlin terror attack


An Israeli tourist was among the injured in Monday’s deadly terror attack in the center of Berlin and his wife was still missing.

The husband was located in a Berlin hospital, where he is undergoing emergency surgery, Elio Adler, a family friend in the German capital, told JTA.

The couple were in the Christmas market near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church when a truck plowed into the crowd, killing 12 and seriously injuring at least 48.

Chabad has planned a Wednesday evening memorial service in Berlin.

Chabad Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, a part of Berlin’s official Jewish community, told JTA that he had been to the scene of the attack on Monday night with colleague Rabbi Shmuel Segal to see if they could help. Teichtal told JTA that plans for the annual public menorah lighting ceremony at the landmark Brandenburg Gate would go ahead as planned, albeit with higher security.

Teichtal said he hoped that “more people than ever” would come to the event.

“We have to have zero tolerance for terrorism,” he said, “and at the same time reach our hands out.”

Expressing sorrow for the victims and their families, Berlin Jewish Community head Gideon Joffe said that Berliners are proud of their tolerant and cosmopolitan city and would fight to keep it that way.

“We can’t let terror determine our lives,” he said, adding that he urged all Berliners to attend the Chabad candle-lighting ceremony on Dec. 27, “especially in times like these.”

According to local news reports, the Polish driver of the truck was shot and killed. Police arrested one suspect after he tried to flee on foot. He reportedly came to Germany from Pakistan more than a year ago.

Early Tuesday afternoon, police announced that the arrested man was not the driver in the deadly attack and that he had been released. Police also said there is a possibility that the suspected perpetrator remains armed and running loose in the city and called on residents not to go out.

The truck was driven nearly 90 yards through the Christmas market, which was filled with holiday shoppers. Berlin police said they believe the incident was not an accident.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany in a statement called the attack “disgusting” and added: “Our thoughts and actions must not be overcome by fear and terror … May the messages of our two holidays give us strength in these difficult hours.”

“We are deeply shocked. Especially in the pre-Christmas period, when our society focuses on values like charity, goodness and peace, our country was once again hit by this disgusting attack,” said the statement, which was attributed to its president, Josef Schuster.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement issued Tuesday condemned the attack and sent condolences to the families of the people killed and the government of Germany.

“This attack joins [other] reprehensible attacks; terror is spreading everywhere and can be stopped only if we fight it, and we will defeat it, but we will defeat it much quicker if all free nations under attack unite,” Netanyahu said.

The EU, Terror and the Transparency Bill


On the 7 December 1970, German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt solemnly before the Warsaw Ghetto in contrition. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel faced annihilation, the same Willy Brandt denied German landing rights to US planes carrying emergency supplies to Israel. 

Chancellor Merkel occasionally says that Israel’s “right to exist” is Germany’s raison d’etre.

Like Willy Brandt, Germany appears to be two tongued when it comes to antisemitism. Like the EU,  Germany makes a distinction between antisemitism and objecting to Israel’s policies, which on paper seems to be fair. Thus, giving the Hitler salute and denying the Holocaust are illegal. On the other hand, the annual Iran sponsored Al Quds March through downtown Berlin, calling for the destruction of Israel is legal. Berlin constantly turns a deaf ear to appeals to ban that march.

The JCPOA (Iran Deal) was enthusiastically supported by Germany enabling Iran to fully develop its nuclear program after a decade, whilst currently testing “Death to Israel” marked missiles. However, the same Germany decided that nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes were too risky for Germans. They are to be phased out by 2022.

Germany maintains it has a “special relationship” with Israel while the EU ambassador to Israel explained that Israel is singled out because “you are one of us.”

The EU countries support various NGOs despite being termed “non-government.” Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) provides funding to NGOs as part of its foreign aid programs. Recently Prof Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor exposed the doublespeak of Germany yet further. The German government annually pays 4 million Euros to NGOs in Israel, of which 42% goes to organizations that support BDS and worse, like The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee which advocates violent riots in Judea/Samaria. The German Embassy in Tel Aviv does not deny the funding, but blandly states that Germany does not support boycotts of Israel. They donate to “organizations supporting peace.”

Some of the NGOs funded by the EU are Zochrot, Grassroots Jerusalem and Baladna Arab Youth Association, all of which are committed to getting  Palestinian refugees and their third and fourth generation descendants to “return” even though most have never been to Israel.  I have met some of these “refugees” who lead comfortable middle class lives, in Australia. They certainly do not fit the image of a refugee we see on TV. In my recent satire, “The trombone man: tales of a misogynist,” the story depicts one such comfortable refugee who, like his parents, has never been to Israel. Despite these anomalies, the EU generously funds these organizations that are dedicated to Israel’s disappearance as the Jewish State.

The EU therefore supports some organizations dedicated to Israel’s demise, while paying lip service to its “right to exist,” whatever that means. The EU, led by countries such as Germany, also supports labelling people and products from beyond the Green Line or “Auschwitz Lines” as former dovish foreign minister Abba Eban called it. Thus, while officially declining to support BDS, the same EU countries fund NGOs that do—all with a straight face.

Unlike the vicious murder of Hallel Ariel (z”l) and countless others before and after her, the EU, committed to democracy and human rights, has been “deeply concerned” about the recent transparency law passed by the Knesset, even though there is no suggestion these NGOs would be banned from practising their dubious activities. The State Department termed it “chilling,” despite its funds being surreptitiously used to help influence the outcome of Israel’s last election. In the meantime, Europe is reeling with regular terror attacks, for which Europeans cannot find an answer—except to insultingly compare Israel to Putin’s Russia and be “deeply concerned” with their fellow democracy that struggles to maintain some balance in civil rights while upholding its citizens right to life.

Israel remains a vibrant democracy despite the underhand tactics of the EU. As Europe grapples with increasing terror, their exaggerated concern with an ally threatened daily by internal and external terror is misplaced and misguided.

NGO Monitor has shown in great detail the doublespeak of the EU countries which mouth unconvincing platitudes regarding Israel’s “right to exist,” but simultaneously fund many NGOs that promote exactly the opposite.

At the end of the day, it should be remembered that the hidden agendas of many of these NGOs have little to do with “human rights” per se but more to do with providing conditions that would end  the State of Israel, by stressing the Nakba, hope, resilience and the “right of return” of refugees and their descendants.

That is why it is always worth remembering Willy Brandt 1970 and Willy Brandt 1973. It sums up Europe perfectly.

Ron Jontof-Hutter is Fellow at the Berlin International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism. He recently authored of the satire “The trombone man: Tales of a misogynist.”

Israel-German Congress aims to ensure support for Jewish state


A year after the 50th anniversary celebrations of Israeli-German diplomatic relations, Israel advocates held the fourth Israel-German Congress in Frankfurt on June 19, expressing concern that Germany’s proclamations of support for Israel are becoming disingenuous. 

Germany’s recent vote singling out Israel for health rights abuses at the World Health Organization assembly at the United Nations, German ministers’ rush to forge ties with Iran in the wake of last year’s nuclear agreement and the influx of migrants from Muslim countries were cited as signs Germany may be sliding backward in its historic support of Israel. 

The weekend event attracted 3,000 participants, a 350 percent increase from the first Congress held in 2010. It is the largest pro-Israel conference in Western Europe, indicating Germany remains a safe haven for Israel supporters who hope to stem what they see as troubling developments. 

“You have the German declarations in the government to stand up for Israel’s security — that’s more theory than practice,” said Sacha Stawski, the congress’ founder and president of the pro-Israel lobby and media-watchdog group Honestly Concerned and the Israel advocacy group I Like Israel. 

Mathias Döpfner, CEO of the Axel Springer media group, whose newspapers and magazines generally counter anti-Israel bias common to German media, also expressed concern over the disparity between the German government’s words and actions. Support for Israel’s right to exist is built into Axel Springer’s platform.

“Many positive things have been said in the diplomatic arena in both directions, but when considering the German-Israel relationship nowadays, I think the love is kind of lopsided,” Döpfner told the audience after receiving the Arno-Lustiger Prize for his efforts in building German-Israel relations. He cited a recent survey indicating that 70 percent of Israelis view modern Germany positively, while an equal number of Germans view Israel as a world threat, ahead of North Korea. “They are of the opinion that Israel is involved in escalation of [conflict in] the Middle East.”

With the participation of Jewish and Christian leaders, as well as local and federal German politicians and Israeli embassy officials and politicians — including former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Member of Knesset (MK) Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), Druze MK Ayoob Kara (Likud) and MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Biteinu) — the event exhibited a united front for Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin appeared via video.

But Eldad Beck, a conference speaker and the author of “Germany at Odds,” a book skeptical of Germany’s reconciliation with its past, noted the absence of German government ministers.

“The most interesting thing about this conference is the fact that the political level keeps on snubbing it,” he told the Journal.

Last year, salutations from Chancellor Angela Merkel were included in the program. She declined the invitation to attend this year, and no salutations appeared, because, Stawski said, they weren’t requested. Despite concerns with the current German Chancellery, Stawski fears a post-Merkel era and also what he perceives as the ascendance of an anti-Semitic right.

According to professor Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor and a conference presenter, anti-Israel nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that promote anti-Israel and “lawfare” campaigns, and which are recipients of German federal funding, are increasing in influence.

“Germany is part of Europe, and it’s really a virus that’s growing inside of Europe. In the past, Germany has largely stood up against that, but that’s no longer the case. The barriers are breaking down,” Steinberg told the Journal. 

American-born Deidre Berger, director of the Berlin office of American Jewish Committee (AJC), moderated a panel that featured debate about the influence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Germany. She noted that Jews in Germany don’t face the kind of anti-Israel harassment seen at California college campuses, but that BDS-oriented ideologies are nevertheless prevalent at German universities. 

“It’s not organized here,” she said. “There’s not campus life in the same way. They don’t have that field of operation, but, that said, I’m not sure the attitudes of professors here vary that much from those in the U.S.”

The AJC is lobbying to implement, at the German legislative level, the European Parliament Working Group on Anti-Semitism’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, which includes the demonization of Israel. 

On the surface, the congress was marked by optimism. Booths dedicated to Israel and Jewish programming dominated two floors of the conference center. A DJ played Israeli pop music at a Tel Aviv-style “chill-out” area, while shops sold Israeli goods. 

On the previous night, hundreds gathered at the Leonardo Royal Hotel for dancing to Mizrahi hits and a performance by Nadav Guedj, Israel’s “Golden Boy” act at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Under the conference banner of “Building Partnerships,” a delegation of Kurds waved Kurdish and Israeli flags, expressing solidarity for Israel as they battle ISIS and fight for independence. 

“If we build more on the business side and more on the cultural side, and other issues uniting Germany and Israel at this point in time — if there is enough pressure there — we could influence the political side of things,” Stawski said.

Shifting Israel-German discourse away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Holocaust and toward the countries’ common values and interests emerged as a new strategy for Israel advocacy at a time when third-generation offspring of the World War II era are distancing themselves from Nazi crimes.

“I think it needs to be rebuilt so that young Germans understand in coming decades that this relationship is important not only because of history, but because Israel is the only reliable democratic partner in the Middle East,” Berger said.

Volker Beck, a pro-Israel member of Germany’s parliament and critic of the current Israeli government, nevertheless favorably compared Netanyahu’s resolute condemnation of Islamic terror in the wake of the Orlando terror attack on a gay nightclub to what he saw as a wishy-washy statement from Merkel. 

“Israel is an open, vivid, civil society,” Beck said, “and we could all learn from them.”

Döpfner closed his remarks at the conference with a similar sentiment: “We have unbelievable vital interest to support Israel and its right to exist. So if we don’t do it for altruistic reasons, let’s at least do it for egoistic reasons.” 

Israeli officials deny increased tensions with Germany following news report


Israeli government officials have denied Spiegel Online magazine’s recent report of increased tensions with Germany.

Ties between German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union Party and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are strong, according to Israel Hayom. A source suggested the negative reports were due to attempts by some German politicians to undermine those ties.

In their news analysis for Spiegel Online – titled “Foreign policy shift: Skepticism of German-Israeli friendship growing in Berlin” – published April 29, Ralf Neukirch and Christoph Schult said prominent politicians in Germany’s mainstream parties believe Netanyahu’s settlement policies are blocking the road to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

They named several German politicians, including the chancellor, as being increasingly sympathetic to Palestinian views of the conflict, and cited Bundestag legislator Rolf Mützenich, deputy chair of foreign affairs, defense and human rights for the Social Democratic Party, or SPD, as saying that Netanyahu appears to be “instrumentalizing our friendship.”

Before the weekend was out, Israeli government officials denied that there was a shift in relations with Germany. An unnamed official told Israel Hayom that ties remain strong and positive.

Criticism of Israel’s settlement policies from the highest political levels is not new in Germany.

Most recently, the mayor of a city in the former East German state of Thuringia had written to Merkel demanding an end to her “one-sided approach to the State of Israel,” according to a report Sunday by the German press agency DPA.

The mayor of Jena, Albrecht Schröter, a member of the Social Democratic Party, urged Merkel to fight against Israel’s settlement policy, which he defined as “land theft” and an attack on Palestinian civil rights. His remarks reportedly were triggered by the recent construction of a security wall in Jena’s Palestinian partner city,  Beit Jala.

US, Germany: Golan Heights not part of Israel


The United States and Germany both criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that the Golan Heights “will forever remain part of Israeli sovereignty.”

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the Obama administration does not consider the Golan Heights to be part of Israel, despite Netanyahu’s assertion at a Cabinet meeting there Sunday, Haaretz reported.

“The U.S. position on the issue is unchanged,” Kirby said at a daily media briefing at the State Department in Washington. “This position was maintained by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Those territories are not part of Israel and the status of those territories should be determined through negotiations.”

Earlier in the day, a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry said, “It’s a basic principle of international law and the UN charter that no state can claim the right to annex another state’s territory just like that,” according to Haaretz.

The Arab League and Hezbollah also criticized Netanyahu’s statement about the Golan Heights.

Israel wrested control of the Golan from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967 and officially annexed it in 1981, a move never recognized by the international community.

Netanyahu’s declaration came following reports that a draft of a peace deal aimed at ending Syria’s 5-year-old civil war involves Israel relinquishing control of the area, where 21,000 Israeli citizens and 22,000 Druze Arabs live. The Druze there opted to retain Syrian citizenship rather than taking Israeli citizenship.

While giving up the Golan as part of a land-for-peace deal with Syria was widely discussed in the 1990s, few Israelis support the idea today.

There are good reasons why Europe’s Jews are so worried


The Weimar Republic, Germany's flawed experiment in democracy in the 1920s, has become today's paradigm for the failure of state and society. By the end of Weimar, the government seemed to have lost control – vigilantes from the political extremes claimed they were keeping the streets safe while beating up vulnerable minorities, above all Jews. So it is shocking when citizens in Germany and France – and elsewhere in Europe – increasingly cite Weimar when discussing their society today.

The European Union now does sometimes resemble a replay of Weimar's combination of institutional perfection with violent and nationalist forces aimed at tearing down the “system.” Though Germany's 1919 constitution, written in the city of Weimar, was widely viewed as a model document, throughout the 1920s the constitutional dream seemed ever more disconnected from public life.

The political leaders of France and Germany today deplore anti-Semitism and make striking gestures of solidarity with their country's Jewish population, but the gestures seem helpless. The number of anti-Semitic incidents, as tracked by such bodies as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, is on the rise. Many Jews in many European countries, but above all in France, are contemplating leaving because they believe their homelands have become so unsafe. The political establishment tries to reassure them with the argument that the parallels with 1933 are really too much of a stretch.

To a degree, the reassuring voices are correct. Many of the most prominent recent European incidents are not the outcome of an old-style anti-Semitism in France or Germany. Indeed, the right-wing French National Front under Marine Le Pen has distanced itself from its older positions – as articulated by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was convicted of Holocaust denial after calling the wartime Nazi occupation of France “not particularly inhuman.” In fact, today's National Front sometimes refers to Israel as an ally against Islamism. In the new grass-roots anti-immigration movement in eastern Germany, PEGIDA, the explicit target is “Islamicization,” and Israeli as well as Russian flags were prominently displayed in some of its early rallies.

At the beginning, Weimar's political institutions were skillfully designed to be as representative as possible. Most Germans viewed their society as remarkably tolerant. German Jews in the 1920s often emphasized that they lived in a more inclusive society than France's, which was still riven by the legacy of the Dreyfus case, when the army and the church prosecuted an innocent Jewish officer for espionage, or than the United States', where prime real estate and universities were often not open to Jews.

This misconception about German stability lasted a long time, indeed extending for a time after Adolf Hitler became chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933. Right up until April 1933, when the regime launched a “boycott” of Jews, many German Jews refused to accept that anti-Semitism could be politically serious.

Today, the most obviously violent threats clearly come from Islamic terrorism, from groups affiliated to or imitating Islamic State. That is the story of the attack on the Jewish supermarket in Paris, where four were killed last January, which came in the wake of the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. It is also cited to explain the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, or of some of the many synagogue attacks. The Agency for Fundamental Rights even tries to register incidents separately and attributes some of them to “foreign ideology,” meaning radical or jihadist Islamism.

Yet the jihadist incidents are – in numerical terms – a minority. There is, however, an intellectual contagion, in which native far-right radicals often use anti-Israel and anti-American slogans that proliferate in the Middle East as part of their anti-Semitic arsenal. In France and Britain the “quenelle,” a version of the Hitler salute, popularized by the French comedian Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala has become popular with the racist right.

In addition, arguments about anti-Semitism have spilled over into the discussion of the refugee crisis confronting Europe. For some, the large-scale inflow of more than a million refugees in one year, from the Middle East and North Africa, is bound to lead to an inflow of actual terrorists, who can easily conceal themselves in the crowds of migrants. But it is also being blamed for a possible influx of terrorist ideas. Anti-Semitic texts such as Mein Kampf or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are widely available in the countries from which migrants are moving; and anti-Semitism, usually linked to anti-Israelism, is a natural ingredient of the social and cultural milieu that is moving into Europe.

Critics of large-scale immigration use the supposed anti-Semitic culture of many migrants as an argument against migration. They then make a case about the superiority of their native or indigenous culture – which can also, paradoxically, include hostility to aliens. So Jews feel vulnerable on two fronts: vulnerable because of who is attacking them, and vulnerable because of who is defending them.

The classic liberal answer to the new threat is that the state has an absolute and unconditional duty to protect all its citizens. That is the position that Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls insistently, and rightly, defend.

But many people will also ask whether the state can really offer so much security. It is increasingly obvious that the police are overstretched. That was true even before the flood of refugees. A long trial currently under way in Munich, Germany, has highlighted the way in which the intelligence service that was dedicated to “protection of the constitution” Verfassungsschutz) against right-wing terrorists was for a long time blind to the threat. Instead, it had undermined its efforts by engaging members of far-right-wing groups as informers. Dealing with the new kinds of threat demands a far greater security presence, as well as new methods of surveillance.

As more and more incidents demonstrate police ineffectiveness, new groups will mobilize for self-protection. The incidents on New Year's Eve in Cologne and in other German cities, in which criminal groups, composed largely of migrants from North Africa, stole from and sexually harassed women, have led to the formation of citizens' patrols. In many cases, the personnel of these patrols come from the far right and its sympathizers.

That brings the story back to Weimar. In the last years of the republic, German streets were controlled not by the police but by paramilitary groups, of the left (the communist Red Front Fighters' League) as well as the right (the Nazi Stormtroopers). Then, even the parties of the center believed that they, too, needed their own defense organizations, and built up their own leagues. When the government tried to ban the Nazi Stormtroopers, the army objected on the grounds that it believed it could not effectively fight all the different leagues simultaneously.

One lesson of Weimar is that it is very dangerous for the state to give up its legal monopoly of violence. One key feature that makes modern life civilized is precisely that we don't take the law into our own hands. But the existence of threats, real or imagined, creates a great deal of pressure for “self-defense.”

There is a second, related lesson. Violent and ostensibly antagonistic ideologies may be quite capable of fusing. Sometimes in Weimar, the far right and far left just fought each other; on other occasions, they joined together in attacking the “system.” Today in Europe, there are the same curious blends, sometimes of jihadism with traditional anti-Semitism, or anti-jihadism and anti-immigrant populism with traditional anti-Semitism.

The fusing of dangerous ideologies makes members of small groups vulnerable. They are additionally vulnerable when the state promises protection that it cannot actually deliver. That is why Europe's Jews are so worried.


Harold James is the Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies and professor of history and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “A German Identity,” “Making the European Monetary Union” and “The Deutsche Bank and the Nazi Economic War Against the Jews,” among other books. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Germany accuses two Palestinians of planning attack on Israeli embassy


Two young men of Palestinian descent are on trial in Germany for planning to bomb the Israeli embassy in Berlin or other Israeli targets, a criminal court spokesman said on Wednesday.

The two men, both aged 21, were arrested in July and appeared in court on Tuesday, where they were charged with planning a violent act.

One of the two holds German citizenship and the other is stateless, the court spokesman said. Islamist propaganda was found on the mobile phone of one, the spokesman said.

The two stuffed a can with gun powder purchased on the black market and sealed it with toothpaste.

“It is not clear how they planned to detonate it,” the spokesman said. “They had a plan to use it against the Israeli embassy or another Israeli target at some time in the future. There was no concrete plan of action. It was a general plan.”

The two will appear in court again on Dec. 18, one of five remaining hearings in their case before a court decision on January 14.

Israel welcomes 200 young Germans


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

On the 68th anniversary of the day that the United Nations first recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Palestine, two hundred young German leaders are landing in Israel for a five-day tour of the country. The German visitors have never been to Israel, and are leaders in business, music, art and diplomacy.

UN Resolution 181 called for the partition of Palestine into two states – one Jewish and one Arab. In his remarks to the cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called it “a decision that advanced the establishment of the State of Israel. The next day, Jewish communities were under increasingly murderous attacks. As it was then, so it is today; we continue to fight terrorism. This terrorism has been with us for almost 100 years and we have defeated it time and again; we will defeat it this time as well.”

Israeli foreign minister spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon said the timing of the visit was purely coincidental, but the fact that both Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin will meet the group shows the importance that Israel attaches to its relationship with Germany.

“The relations between Israel and Germany are a cornerstone of Israel’s diplomacy,” Nachshon told The Media Line. “Bringing young Germans here is an important step to preserve those unique relations for the future. They are the young elite of Germany who will influence their future of their country, and we want them to understand Israel.”

The relationship between Germany and Israel has been especially close in the shadow of the Holocaust, when six million Jews were killed. German children all study the Holocaust, and Germany has given Israel billions of dollars in reparations. The two countries have held numerous celebrations this year marking 50 years of diplomatic relations.

Thousands of German students volunteer in Israel, and Berlin has become something of a mecca for Israelis. Israel has intensive security, business and cultural ties with Germany and German President Angela Merkel has a close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Earlier this month, four days after the attacks in Paris, Israel forwarded intelligence that a terrorist attack was planned at a friendly soccer match between Israel and the Netherlands in Hanover, during a game that Merkel was supposed to attend, according to the German magazine Stern. The game was called off just before it began.

Also this month, large German department store KaDeWe removed Israeli products produced in areas that Israeli acquired in 1967, after the European Union passed a resolution to remove these products. After an uproar in Israel, officials at the store apologized and returned the products.

Yet some Israeli analysts say that cracks are appearing in the Israeli-German relationship.

“Israeli sympathy for Germany is on the rise while German sympathy for Israel is declining,” Moshe Zimmerman, the Director of the Richard Koebner Minerva Center for German History at Hebrew University told The Media Line. “Germany has become the nice guy and Israeli has become the bad guy.”

He said that Germany has intentionally kept its army small and avoided getting involved in war, and has rejected racism. Israel, on the other hand, is seen as being militaristic, and using its army for political purposes.

So far, Zimmerman said, these ideas have not affected Germany’s close political ties with Israel. But they are being heard more and more on the street in Germany, and he said they could eventually affect these ties.

“Politicians are politicians everywhere,” Zimmerman said. “You can’t have the political strata working in a void if the public is against Israel.”

Munich marks this Kristallnacht by making room for boycotters of the Jewish State


The worldwide Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement is the twenty-first century’s highest profile anti-Israel global campaign that meets the “three D” ( Double standard, Deligitimization, and Demonization) litmus test for crossing the line between legitimate criticism of the Jewish state and toxic anti-Semitism: Never designed to help a single Palestinian, BDS singles out Israel exclusively for criticism, ignoring the major human rights abusers around the world, while distorting the Jewish state’s actions to defend herself from terrorist attacks by means of false and malicious comparisons with Nazi Germany and South Africa’s Apartheid regime.

So it is almost beyond belief that the city government of Munich is allowing a BDS event to be held in the Gasteig Building, a tax-payer funded city building, as part of Munich’s “cultural program.” German Jews are especially appalled by the effrontery that such an event would be scheduled on November 9, the same day that Kristallnacht commemorations are being held to remember country-wide November, 1938 Nazi pogroms that burned German synagogues, attacked and sent thousands of Jews to concentration camps.

Charlotte Knobloch, is a Holocaust survivor who heads the 9,500-members of the Jewish community of Munich, the city where the Nazi movement was originally organized.

Knobloch has warned that: “The BDS campaign disguises the socially unacceptable ’Don’t buy from Jews!’ as a modernized form of Nazi jargon by demanding ‘Don’t buy from the Jewish State’.”

Knobloch denounced the event as “a continued effort to defame, delegitimize, ostracize Israel under the cloak of allegedly legitimate criticism” and launching pad for “a comprehensive boycott against Israel will be announced aimed at hurting economics, science, culture and all areas of life.”

German authorities refused to join her denunciation. The spokesman for Munich’s Social Democratic Mayor Dieter Reiter said he “could not judge” whether the Social Democratic mayor opposes or supports a boycott of Israel. One local politician, Richard Quaas, a Munich city councilman from the Christian Social Union, did call on the city to cancel the rental agreement with the BDS group.

As Germans debate how they will deal with the influx of up to 1 million Muslims, it would also be a good time to remember how their nation dealt with the Jewish minority in the last century. Nazi newspapers started calling for boycotts of Jewish businesses after World War I, despite the outstanding record of the over 100,000 Germany Jews who served in the German Army. As Hitler rose in political popularity in 1930, SA Stormtroopers or Brown Shirts began a sporadic terror campaign including harassment, vandalism, and kidnapping Jewish judges, lawyers, doctors, and anti-Nazi activists.

Following Hitler’s coming to power on January 30, 1933, the Nazi leadership decided on an organized boycott of Jewish businesses. On April 1, the first nationwide boycott was ordered, with Berlin’s 50,000 Jewish businesses in the crosshairs. In broken store windows, signs were posted “Jews Are Our Misfortune!” and “Go back to Palestine!”

The Nazis inspired similar boycotts elsewhere, including Austria. In Poland, the head of the Catholic Church and Polish Prime Minister called for boycotts against Jews. In Hungary, the government passed laws limiting Jewish economic activity from 1938 onwards. In Palestine, the first anti-Jewish boycotts coincided with bloody anti-Jewish riots whose battle cry was “O Arab! Remember that the Jew is your strongest enemy of your ancestors since olden times.”

North America was not immune. In Quebec, French-Canadian nationalists organized boycotts of Jews in the thirties. In the U.S., the Nazi anti-Jewish boycott had defenders in distinguished academic circles, just as anti-Israel BDS campaign thrives on many university campuses today. At a time when Ivy League schools imposed discriminatory admission quotas on Jewish students, Harvard Professor S. B. Fay blamed German suffering during the Depression on anti-Hitler protestors.  Fay told the Harvard Crimson student newspaper that Germany’s affairs were “none of any other country's business.”

Cloaked in the rhetoric of nonviolent resistance, the BDS Movement today is nothing like the nonviolent Montgomery Bus Boycott protest campaign of the 1950s—which invoked Christian love against white racism. BDSers habitually cross the line, deploying historically toxic language demonizing the Jewish State and Jews everywhere.

BDS’ publicly-stated goal is to “end occupation in the territories.” Under siege by terrorists today, Israel had already unilaterally withdrawn from Gaza in 2005 and is committed to a two-state solution if only it had a willing peace partner ready to accept a Jewish neighbor. Instead, as Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) confirmed to Palestinian students, the BDS Movement is really a public relations stunt designed to prepare the ground for the ultimate goal of the destruction of Israel.

As Germany welcomes twenty-first century refugees, they must not endanger the lives of descendants millions of Jews who were stripped of their rights, cast out as refugees in the 1930s, ghettoized, gunned down or gassed by the German Third Reich in the 1940s. In 2015, German leaders including those in Munich have a historic and moral obligation never to embrace those who aid and abet forces that would destroy the State of Israel—home to 6 million Jews.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center 

Historian Dr. Harold Brackman is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Netanyahu blames mufti of Jerusalem for Final Solution, prompting outcry


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being criticized for saying the mufti of Jerusalem gave Hitler the idea to exterminate the Jews in a meeting between the two in 1941.

Netanyahu’s remarks about the mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, came in a speech to the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem on Tuesday night.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time; he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here,'” Netanyahu said. When Hitler asked Husseini what to do with the Jews, Netanyahu said the mufti told the Nazi leader: “Burn them.”

The Israeli prime minister said the mufti was sought for war crimes in the Nuremberg trials “because he had a central role in fomenting the Final Solution.”

Israeli lawmakers were among the many critics who slammed Netanyahu for the remarks, saying he was distorting history and somehow blaming the Arabs, rather than Hitler, for the Final Solution.

“A historian’s son must be accurate about history,” Isaac Herzog, the Israeli opposition leader, wrote in a statement posted on his Facebook page. “This is a dangerous distortion of history, and I demand that Netanyahu correct this immediately since he is trivializing the Holocaust.”

Hitler’s plans for the Final Solution were in place before his 1941 meeting with the mufti, Holocaust historians say.

Arab Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said Netanyahu “is rewriting history in order to incite against the Palestinian people,” Haaretz reported.

PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said in a statement, “Netanyahu hates Palestinians so much that he is willing to absolve Hitler of the murder of 6 million Jews.”

On Wednesday, Netanyahu sought to clarify his remarks.

“My intention was not to absolve Hitler of his responsibility, but rather to show that the forefathers of the Palestinian nation, without a country and without the so-called ‘occupation’, without land and without settlements, even then aspired to systematic incitement to exterminate the Jews,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

“Hitler was responsible for the Final Solution to exterminate six million Jews. He made ​​the decision. It is equally absurd to ignore the role played by the Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a war criminal, for encouraging and urging Hitler, Ribbentropp, Himmler and others, to exterminate European Jewry,” he said.

The German government on Wednesday also responded to Netanyahu’s remarks, saying that “responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own.”

Netanyahu traveled to Germany on Wednesday and is slated to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Netanyahu cancels German visit as Palestinian attacks surge


A suspected Palestinian militant stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier, snatched his gun and was then shot dead by special forces on Wednesday, police said, as a surge of violence prompted Israel's prime minister to cancel a visit to Germany.

Hours earlier, police said an 18-year-old Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli near a contested shrine in Jerusalem, and was then shot and wounded by the injured man, the third knife attack in the city in less than a week.

Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have sought to calm a rise in street violence that has been exacerbated by confrontations around Jerusalem's al Aqsa mosque complex, Islam's third holiest shrine which Jews also revere as the vestige of their two ancient temples.

Four Israelis have been killed in stabbings in Jerusalem and a drive-by shooting in the West Bank since Thursday, and two Palestinians have been shot dead and scores injured in clashes with security services, triggering fears of an escalation.

In the latest attack, an Arab stabbed a soldier on a bus in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Gat, grabbed his gun and ran into a residential building, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. He was shot dead by police special forces.

Samri did not immediately say whether the assailant was Palestinian or a member of Israel's Arab minority. Kiryat Gat, and surroundings has been relatively peaceful in recent months, but are a short drive from the West Bank and the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

WESTERN WALL ATTACK

The 18-year-old Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli man near the Western Wall, a Jewish prayer site in Jerusalem's walled Old City abutting the al Aqsa mosque complex. The Israeli, lightly injured, drew a gun and shot the woman, seriously wounding her, police said.

Hoping to head off the violence and potential knock-on attacks by ultra-nationalist Israelis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has beefed up the military presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Though at diplomatic loggerheads with Netanyahu over peace talks that stalled in April 2014, the U.S.-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has also said he seeks no escalation.

Netanyahu was due to visit Germany, Israel's most important European ally, on Thursday with members of his cabinet. But aides to Netanyahu said on Wednesday he had canceled the trip because of the precarious security situation.

On Tuesday, confrontations spread to Jaffa, a predominantly Arab neighborhood of Israel's commercial capital Tel Aviv, where three police officers were injured in stone-throwing and six protesters arrested, police said.

Palestinians fear increasing visits by Jewish groups to al-Aqsa are eroding longtime Muslim religious control there. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is committed to maintaining the status quo at al-Aqsa.

The Palestinians seek a state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed in 2014.

Palestinian Perfidy at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee: A direct assault on the core of Judaism


The 39th UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) has just ended its ten day annual meeting, this year in Bonn, Germany. Once again,the Wiesenthal Centre was the only accredited Jewish NGO

Since the Palestinians's admittance to UNESCO in November 2011 they have wreaked havoc, best illustrated by their voracious appetite at UNESCO's WHC:

– 2012 in St. Petersburg, Russia, running roughshod over UNESCO's professional advisor, ICOMOS, they demanded and received Christianity's prime Holy Place, the Church of the Nativity and the Bethlehem Pilgrimage Route.

– At Paris board meetings, Rachel's Tomb and the Hebron Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ma'arat HaMachpelah) were reclassified as mosques.

– 2013 in Cambodia, a wish-list appeared that included the Qumran Caves and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

– 2014 In Qatar, Battir –  the Galilee Betar redolent of Bar Kokhba's Jewish revolt against Roman occupation.

Today, the greatest provocation in its campaign of ID theft of the Jewish narrative has arrived as paragraphs 9 and 20 of the perennial Jerusalem resolution crafted by Palestinians and Jordanians. Four times this document re-names Judaism's greatest shrine, the “Kotel” or Western Wall esplanade, as “the Buraq Plaza”.

Buraq, according to Islam, is Muhammad’s winged steed, who flew the Prophet from Mecca to Jerusalem, for his night journey to heaven. He was tethered overnight to a wall until the Prophet returned to fly back to Mecca.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center discovered at the Frankfurt Book Fair and this year in the Doha, Riyadh and Muscat fairs,”The Buraq Wall”, a text exhibited by a Palestinian publisher- reportedly a Hamas front:

How a Jewish conspiracy stole the Wall to substantiate the lie of its Temple on the site of Al-Aqsa.  How that “Western Wall” must now be returned to the embrace of Islam.

Ironically, three days before the Palestinian ploy at Bonn, 17 of the 21 member-states of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) applauded the inscription of Israel's 9th Heritage site, the Beit Shearim Necropolis. This was the Tomb of Sanhedrin President, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and fellow authors of the Mishna.  The walls of the catacomb are replete with Jewish, Greek and Roman motifs revealing an intercultural dialogue. 

Finland's Delegate noted that “the site is cosmopolitan but also provides historical evidence of the Jewish presence”.

Sadly an unpalatable argument for the four Muslim members – Algeria, Lebanon, Malaysia, Qatar – which all abstained.

The German host registered a diplomatic coup in negotiating Korean objection to a Japanese site to be voted for inscription, that had once held Korean and other slave labourers.  There was no debate as Japan acknowledged “the foreign unwilling labourers working in harsh conditions” and agreed to place there a documentation centre memorial.

The site could then be approved by acclamation.

A second German diplomatic victory was not to be.

The Palestinians had seemed to accept a toned-down version of the Jerusalem resolution, in which Germany had insisted and obtained the Wiesenthal Centre's request to remove the “Buraq” references, in favour of the term  “Western Wall”.

The final day of the meeting, Algeria,Lebanon and Qatar – fronting for the Palestinians – introduced an outrageous version,linking the Kotel (Buraq) to Al-Aqsa via the Mughrabi Ascent, effectively Islamicizing the Wall and, by association, negating the veracity of the Temple.

This was not only an embarrassment to the German hosts, but a fabricated battle-cry to the Muslim world that Al -Aqsa is under Jewish attack.

Interestingly, the document also lambasts Israel for its excavations and its improvements in Jerusalem as “damage to cultural heritage.” Yet, two days before, when Yemen's Old City of Sanaa was inscribed, no one mentioned the recent damage to that site by  Saudi bombing.

The hard-line Jerusalem resolution was passed by secret ballot with 13 for, 2 against, 4 abstentions and one absent.

The Israeli Ambassador's hard-hitting response called “UNESCO manipulated…a court-martial  of lies…the adoption of this resolution in Germany a disgrace…a Jerusalem without Israel would be no different from the Middle East [pillaged by ISIS] ..”

Of course, the resolution is not binding and serves mainly for pyrotechnics. Nevertheless, such Palestinian perfidy pushes further the ongoing delegitimization campaign against Israel. 

The 2016 UNESCO World Heritage Committee is to be held in Istanbul and Buraq, the winged steed, will surely be there.  Hopefully, he will stay grounded.

Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Germany subsidizes sale of four warships to Israel


 Israel bought four German-made corvette warships on Monday to help secure its Mediterranean gas rigs, with Berlin heavily subsidizing the deal, Israel's Defense Ministry said on Monday.

The ships, worth 430 million euros ($480 million), will be built by Thyssen Krupp and delivered within five years, providing significantly more fire power to Israel's navy.

The German government will pay 115 million euros towards the cost. As part of its atonement for the Nazi Holocaust, Germany is committed to Israel's security and has often helped pay in the past for the cost of military equipment such as submarines.

Thyssen Krupp also committed to buy 700 million shekels ($181 million) worth of Israeli goods under the contract.

“The deal signed today is an event of the utmost significance that dramatically upgrades the navy's capabilities of defending the State of Israel's strategic sites in the gas realm,” Defence Ministry director-general Dan Harel said.

Israel's economy would also be buoyed, he added.

Israel has huge and mostly untapped gas fields that cover some 23,000 square km (9,000 square miles) of sea — more than Israel's territory on land.

Israeli planners see possible sea-borne or rocket threats to gas facilities from Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, making expanding the naval presence a priority for them.

Israel's navy chief, Admiral Ram Rotberg, said in a separate statement that the corvettes would be classed as “Saar 6” missile boats — suggesting a major improvement in capabilities.

According to the navy website, its biggest warships are currently “Saar 5” missile boats. Israel's Channel 2 TV news said the Saar 6 vessels would be significantly larger, with twice the operational range of the Saar 5 class. 

As a Jew, would you stay in France?


In the wake of the horrific terrorist killings in France, my heart took many turns. First there was shock, soon replaced by grief, then anger, followed by resolve. Now it may be time for reflection.

The response from the French and then the Israelis to the two attacks raised some important issues for Jews living in the Diaspora and also in Israel.

I have been struck by the irony of Israel’s offer of the Jewish state as a safe haven for Jews. Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky, the heroic chairman of the Jewish Agency whose task is to bring Jews to Israel, have reiterated the familiar and all-important offer: Jews are welcome in Israel. We want you here. This is your home. It is here that you are safe.

Such words stir the heart of every Jew who remembers the desperation of Jews fleeing Germany and later German-occupied Europe — Jews who were unwanted everywhere else.

But does this promise still hold true? We shall return to that question.

What has changed in the aftermath of the recent events in France — the murderous attack at Charlie Hebdo, the killings of innocent shoppers at the Jewish supermarket, the worldwide march of solidarity, the declarations by the French leadership that France is at war “against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam” and the statement that France without its Jews is not France? What is new in the remorse expressed by the French prime minister that his country has not done enough to combat anti-Semitism?

Nothing! 

Or perhaps everything.

Permit me to explain.

This is, of course, not the first time that free speech has been attacked by radical militant Islam. Previously, in fatwas, in killings and in violent rioting, the extremist Islamists have tried to silence those they deem to have insulted Islam. From the death sentence declared against Salman Rushdie to the threats on the life of a Danish cartoonist, from massive street demonstrations in Egypt following the release of a minor video by a marginal, unimportant American Protestant to the killings at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, the Islamists’ politics of rage have defined radical Islam. And rage leads directly to violence. 

Simply put, outrage is being used to legitimize and justify murder, and in the eyes of many Muslims, murder has become a reasonable response to what they see as the desecration of their religion and the Prophet Muhammad. Nothing new here.

Let’s look specifically at the most recent violent outbreak. 

For a dozen years, I have been writing about anti-Semitism in France, suggesting that we should distinguish between anti-Semitism in France and anti-Semitism of France. Those who are of France have accepted the values of the French Revolution — liberty, equality and fraternity — and they have few problems seeing Jews as part of France. These French citizens interact daily with Jews and Muslims, Christians and secularists and think nothing of it. They may be outspoken in their opposition to the policies of Israel, but they do not see that as license to attack their Jewish neighbors.

On the other hand, there is also a sizable population of Muslim immigrants and their descendants who live in France but feel themselves untouched, and even alienated from, or appalled by, the values of France. These people have no stake in the values of French society. Despite having by now dwelled in France for some two generations, they nevertheless do not feel part of France, but consider themselves in exile from their true home in the Middle East. Their alienation from the society in which they dwell is fueling their attraction to the values that are wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East, where the politics of rage dominate. Poverty and lack of opportunity created their alienation, but religion fuels their rage; religion justifies their anger and sanctions their violence. 

But even as we look the politics of outrage in the eye, let us be clear that our battle is against militant radical Islam and not against all Muslims. We were touched and heartened by the report that Jewish lives were saved in the Hyper Cacher attack by a Muslim employee. Expressions of solidarity on both sides are important. Nevertheless, it is not sufficient for politically correct people, including our president, Barack Obama, and even his predecessor, George W. Bush, to proclaim that the politics of rage does not define the views of a vast sector of Islam today, and moderate Muslims must be the first and loudest to reclaim the voice of their faith. Without a powerful, even outraged objection from moderate Muslims to the violence, we are engaged in a one-sided discussion among Western Christians (and sometimes Jews) who assure one another that true Islam is actually moderate. And when the people making the case for Islam do not even understand the religious differences between Sunni and Shia, the discussion is not only not credible but also hardly relevant.

Before the killings in recent weeks, when militant Islamists attacked Jews, much of France seemed to turn a blind eye to the violence: A swastika on a synagogue was petty graffiti; mugging a rabbi or a pious Jew en route to synagogue was a minor crime; the murder of yeshiva students was a one- or two-day news story; and the idea that anger at Israel was behind an explosion of anti-Jewish violence — that what happened in Israel, in Gaza and in Lebanon was sufficient reason to attack the Jews in one’s neighborhood — these actions by radical Islamists were allowed for too long by the French as understandable, largely because Israel’s actions infuriated many Europeans as well, and the French in particular. 

Only when this same violence turned against a French non-Jew on the streets of Lyon or Marseilles was attention paid. 

Bridging the divide between the Muslims in France from everyone else who identifies with France will require a fundamental rethinking of French policy. It will require an admission of a fundamental problem in France’s attitude toward its immigrant workers, most especially its lower-class immigrants, who are essential to the nation’s workforce but were never integrated into French society or French culture.

The problem, a longstanding one, cannot be solved in the short term, and it will not go away without a dramatic change of attitude.

But what has changed, perhaps?

It appears that the French finally have come to the realization — or, perhaps more cynically, at least vocalized it — that the very nature of France, its self-image, its self-perception and its core values are at stake if Jews cannot feel secure living as Jews in France. Because the French people today want to believe that they are not the same as they were during World War II. In the aftermath of that war, the French populace was horrified by its own collaborators, those who helped the Nazis, including the French police who participated in the roundup and deportation of Jews, and Vichy France. The French today see themselves as a liberal, inclusive, democratic society. It therefore follows that if the Jews of France are truly once again vulnerable to outbreaks of anti-Semitism and violence without the protections of a civilized society, France today is not, in its very essence, true to its core values — values that had to be painstakingly rebuilt after the Shoah. 

If this realization has finally come, then I say, better late than never. But let us hold them to it.

The concept of a war against radical Islam articulated so passionately in recent days by French President Francois Hollande may — and I stress the word may — spell the end of France’s appeasement to the politics of rage. Let us hold them to that as well.

Still, their immediate reaction was weak. The Grand Synagogue in Paris never should never have closed, even for a day, as many synagogues in Paris closed down and did not hold Shabbat services immediately after the attacks. The French government should have provided its Jewish institutions with adequate security immediately, and the president himself should have appeared in the pews that very first Shabbat on the evening of and the day following the attacks. 

In Los Angeles, I went to services at Temple Beth Am on Friday evening and Shabbat morning, Jan. 9 and 10, and the Los Angeles Police Department was present outside the shul, simply as a demonstration of vigilance.

 

I doubt that France’s newfound avowal of commitment to its Jews will ally France with Israel. The government of France and significant segments of French society tend to see Israel in colonialist terms, as a country occupying another people’s land and as a problem that can be solved only by withdrawal and the establishment of two states. By contrast, Netanyahu sees Israel as battling the same forces of radical Islam as the French government and the people of France. Both may be right, but neither side accepts the other’s interpretation as correct.

So the Israelis have invited French Jews to make aliyah, promising safety and security in the Jewish state. This invitation comes despite the fact that, over the past decades, even with the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, both per capita and in absolute numbers, many more Jews have been killed in Israel because there were more Jews there than anywhere else in the world. 

As I write these words, I shed tears because it wasn’t supposed to be so. We Zionists believed that the creation of an independent Jewish state with an army of its own would end Jewish vulnerability. But Jewish history is filled with irony. In reality, Israeli independence came just as the world became increasingly interdependent, and the State of Israel has not ended Jewish vulnerability, it has simply given us — Israelis and all Jews — new tools to combat that vulnerability.

More worrisome today, if Netanyahu is to be believed, Israel currently faces an existential threat of vulnerability, due to the development by Iran of nuclear weaponry that can be used against Israel, either by Iran or by other nonstate actors armed by the Iranian state. 

If safety is what French Jews are seeking, will their lives really be any safer in Tel Aviv than in Paris?

The fact is, even as Jews consider leaving France, other Jews are leaving Israel. We don’t know why some Jews today are leaving Israel, getting European passports and moving to Europe, but the prospect of endless war in Israel is surely one contributing factor. Israeli Jews weary of war and perceiving a bleak future of unending battles are moving to Germany and other European countries — including France. This is true even as French Jews, feeling like targets of attack, are coming to Israel to take their place.

I was not as moved as many were by the fact that the victims of the Hyper Cacher attack — Yohan Cohen, Francois-Michel Saada, Phillipe Barham and Yoav Hattab — were buried in Israel rather than on French soil. They were not killed because they were Israelis; they were killed because they were Jews. 

If safety is what French Jews are seeking, will their lives really be any
safer in Tel Aviv
than in Paris?

Their burial in Israel, therefore, may have reinforced the idea that Jews do not belong to France, but rather to Israel, and that their murders were a Jewish problem and not a French problem.  

This cannot be the message that we offer up to the world. We must insist that France claim French Jews as their own, as citizens of France, not only publicly and loudly, but also sincerely, just as we must mourn them as Jews.

Comparisons to the 1930s are being offered now by those who understand neither the 1930s nor today. It is essential to remember that, in the 1930s, the attack against the Jews was government sponsored, by the most powerful people as well as by important interest groups native to their country. Today’s attacks are by disempowered people who impose their views through criminal acts of violence and intimidation. Meanwhile, the world powers, the leaders of Europe — Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister David Cameron of Great Britain, Hollande and Pope Francis among them — are condemning anti-Semitism loudly and clearly. One cannot compare the power of contemporary Jews and the reality of Israel with the abject powerlessness and statelessness of Jews in the 1930s. The refusal to equate today’s events with the Holocaust should not be license to minimize their importance, but rather to insist that we affirm how far we have come since then.

Walking home from synagogue in Los Angeles, I saw that my French neighbor displayed a sign, Je Suis Charlie, on his lawn, and I asked for a similar sign to place on mine. I would have felt better, much better, if my neighbor and his fellow countrymen all had exhibited two signs side by side: Je Suis Charlie, Je Suis Juif.

Only when both signs stand side by side — when the rights of French citizens are valued just as highly as the essential democratic right to free speech — only then will the situation of Jews in France truly change.


Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. Click here to read his A Jew blog.

Iran: nuclear talks might be extended if November deadline missed


Talks over Iran's nuclear program might be extended if disagreement over remaining issues cannot be resolved by a November deadline, Iran's top negotiator was quoted as saying on Friday, in the first hint an extension was being contemplated.

“Iran and the P5+1 (major world powers) are very serious on resolving the remaining disputes by November … but everything including an extension is possible if we cannot reach an agreement,” Abbas Araqchi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency.

Iran and the six – the United States, France, Germany, China, Russia and Britain – hope that resolving the more-than-decade-long nuclear standoff with Iran will reduce regional tensions and alleviate the risk of another war in the Middle East.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to use military force against Iranian atomic sites if diplomacy fails to defuse the standoff.

Iran rejects allegations from Western powers and their allies that it is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, but has refused to halt uranium enrichment, and been hit with U.S., European Union and U.N. Security Council sanctions as a result.

Top diplomats of the United States, Iran and the European Union will meet in Vienna next week to work on a comprehensive deal ahead of a Nov. 24 deadline, aimed at curbing Tehran's sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for gradually lifting sanctions against Iran.

“Iran and Western powers are very determined and serious to reach a result. Issues like enrichment and lifting of sanctions will be discussed in Vienna,” Araqchi said.

“We are still optimistic about meeting the deadline.”

Iranian and Western diplomats say significant differences remain over the future scope of Iran's uranium enrichment activity. Enrichment is a process of purifying uranium for use as fuel for power plants or, if enriched to a very high purity, for bombs.

A series of meetings have been held since early this year to try to narrow the gaps. A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said this week Washington still believed a deal was possible by the agreed target date.

In addition to enrichment, the speed of lifting sanctions is another sticking point, one on which Iranian and Western delegations have sharp differences.

ADEQUATE RESULTS NEEDED

The United States and Europeans are prepared to lift their unilateral sanctions very quickly in the event of an acceptable agreement, Western diplomats say, but U.N. measures would be ended gradually based on Iran's compliance with any future deal.

Araqchi hoped that substantial progress could be made in narrowing disagreements when Iran and the six powers meet next week.

“If we cannot reach adequate results this time (in Vienna) we will surely miss the (November) deadline,” Araqchi said. “Therefore, The West (P5+1) should use this opportunity and find proper solutions.”

Some analysts believe meeting the deadline is impossible.

“It’s become increasingly clear that a deal will not be struck by the 24 November deadline,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the non-proliferation program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think-tank.

“But rather than a return to more sanctions and more centrifuges, another extension of the interim deal is the best fall-back alternative for both sides. Iranian officials are wise to start preparing their public for this outcome.”

Last year in Geneva, Iran and the six powers reached an interim agreement under which Tehran won some easing of sanctions in return for halting its most sensitive nuclear work.

But they failed to meet a July 20 target for a comprehensive agreement and they sat a new deadline of Nov. 24.

“Reaching a full-fledged agreement by 24 November no longer appears possible. What is possible is a breakthrough that could justify adding more time to the diplomatic clock,” said Iran analyst Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group think-tank.

Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Dominic Evans

German police arrest 18-year-old after attack on synagogue


German police arrested an 18-year-old man after petrol bombs were thrown at a synagogue in the western town of Wuppertal overnight, they said in a statement on Tuesday.

“According to investigations, three suspects threw several incendiary devices at the entrance,” police said. No one was hurt and it appeared no damage had been done to the synagogue, they said. A local resident had alerted them when she saw a fire close to the building.

Prosecutor Hans-Joachim Kiskel said the nationality of the arrested suspect was not clear, but that the man had told authorities he was Palestinian. The other two suspects fled.

The German government last week assured Jews living in Germany that they should feel safe in the face of the anti-Semitic chants and threats heard at some recent protests against Israel over its conflict with Hamas in Gaza, and said such behavior would not be tolerated.

Germany is ultra-sensitive about anti-Semitism because of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis, and German media have expressed shock at the tenor of anti-Israel chants at some of the demonstrations.

The former head of Germany's Jewish community, Charlotte Knobloch, said in a newspaper interview to be published on Wednesday that Jews were under threat in Germany and urged them to be careful how they appeared in public.

“This is the most worrying and threatening period that we've experienced since 1945,” Knobloch told the Cologne Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper. “The phone has been ringing off the hook and we've been bombarded by mail – we're being confronted with insults and hatred.”

She said Jews were being “attacked and insulted in our country again”.

“And once synagogues are burning, then it's time to ask: What do we have to do to protect Jewish citizens?”

Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Erik Kirschbaum and Thorsten Severin; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Germany, France, Italy jointly condemn Gaza-related anti-Semitic acts


In a joint statement the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy condemned anti-Semitic acts arising out of the recent wave of anti-Israel demonstrations across Europe.

Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier, France’s Laurent Fabius and Italy’s Federica Mogherini met in Brussels Tuesday to coordinate a response to protests in Berlin, Paris, The Hague, Antwerp and Brussels that have included chants calling for the murder of Jews and that in France have devolved into riots targeting synagogues.

“Anti-Semitic agitation, hate speech against Jews, attacks against people of Jewish belief and against synagogues cannot be tolerated in our societies in Europe,” the ministers’ statement reads. “We strongly condemn the outrageous anti-Semitic statements, demonstrations and attacks in our countries in recent days,” the joint statement said.

Nine synagogues in France have been targeted over the last week, Jewish groups said.

On Wednesday, approximately 10 youths assaulted a disabled Jewish woman in southeastern France, the French Jewish community’s SPCJ security unit reported. The youths hurled stones at the woman and chanted slogans about killing Jews.

Speaking at a Holocaust commemoration in Paris on Sunday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls described the phenomenon as a “new anti-Semitism.”

“Traditional anti-Semitism, this old disease of Europe, is joined by a new anti-Semitism that cannot be denied or concealed, that we must face,” he said. “It happens on the social networks and in workers’ neighborhoods, among ignorant young men who hide their hatred of Jews behind a facade of anti-Zionism or hatred of the State of Israel.”

Germany ‘very worried’ about Israeli plans to build more settler homes


The German government is extremely concerned about Israeli plans to build more settlements in the West Bank in response to the inauguration of a Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas Islamists opposed to the Jewish state's existence.

“The German government is very worried about this report because this step poses the threat of making efforts to continue peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestines even harder,” German government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said.

She called on both sides to avoid provocative steps and said the German government urged the Israeli government to refrain from inviting bids to construct homes.

Reporting by Noah Barkin and Michelle Martin

Iran a threat not just to Israel, says Germany’s Merkel


Germany views Iran as a potential threat not just to Israel, but also to European countries, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday at a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But she stopped short of endorsing her host's demand that Tehran give up all sensitive nuclear projects under any negotiated deal with world powers, and reiterated Berlin's opposition to Israeli settlements on occupied land where the Palestinians seek statehood.

Germany is Israel's most important ally in Europe, where the Netanyahu government frets it is losing support given troubled peace talks with the Palestinians. That makes Merkel's views a bellwether of European sentiment on Middle East issues.

The German chancellor visited Jerusalem with her cabinet to mark almost 50 years of bilateral ties with Israel, which was founded in part as a haven for survivors of the Holocaust.

“We see the threat not just as a threat for the state of Israel but as a general threat for Europe as well,” she said of a potential Iranian bomb, adding that Germany would pursue international talks with Tehran on its nuclear activities.

The diplomacy was kick-started with an interim deal in November, which Netanyahu blasted as an “historic mistake” for easing sanctions on Iran while leaving its infrastructure for enriching uranium and potentially producing plutonium.

Iran says its nuclear projects are for peaceful needs.

Netanyahu, whose country is widely believed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, acknowledged that world powers had “talked about the possibility of some enrichment” continuing in Iran as part of a final deal.

STATUS QUO

“I think it's a mistake,” he said. “Every single leader that I've talked to in the Middle East agrees with that position, whether they say so publicly or not. Why? Because if Iran really wants just civilian nuclear energy, then they don't need any enrichment. They don't need centrifuges.”

Asked if she agreed, Merkel was circumspect.

“It is clear that there is a difference of opinion here with regard to these negotiations and whether they ought to take place. We have set out on the path of low enrichment, but enrichment does take place and I believe that we can succeed,” she said.

“The question is whether we will be able to achieve a result that is better than the present state of affairs. We have decided it is better to participate in the negotiations because we believe that to be better than the status quo.”

Both Netanyahu and Merkel spoke out against calls in Europe for Israeli products to be boycotted in solidarity with the Palestinians, saying such measures hindered peacemaking.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry relaunched negotiations last July with the Palestinians seeking a state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Yet those efforts have snagged on long-running disputes, including Israel's demand to keep a presence in the West Bank, which it has peppered with Jewish settlements.

The United Nations and European Union deems the settlements illegal, a stand on which Merkel gave no ground in Jerusalem.

“For a two-state solution we need territorial integrity for the individual entities. In view of this, we regard the settlements question with concern and are not always of the same opinion” as Israel, she said.

Writing by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Noah Barkin and Madeline Chambers in Berlin, Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Alistair Lyon and Raissa Kasolowsky

The German-Israeli special relationship


Germany and Israel have held regular government consultations since 2008, an arrangement where the two sides meet at regular intervals to discuss specific topics. This will be the fifth such meeting between Germany and Israel. The last one was held in Berlin in December 2012 and during that meeting, Merkel and Netanyahu “agreed to disagree” over Israeli construction in areas the Palestinian Authority (PA) claims for a future state. Netanyahu and Merkel still disagree but the German chancellor is anxious to defuse the tensions. To demonstrate how important relations are, she called on all of her ministers to travel to Israel this week. Merkel has never taken such a step ahead of government consultations with Israel in the past.

Germany is Israel’s closest European ally and second most reliable ally in the world. For Chancellor Merkel the security of Israel is even part of the raison d'être of Germany. In her famous speech in the Knesset in March 2008 Merkel stated: “Only if Germany accepts its enduring responsibility for the moral disaster in its history will we be able to build a humane future (…). This historical responsibility is part of my country's raison d'être.”  

Germany’s understanding of Israel’s security needs became stronger under Merkel. A good example of this is Germany’s policy towards Iran, which from an Israeli perspective, has improved greatly in recent years. Until 2005, Germany was a leading opponent of sanctions against Iran, preferring a policy of engagement and “critical dialogue” featuring high level political exchanges and economic inducements. In 2005, German policy towards Iran began to change following their membership of the P5+1, the group negotiating with Iran regarding its nuclear program. Since then Germany has increasingly supported the gradual imposition of sanctions by the UN Security Council. Most importantly, since 2010, Germany has also become a forceful advocate of European Union sanctions against Iran, including these unprecedented strong measures.  

Germany understands and is willing to support Israel’s right to security which can also be seen in the German willingness to supply Dolphin submarines to Israel. Nevertheless living in one of the most secure regions in the world does make Germans, in general, less sensitive towards security questions and less aware of Israel's unique situation and security challenges. Other topics dominate and brush Israel’s unanswered security question aside.

The main tensions between the German government and the Israeli government circle around the “settlements”. For most Germans the settlement issue is central to the peace process and hinders a more pro-Israeli argumentation. This can be observed by looking at the Horizon 2020 scientific cooperation agreement that Israel signed with the European Union that prohibited EU funding for academic research in the settlements. Germany was the first county to ask for similar clauses for the bilateral agreements with Israel. Merkel has not indicated any willingness to bend on what is proving to be the biggest sticking point. The chancellor and Foreign Minister Steinmeier both believe that Israel's settlement policy represents a decisive barrier to the peace process. It's also something they don't shy away from saying in public, much to the Israelis' chagrin. “It is precisely because we are committed to the future of Israel as a Jewish state that we will remain so firm on this point,” a source in Merkel's Chancellery stated.

For many the settlement issue is seen as the biggest sticking point – not only those in Germany. For Israelis there is another sticking point to the peace process which should be regarded as important as the settlements. Keeping Israel’s history and its experience with its neighbors in mind, one should not forget that Israel feels threatened in its existence and in its recognition as the democratic nation state of the Jewish people. Israel wants to be reassured that the era of the three “No's” – NO peace with Israel, NO recognition of Israel, NO negotiations with Israel really has come to an end. A Jewish State in Eretz Israel was the decision of the United Nations General Assembly in 1947 after all. Since then the Israeli government asks for the recognition of just this – not always successful.

In order to engage in a more positive dialogue, the discussion in Germany has to evolve from the never-ending “settlements controversy”. The controversy is part of the difficulties within the peace process but not the most pressing issue and it will be solved by defining the borders and land swaps – which is already common ground in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Where do we go from here? The German-Israeli government consultation should lead to realistic approaches. Germany and the Jewish state of Israel now work together better than ever before and have a healthy “special relationship” with many joint projects. The government consultations provide a unique opportunity to deepen the understanding of each other's needs. The upcoming anniversary “50 Years of German-Israeli Relations” will be the next landmark for German-Israeli relations. Foreign Minister Steinmeier is right when he stated that we have “a unique window of opportunity for the whole region. We Europeans have to put all our energy to flank and support the American efforts”. Germany, as Israel’s closest European ally, can play an especially important part in this.

The author is co-chair of German ELNET, the pro-Israel European Leadership Network.  He was a member of the Bundestag for 25 years.

After Geneva, Iran’s nuclear deal remains a conundrum


Last month’s nuclear deal with Iran has set off a cacophony of pro and con acrimony pitting public officials, academic experts and pundits against one another.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the interim accord a “historic mistake.” The Wall Street Journal headlined columnist Bret Stephens’ commentary that Geneva was “Worse Than Munich.”  Proponents took quite a different view.  Speaking to the country the evening of the deal, President Barack Obama declared “diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure — a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.” Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the accord “realistic” and “practical.”

The divide is no sanctimonious dust-up, but a genuine difference of opinion over the best strategy to halt Iran’s suspect nuclear program. The president’s stance — the hope that good-faith negotiation, however difficult, coupled with the continued application of the most onerous sanctions can resolve the issue — butts against the argument that negotiations and minimal sanctions relief simply oxygenates a regime on its last legs and riddled by economic and political dysfunction. In this latter view, now is not the time to sit with the Iranians. As famed human rights activist Natan Sharansky put it in the Wall Street Journal, now is the time to be firm and resolute. Both attributes, he argues, brought down the Soviet Union and can bring down Iran as well. 

However, history finds that both positions don’t quite compute. The fact remains, all courses of action mark a bet. Contrary to Sharansky’s portrait, Washington’s effort to bring down the Soviet Union marked a mixture of engagement and isolation. Even as Moscow’s union began to crack, the United States kept the lines of communication open. In the end, talking did not prevent collapse.    

But then there remains the other talk history. Here is where North Korea becomes the Iran-like poster child Netanyahu repeatedly reminds the international community about. And, indeed, the story is unsettling. In 1994, Washington and Pyongyang entered into an understanding known as the Agreed Framework. Under the accord, North Korea consented to freeze nuclear operations and eventually dismantle the suspect Yongbyong nuclear reactor. In return, the United States assisted in the provision of heating oil for North Korea, while assembling an international consortium to build two nuclear power plants. Then, in 2005, Pyongyang agreed to go further and abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. A year later, it exploded its first nuclear device.    

This rather poor precedent for diplomatic success has multiple antecedents. Israel proved to be the first. During years of construction, the Israeli government represented to Washington that it intended the Dimona reactor to be a civil nuclear research enterprise. President John Kennedy didn’t buy it and committed himself to stop it. Correspondence between the young president and the wily David Ben-Gurion became testy, only to fall away with the assassination of the American leader.    

In South Asia, the United States went beyond talk to stop two nuclear programs by applying economic and military sanctions against both India and Pakistan, only to find that it had to shelve the effort against Islamabad as a greater priority — Pakistan’s importance in getting the Soviets out of Afghanistan — took precedence. For India, U.S. sanctions proved more a nuisance and were entirely lifted during the George W. Bush administration. 

Cases where diplomacy proved more effective — Taiwan and South Korea toyed with the nuclear weapons option — reflected the heavy reliance each placed on the American security blanket. Washington’s clear message: Alliances will be in jeopardy if allies proliferate.

Clearly, Iran is no South Korea or Taiwan, but neither is it North Korea. As Wendy Sherman, Washington’s lead Iran negotiator, put it, Iran is “a different time, different culture, a different system.” The result: Where North Korea sees isolation necessary for regime survival, Iran sees trouble. Evidently the goods of the good life attract many Iranians, and the leadership sees them as necessary for regime survival. But the good life is not sustainable if oil exports, accounting for three-quarters of the country’s total, shrink under the pressure of sanctions from 2.3 million barrels a day to 1 million barrels. Nor is there a good life for many with inflation running at 50 percent and unemployment at 25 percent.  While international sanctions are not the sole cause of Iran’s economic malaise, they evidently have been onerous enough to bring Iran to the bargaining table to sign on to the Geneva Accord.

It is worth noting what a change this is. Although the recent bargaining has drawn much attention, it was not a de novo but the culmination of a decade-long effort that commenced in earnest in 2003, when European negotiators attempted to talk Iran out of enrichment. While there remains debate about possible missed opportunities in these and later talks, the dragging of time the negotiations allowed permitted Iran — like North Korea — to expand its nuclear venture dramatically. The question today is whether the costs of this effort have now come home to roost to force Iran to curtail its nuclear activities.

Implementation of the interim agreement will be the first test. True, it does not eliminate Iran’s weapons breakout capacity, but it does curtail the known enterprise. Significant is the rollback of Tehran’s 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile, something the international community has been striving to achieve for years. Iran also will cap its low-enrichment stocks and limit operation of its 19,000 centrifuges to the 10,000 operating today. While not ideal — ideal would be the cessation of all enrichment mandated by the Security Council — it is better than the alternative, continued unabated operations.

Arguably less impressive is Iran’s commitment not to commission the Arak reactor during the next six months, an objective it was not likely to fulfill in any event, although the agreement to halt production, testing or transfer of fuel or installation of reactor components will slow the plant’s completion.

Finally, the interim agreement expands the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) verification, allowing daily visits to enrichment sites. But here the news looks better on paper than it actually is. The IAEA already monitors Fordow and Natanz with cameras and periodic visits. However, “managed access” to centrifuge production and storage sites mark a first, giving international inspectors a far better overview of Iran’s future centrifuge capacity. Other concessions granted IAEA in separate negotiations — allowance to visit a uranium mine, heavy water production plant, access to information on all research reactors, plans for additional enrichment plants and laser enrichment — still do not get to the core of the nuclear watchdog’s effort to unravel what Iran is up to.

So what does Iran get out of this? The benefits seem rather modest — a waiver in trade of petro chemical, gold and precious metal, automobile and civil airline parts in addition to the repatriation of some $7 billion held abroad that Tehran may attempt to leverage, still a relatively small sum considering the country’s economic needs.  

As we look forward, Iran’s compliance with the spirit and letter of Geneva’s interim accord will be a test. If Tehran fails the test, the more ambitious permanent agreement will never advance to signature. But even fidelity offers no guarantee, as U.S. and allied demands in the next round of talks reportedly will be much tougher: Closure of the heavily bunkered Fordow enrichment plant and dramatic reductions of operations at Natanz, allowing it just to produce enough low-enriched uranium to meet the country’s minimal civil nuclear needs. Dismantlement or conversion of the Arak nuclear plant to a far less threatening light water reactor. Granting the IAEA unfettered access to the totality of Iran’s nuclear activities.

Should these talks fail, waiting in the wings will be the Sharansky template to isolate Iran further. But it, too, promises no certainties of anything. Still, it may force the mullahs to make a difficult choice: One, accept the costs of economic sanctions, believing the country will adapt if it believes that maintaining a nuclear weapons breakout capability best assures national survival. The other, bend as little as necessary to P5+1 demands, hoping that tension relaxation will be sufficient to support the regime’s tottering economic foundation without undermining the hostility to the West and Israel the regime needs to justify its rule.

In the interim, the next round of negotiations will have to play out.  

Stay tuned.


Bennett Ramberg served as a foreign policy analyst in the Department of State, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs in the George H.W. Bush administration. His academic appointments included positions at Princeton and UCLA. The author of three books on international politics and editor of three others, Ramberg is best known for what many believe is the classic treatment of the consequences of military strikes on nuclear installations, “Nuclear Power Plants as Weapons for the Enemy” (University of California Press).

Tough road lies ahead after landmark Iran nuclear deal


President Barack Obama has pulled off a historic deal with Iran on curbing its nuclear program but he and other global leaders now have tough work ahead turning an interim accord into a comprehensive agreement.

In a sign of how difficult the coming talks will be, some differences emerged between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart in their public presentation of a key part of the deal – whether or not Iran preserved the right to enrich uranium.

Obama also has to persuade its ally Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the deal as a “historic mistake,” that the accord will reduce and not increase the threat from its arch foe Iran. And he has to sell the accord to skeptics in Congress, including some in his own Democratic Party, who have been pressing for more sanctions on Iran.

The breakthrough accord was reached in the middle of the night at talks in Geneva between Iran, the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany. It won the critical endorsement of Iranian clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini and marked a clear turn in a U.S. relationship with Iran that has been fraught since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and vexed for years over the Iranian nuclear program.

But nobody doubted that tough work lies ahead in moving on from the initial deal that allows a six-month period of limits to Iran's nuclear program in exchange for up to $7 billion worth of sanctions relief, while leaving both the program and the sanctions in place.

“Now the really hard part begins and that is the effort to get the comprehensive agreement, which will require enormous steps in terms of verification, transparency and accountability,” Kerry said as he began a meeting with British Foreign Minister William Hague in London.

The agreement, which halts Iran's most sensitive nuclear activity, its higher-grade enrichment of uranium, was tailored as a package of confidence-building steps towards reducing decades of tension and ultimately creating a more stable, secure Middle East.

SANCTIONS RELIEF

Iranian Foreign Minister and chief negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif flew home from Geneva to a welcoming crowd, a reflection of the relief felt by many Iranians exhausted by isolation and sanctions that have been particularly punishing in the last two years.

Zarif said in an interview broadcast on state television that Iran would move quickly to start implementing the agreement and it was ready to begin talks on a final accord.

“In the coming weeks – by the end of the Christian year – we will begin the program for the first phase. At the same time, we are prepared to begin negotiations for a final resolution as of tomorrow,” Zarif said.

Illustrating the delicate dance that looms, he and Kerry differed in their public descriptions of the part of the agreement regarding Iran's right to enrich uranium.

Sunday's agreement said Iran and the major powers aimed to reach a final deal that would “involve a mutually defined enrichment program with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical needs, with agreed limits on scope and level of enrichment activities.”

Before heading to Geneva, Zarif had a crucial meeting with Khamenei in the presence of Rouhani, a senior member of the Iranian delegation said.

“The leader underlined the importance of respecting Iran's right to enrich uranium and that he was backing the delegation as long as they respected this red line,” said the delegate.

What emerged in the text on Sunday was wording that both sides could live with.

Speaking on Iran's Press TV, Zarif said the deal was an opportunity for the West to restore trust with Iran, adding Tehran would expand cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, to address what he called some concerns.

“In the final step, the (uranium) enrichment process will be accepted and at the same time all the sanctions will be lifted,” Zarif said.

However, on the ABC News program “This Week,” Kerry stressed that such a right would be limited and would come about as a result of future negotiations.

He said that under the terms of the agreement, “there will be a negotiation over whether or not they could have a very limited, completely verifiable, extraordinarily constrained program, where they might have some medical research or other things they can do, but there is no inherent right to enrich…”

CRITICS AT HOME AND ABROAD

The deal also leaves Washington with the task if patching strained ties with its staunch Middle East ally Israel.

Obama telephoned Netanyahu to reassure him that Washington would continue to stand by Israel and to suggest that the United States and Israel should quickly start consultations on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Obama – who raised the idea of a rapprochement with Iran when he was campaigning ahead of his first presidential election win in 2008 – will also have to deal with critics at home.

On Sunday, even some of his fellow Democrats were strongly critical of the pact. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate and a Banking Committee member said: “A fairer agreement would have coupled a reduction in sanctions with a proportionate reduction in Iranian nuclear capability.”

But it seemed likely that Congress will give him room to see if the agreement works.

Democrats such as Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is known as a hawk on Iran, made clear that any new sanctions would include a six-month window before they took effect. That would allow time to see if Iran is sticking by the pact.

Senators have been discussing for months imposing even tighter Iran sanctions, which could anger Tehran and put Sunday's interim deal reached in Geneva in jeopardy. And pro-Israel lobbying organizations – among the most effective interest groups in Washington – have failed so far to persuade lawmakers to tighten the sanctions screw on Iran.

The agreement does not need to be ratified by Congress and Obama is using his executive power to temporarily suspend some existing U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The deal halts Iran's progress on its nuclear program, including construction of the Arak research reactor. It will neutralize Iran's stockpile of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which is close to the level needed for weapons, allow increased U.N. nuclear inspections, and halt uranium enrichment over a fissile purity of 5 percent.

In return the accord grants about $7 billion in potential relief from sanctions. It will allow a potential access to $1.5 billion in trade in gold and precious metals and the suspension of some sanctions on Iran's auto sector and petrochemical exports, and also give Iran access to some $4.2 billion in sales from its reduced oil exports.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Fredrik Dahl, John Irish, Arshad Mohammed, Justyna Pawlak in Geneva, Alexei Anischuk and Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Isabel Coles, Jon Hemming and Yara Bayoumy in Dubai, Caren Bohen, Patricia Zengerle and Will Dunham in Washington, Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Frances Kerry and Grant McCool)

Iran, six world powers clinch breakthrough nuclear deal


Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough deal on Sunday to curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief, in what could be the first sign of an emerging rapprochement between the Islamic state and the West.

Aimed at ending a dangerous standoff, the agreement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia was nailed down after more than four days of negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva.

The accord was designed as a package of confidence-building steps to ease decades of tensions and confrontation and banish the spectre of a Middle East war over Tehran's nuclear aspirations.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has been coordinating talks with Iran on behalf of the major powers, said it created time and space for talks aimed at reaching a comprehensive solution to the dispute.

“This is only a first step,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a news conference. “We need to start moving in the direction of restoring confidence, a direction in which we have managed to move against in the past.”

In Washington, President Barack Obama said the deal was an important first step towards a comprehensive solution to Iran's nuclear programme.

The West fears that Iran has been seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. The Islamic Republic denies that, saying its nuclear programme is a peaceful energy project.

A senior U.S. official said the agreement halted progress on Iran's nuclear programme, including construction of the Arak research reactor, which is of special concern for the West as it can yield potential bomb material.

It would neutralise Iran's stockpile of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which is a close step away from the level needed for weapons, and calls for intrusive U.N. nuclear inspections, the official said.

Iran has also committed to stop uranium enrichment above a fissile purity of 5 percent, a U.S. fact sheet said.

Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants – Iran's stated goal – but also provide the fissile core of an atomic bomb if refined much further.

The deal has no recognition of an Iranian right to enrich uranium and sanctions would still be enforced, the U.S. official added.

Iran will get access to $4.2 billion in foreign exchange as part of the accord, and is also expected to receive limited sanctions relief on gold, petrochemicals and autos, a Western diplomat said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a Twitter message that it was an “important and encouraging” first-stage agreement with Iran, whose nuclear programme “won't move forward for 6 months and parts rolled back.”

'CHRISTMAS PRESENT'

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the deal only confirmed Iran's right to civil nuclear power.

“After years of blockages, the agreement in Geneva on Iran's nuclear programme is an important step to preserving security and peace,” Fabius said in a statement.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers of the five other world powers joined the negotiations with Iran early on Saturday as the two sides appeared to be edging closer to a long-sought preliminary agreement.

The Western powers' goal was cap Iran's nuclear energy programme, which has a history of evading U.N. inspections and investigations, to remove any risk of Tehran covertly refining uranium to a level suitable for bombs.

Tehran, whose oil-dependent economy has been severely damaged by tightening Western sanctions over the past few years, denies it would ever “weaponise” enrichment.

Diplomacy was stepped up after the landslide election of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, as Iranian president in June, replacing bellicose nationalist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rouhani aims to mend fences with big powers and get sanctions lifted. He obtained crucial public backing from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, keeping powerful hardline critics at bay.

On a Twitter account widely recognised as representing Rouhani, a message said after the agreement was announced, “Iranian people's vote for moderation & constructive engagement + tireless efforts by negotiating teams are to open new horizons.”

The OPEC producer rejects suspicions it is trying covertly to develop the means to produce nuclear weapons, saying it is stockpiling nuclear material for future atomic power plants.

Before Sunday's agreement, Israel said the deal being offered would give Iran more time to master nuclear technology and amass potential bomb fuel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told local media in Moscow on Thursday that Iran was essentially given an “unbelievable Christmas present – the capacity to maintain this (nuclear) breakout capability for practically no concessions at all”.

Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Fredrik Dahl, John Irish, Arshad Mohammed, Louis Charbonneau in Geneva, Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Isabel Coles in Dubai; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Peter Cooney

Report: Belgian government website compared Israel to Nazi Germany


A Belgian Education Ministry website compared Israel and Nazi Germany, a Jewish newspaper reported.

The comparisons were made on the KlasCement.be website, a major teaching resource offered by the Education Ministry of the Flemish Region, one of three entities that make up the federal Belgian state, the Jewish monthly Joods Actueel reported Monday.

The website featured a caricature of a Jewish man impaled on the fence of a concentration camp next to a man wearing Arab headress, their limbs arranged in the form of a Nazi swastika. The caption “Never Again” appears above the image of the Jew and the words “Over Again!” are written at the Arab’s right foot.

The caricature was drawn by the Brazilian artist Carlos Latuff, whom the Simon Wiesenthal Center has accused of anti-Semitism. Latuff rejects these claims.

The Flemish Education Ministry did not reply to requests for comment from JTA. But Guido Joris of Joods Actueel said the exercise was pulled off the site following the publication of the newspaper’s article.

Another item removed following Joods Actueel’s report was a role-playing game in which one of the characters is described as follows: “You sympathize with the radical group Hamas. You live in Gaza and work in Israel. You were shocked by the slaying of a Palestinian girl by Israeli soldiers at a school playground. Israel denies that it fired the shots but U.N. representatives in Gaza indicate it did.”

Report: ‘Prisoner X’ spy Ben Zygier tipped off Hezbollah


The man known as “Prisoner X” unwittingly caused the arrest of two Hezbollah supporters who were spying for Israel, a German magazine claims.

Ben Zygier, the Australian-Israeli who allegedly was a Mossad agent, leaked highly classified information in a botched attempt to recruit a spy for the agency, according to an expose in Der Spiegel.

Zygier, who had been returned from the field to a desk job at Mossad headquarters, was attempting to restore his reputation at the spy agency by attempting to turn an enemy into an ally, the magazine wrote.

In the end, however, Hezbollah managed to extract from him the names of two Lebanese men working for the Mossad — Ziad al-Homsi and Mustafa Ali Awadeh — who were arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in jail, the magazine said.

The report said Zygier started working with the Mossad in 2003 but was ordered back to Israel in 2007 because he was not delivering for the agency. He returned to Melbourne and operated independently in an attempt to restore his reputation, the magazine claimed. But as he tried to prove his bona fides to a man linked to Hezbollah who he wanted to become a double agent, he was the one who became the double agent, leaking the classified information.

On Dec. 15, 2010, the 34-year-old father of two was found dead in his Tel Aviv cell. Reports said he hung himself.

Settlements showdown beckons for Netanyahu in Berlin


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a dressing down from Angela Merkel on Wednesday over his plans to build more Israeli settlements, a policy that has incensed Europe and left even Germany, one of Israel's strongest allies, questioning his commitment to peace.

The issue will overshadow consultations between the German and Israeli governments on issues ranging from Israel's defense and security to greater cooperation in science and research and could further strain already cool working relations between Netanyahu and the German chancellor.

The Israeli prime minister is still smarting from what he considers Berlin's betrayal after Germany abstained in a U.N. vote last week that upgraded the Palestinians' status to “non-member state” from “observer entity”.

He had wanted Berlin to vote no.

Netanyahu will stop briefly in Prague on his way to Berlin to thank the Czechs for being the only European state to join Israel and the United States in opposing the resolution, underscoring how important the issue was for him.

Germany says its decision was based on the view that the Palestinians were justified in desiring their own state, but had chosen the wrong way of pushing the issue. It argued that moves in the United Nations rather than talks in the Middle East would only hamper peace and push both sides further apart.

So far, the Germans appear to have been right.

A day after the U.N. General Assembly backed the Palestinian bid, Israel said it would build new dwellings for Jewish settlers.

Such projects, on land Israel captured in a 1967 war, are considered illegal by most world powers and have routinely drawn condemnation from them.

One of the areas Netanyahu said would be subject to preliminary planning work is the so-called “E1” zone east of Jerusalem, a prospect that has stoked particular alarm.

“E1 is not just another settlement. E1 is of enormous strategic importance. E1 … would cut off East Jerusalem once and for all from the West Bank, thereby making a two-state solution practically impossible,” said Ruprecht Polenz, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats and head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag lower house.

Should E1 go ahead, Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would “bury the dream of a democratic, Jewish state” by creating instead an entity that would have to include a large Palestinian population, he said in emailed comments to Reuters.

“The (German) government should do everything to turn Israel from this path in the coming inter-governmental talks,” he said.

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP

Germany frequently stresses it will always have a unique relationship with Israel and bear responsibility for the security of the Jewish state after the Nazi-perpetrated Holocaust.

Merkel issued a video message on Saturday saying how much she was looking forward to “friendly discussions” with Netanyahu when they dine together on Wednesday.

She again backed Israel's right to defend its citizens from attack, leaving it to her spokesman Steffen Seibert to issue a surprisingly strong warning on Monday over the settlement plan.

“The Israeli government is sending out a negative message with this move. It is eroding trust in its willingness to negotiate, and the land for a future Palestinian state is disappearing further,” Seibert said.

A senior Israeli government official said the Jewish state hoped Merkel would not repeat the admonition herself in public.

Polenz said that Israel should seize the initiative and launch fresh peace talks instead of settlement building.

“I am concerned that with continued settlement building the time frame for a two-state solution will probably run out within the next two years,” he said.

Israel cites historical and Biblical links to the West Bank and Jerusalem, saying the future of settlements should be determined through negotiations.

Germany's response may seem muted compared with the strong chorus of criticism from other European capitals, but in German terms it is a notable step.

“We have a unique relationship stemming from our history, and are in a fundamentally different position from our European neighbors. Friendship cannot be questioned, whatever the relations between our governments,” said Reinhold Robbe, a former Social Democrat lawmaker and president of the German-Israeli society.

Germany's commitment to Israeli security includes sales of arms. In March, Berlin said it would sell Israel a sixth military submarine and shoulder millions of euros of the cost.

Just last week, according to news magazine Spiegel, Germany's Federal Security Committee agreed to the export of shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons and bunker-busting weapons to Israel to help it defend itself from attacks by Hamas from Gaza.

A defining feature of Merkel's time as chancellor has been her eagerness to engage with Israel herself, rather than hand the portfolio to her foreign minister, as her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder tended to do, Robbe said.

But this means she must now engage in difficult talks with Netanyahu directly and put all subjects on the table, he said.

The two governments will hold a joint session on Thursday when Netanyahu and Merkel will also give a news conference.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Gareth Jones and Andrew Osborn