Netanyahu Takes Up Nazi-Talk

For all of the 60+ years since 1945, diplomatic relations between Germany and the State of Israel have been very ticklish, and they will no doubt continue to be that way for at least another 60 years – and if you don’t immediately realize why, then you are simply unaware of some rather basic history, involving figures like “6 million.” (OK, actually up until 1990 it was West German – Israeli relations that were ticklish, not East German, because the latter Soviet client-state had no patience with any concept of guilt from the Nazi-times, preferring to view itself as a victim of the fascists, and never established diplomatic relations with the Jewish State.)

That hardly means that German government officials are not welcome to conduct official visits to Israel, of course, and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier did that earlier this week on Monday. Because Steinmeier is at the same time SPD candidate for Chancellor in the upcoming September elections, this was probably the last time he is to visit Israel (and Syria, and Lebanon) in that capacity. Still, in retrospect, the timing for the visit seems most unfortunate: on the one hand the topics for discussion could not help but include Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank, which the US and Europe want Israel to put a much-tighter leash on (and that for starters), while on the other Netanyahu has lately been acting like the pressure is really getting to be too much for him – for example, as recounted in a report picked up on Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish, calling both Rahm Emanuel (President Obama’s chief-of-staff) and David Axelrod (his senior political adviser) “self-hating Jews.”

Sure enough, as we learn in an account in Der Spiegel by Yassin Musharbash (How Netanyahu startled Steinmeyer with a Nazi concept), the explosion duly arrived.

Granted, it only occurred in closed, private discussions, so we only know about it from comments to Reuters by what Der Spiegel terms an Ohrenzeuge, i.e. a witness who at least heard the exchange, but it was still a rather ugly incident nonetheless. Netanyahu, while arguing with Steinmeier over the West Bank settlements, is said by this witness to have declared that “Judea and Samaria [the preferred right-wing Israeli terms for the West Bank] cannot be judenrein.” Oooh, bad move: judenrein is a very loaded term, straight from Nazi times, meaning “cleansed of Jews” and it is what the Nazis publicly aspired to make all of Europe. How did Steinmeier react? He kept his cool: as the Witness puts it, “What could he do? He basically nodded.” But, as the Spiegel author makes clear, you could really tell something had gone wrong when the two men emerged after that meeting to talk to the press: the atmosphere and body-language between them was cold in the extreme.

Soon, however, word got out, and many Israelis were rather shocked by this transparent attempt to equate Palestinian-Israeli relations to the Nazi treatment of the European Jews. Ex-Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami told Der Spiegel that he considered any such comparison “fundamentally false and simply unnecessary.” Salman Schoval, former Israeli ambassador to the US (and also N.B. a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party) said “I don’t like transferring Nazi-concepts onto others, even if they are our enemies.” On the other hand, an anonymous diplomat (the article doesn’t say whether he is Israeli or not) maintained that Netanyahu needs to use “drastic rhetoric” like this in order to appease those in his governing coalition who are even more hard-line about the settlements, for whom he has already gone to far in conceding the concept of a Palestinian state.

The thing is, this Witness also let Reuters know that Netanyahu has instructed his cabinet to employ this same “concept” (Begriff) when called upon to defend the West Bank settlements in the future. Did he mean the specific, loaded word judenrein? Are we going to encounter that again – and/or other Nazi-type language – so that this sort of scandal will shortly reappear and escalate even more? Has the Netanyahu government already adopted such an obstinate and shameless attitude as that (including, mind you, towards its friends and allies, led by the USA which pays from $3-5 billion to Israel each year)?

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