Guest Columnist: Dolphin therapy (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By MELODY SUCHAREWICZ 06/29/12)
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Dolphins are a unique species. Their intelligence, their playfulness,
their friendly smiles – the mere sight of them warms our hearts.
So much so, in fact, that they have been used to treat medical
conditions such as autism and blindness for many years.
No wonder, then, that Dolphins – albeit a different kind, with a
different set of skills – now might play a role in treating a socio-
political version of autism and blindness. The kind that has been
growing in the heart of German-Israel relations and is now in urgent
need of treatment.
Only a nominal relative of the real angels of the sea, the Type 800
Dolphin class refers to a German-made submarine, developed for the
Israeli Navy, the sixth of which was sold to Israel last March. A
deal signed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his German
counterpart, Thomas de Maizière, includes German funding for one-
third of the costs of the vessels. With de Maizière’s signature, the
German government demonstrated that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s
historic commitment to Israel’s security in her 2008 Knesset speech
was more than a symbolic gesture.
Beyond this strategic milestone, there has been a growing trend of
political warmth and fruitful exchange between the two countries over
the past decade. The term “normalization” appears in most official
speeches and the term “friendship” is ingrained in the German-Israeli
political vocabulary like “change” in US President Barack Obama’s.
So where is the socio-political autism and blindness? While the
political relations between Merkel’s and Netanyahu’s governments are
positive and strong – enough so to withstand occasional tensions –
the problem lies in the German streets.
Autism and blindness describe how this problem is treated by those
who have the means to change it – those with political leadership.
Many debates, commissions and slogans but little creativity, strategy
Back to the street: According to a recent Stern survey, 59 percent of
Germans view Israel as aggressive, 57% believe Israel is leading a
war of extinction against the Palestinians and only 21% think Israel
respects human rights. The trend is increasingly negative.
Along with these and other shocking figures on the perception of
Israel in Germany came a wave of theories by Israeli publicists and
bloggers; some say it’s a new form of anti-Semitism while others
claim “It’s the settlements, stupid,” as Carlo Strenger titled a
recent Haaretz op-ed.
It’s stupid, but it’s not the settlements. Nor is it anti- Semitism
Many Germans criticize Israel’s settlement policy and still are
outside these statistics. They base their criticism on factual – if
disputable – opinions. They raise the settlements finger while
remembering the context in which they emerged. They know settlements
are reversible – as Ariel Sharon proved in 2005 – while Palestinian
Authority-sponsored incitement of Palestinian children against Israel
and Jews isn’t. Last but not least, they do not obsess about
criticizing Israel: they are neither blind nor deaf to facts that
contradict their views or to world events that take place outside
Who is? Take, for example, the mayor of Jena, a picturesque
university town in eastern Germany; Three days after the Houla
massacre, in which 108 civilians, including 30 children, were
butchered by the Syrian regime, he threw his public weight behind a
boycott- Israel campaign set in scene by the Catholic organization
Pax Christi at a local supermarket. The sacred cause: to prevent
innocent German citizens from committing a crime against humanity by
buying nonlabeled bananas from the West Bank. To be on the morally
safe side, they shouldn’t buy from the Jewish state at all. A heroic
quest for peace, while the mutilated corpses of Houla were still warm.
Underlying these trends is a cocktail of issues that will require an
army of Dolphins to treat. A selective urge for political activism,
blown out of proportion by the extremely complex historical context
within which Germans relate to Israel and Jews; a mixture of
(secondary) guilt-complexes, flawed – if any – historic education;
and frustration with the perceived perpetrator stigma, to name a few.
Agents of socialization hardly provide adequate impulses to cope with
Many teachers omit Israel-related subjects, afraid to anger Muslim
students. Many clumsily teach the Holocaust, afraid to bore their
Add to this a lack of objective information about Israel, its
policies and people – an information vacuum that has been filled with
subtle or blunt incitement by major media outlets and NGOs. This, of
course, is not the sole responsibility of the German leadership. A
more professional, proactive and fine-tuned information policy by
Israel would come in handy.
Sound waves don’t spread in a vacuum as as we learned in intro to
physics, but sound bites do – and these are proactively produced and
distributed by those who thrive on their resentment of Israel and
those providing juicy anti-Israel propaganda, including the well-
oiled machinery within the Arab world.
When incitement precedes balanced information about Israel’s
policies, when the receiver of such information has “issues” coping
with Germany’s history in a healthy way, propaganda meets fertile
Very fertile. Feeling the anti-Israel breeze in his homeland and the
calling only a former-SS-memberturned- radical-leftist can feel,
Nobel Prize winner Günter Grass recently provided those “resenters”
with a seal of legitimacy by publishing a masterpiece of incitement
against Israel and German-Israeli relations that shows the deadly
cocktail in action.
In his op-ed alias poem, Grass “unmasks” Israel, rather than Iran’s
ayatollah regime, as the world’s greatest threat and blames Germany
for helping Israel wipe out the Iranian people by providing
Ergo, he cries out to prevent Israel from becoming the inhumane
perpetrator Germany once was. Following an international tsunami of
publications debating the poem, the Grass affair is over. The genie
it unleashed, however, has just begun its work.
Those who previously made Israel/Third Reich comparisons in silent
subtexts, who whispered that Israel exploits Auschwitz, now more than
ever feel the duty to save the world from Israel’s “aggressions.”
This new anti-Israel public discourse in Germany ignores geo-
political and historic facts. It recycles leftist slogans from the
past, flips upside-down the threat constellations in the Middle East
and engages in secondary anti-Semitism, applying Holocaust vocabulary
and scenarios to Israel’s politics.
Last week’s cover story in Der Spiegel on the German- Israeli
submarine deal shows that the Grass genie has borne fruit. The
Dolphin’s capacity to carry nuclear warheads was dramaturgically
presented as the pantheon of secrecy, although it has been publicly
discussed for years. Why risk losing the reputation of serious
journalism? Because sensationalism sells.
As does the authors’ pseudo-morality: “Is Germany, the country of
perpetrators, allowed to help Israel, the country of victims, in
establishing a nuclear weapons force which can be used to extinguish
hundreds of thousands of human lives?” The subtext is clear: Israel
plans to wipe out the Iranian people and is thus equivalent to the
Third Reich. The second message: Israel should give up on its
capacity to defend its existence, for the sake of Germany’s moral
How well this version of reality resonates with its readers was
proudly displayed in the next edition, in which a selection of
letters to the editor included the following statements: “I am
ashamed to be governed by people who let themselves be blackmailed by
Israel” and “whoever arms submarines with nuclear weapons plans on
launching them. This way we come closer to the truth and to Grass.”
Proportionate to the above statistics and the magazine’s quest for a
quota, nine of the letters published bought into the Grass narrative
while three were friendly toward Israel.
So the Dolphins are a wake-up call. An opportunity for the government
to back its friendship with Israel with a strategy equipped to
reverse the current trend. A trend that endangers not only the future
of German- Israel relations, but also Germany’s socio-political
Beyond the “special responsibility” aspect of the Dolphin deal, which
doesn’t interest the man in the street, Germans must understand that
the ayatollahs’ ballistic missiles can reach Europe. That
Ahmadinejad’s and radical Islam’s intentions toward Israel are
intentions toward the West, including Germany. That the friendship
with Israel is based on strategic interests, shared values of freedom
and democracy, and not on guilt.
German political leaders, in cooperation with their Israeli
counterparts and the Jewish communities in Germany, should develop a
creative strategy focusing on the education of the young generation
in an era in which Facebook suppresses history books, and inaccurate
sound bites travel at the speed of light. If educating young people
about Germany’s relations with Israel is left to people like Günter
Grass or Jena’s mayor, if this vacuum is not filled with competent
information about the reality and values behind the building of this
bond, Stern had better not publish next year’s survey results – out
of courtesy to survivors and the healthy remnants of the street.
The writer is a political communications and strategy consultant in
Israel and Germany. She is the winner of Israel’s 2006 The Ambassador
competition. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 06/29/12)
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