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Naomi Chazan: An undemocratic Israel will not last a minute

In a conference in Berlin on Israeli-German relations, Israeli speakers ask Germany to become the ‘true’ friend that Israel needs.

Naomi Chazan (photo: Ami Kaufman)

(Berlin, GERMANY) – “No self respecting democracy in the world can accept the current wave of anti-democratic legislation in Israel,” said  New Israel Fund President Naomi Chazan in Berlin this weekend. Chazan, a former Meretz MK, spoke at a conference held by the Heinrich Böll Foundation titled “Estranged Friends? Israeli and German perceptions of state, nation, force – a comparison.”
(Disclaimer: The writer was a guest of Heinrich Böll Foundation. +972 Magazine received a grant from Heinrich Böll Foundation, and is due to receive a grant through the New Israel Fund)

Chazan was one of the last speakers in a conference that meant well, but was for the most part lacking in up to date discourse. At times it seemed like it was a time travelling experience back to the 90’s, with simple and superficial statements such as “the settlements are a problem,” uttered by Colette Avital – a figure who may be well known in Europe but hasn’t been on the Israeli radar for years. The “highlight” of Avital’s speech was when she called on Europe to recognize a Palestinian state.

Colette Avital (photo: Ami Kaufman)

Another disappointing Israeli speaker was former ambassador to Germany Shimon Stein, who during the second day of the conference decided to give a 101 pre-requisite course on relations between the IDF and Israeli government. I felt like I was back at my first year in poli-sci at Tel Aviv university.

Shimon Stein (photo: Ami Kaufman)

One of the interesting issues was watching first hand how delicately German speakers deal with criticizing Israel. In factm there was one speaker who went so far as to say that because of “the past” (the word “Holocaust” was hardly uttered by the German speakers), that Germans have no right to criticize Israel.

The president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Ralf Fücks, seemed to be the only German speaker who tried to come up with solutions, to push Israel a bit. Yet, at one point he said that if only Israel would be more prone to conducting peace talks, its standing in the world would improve so much it would even be accepted into NATO.

Ralf Fücks (photo: Ami Kaufman)

This didn’t go down very well with two of the more eloquent Israeli speakers in the conference, Prof. Yossi Yonah (Ben Gurion University) and Muhammad Jabali (The Jaffa Project). Prof. Yonah went so far as to say that the monkey on the back of the Israeli nation is Europe. “There is a desperate yearning in Israel to reconnect with Europe. It’s our wish to live inside the ‘mental borders’ of Europe – and that is why there is so much practice of exclusion in Israel today. So, I would actually give up on joining NATO. Israel must return to the Middle East!”

Prof. Yossi Yonah (photo: Ami Kaufman)

Jabali, who was also unfortunately the only Arab speaker in the conference and probably the only one below the age of 50, had an answer for Fücks as well. “Instead of joining NATO, Israel should join the Arab league. Up to now, Israel is in fact the least constructive member of the league – since it doesn’t sit at the assemblies.” Cynicism aside, Jabali makes a good point: it’s time Israel realize it lives in the Middle East and end it’s constant yearning to be part of another continent.

Muhammad Jabali (photo: Ami Kaufman)

Jabali, who I also spoke with outside of the conference hall, tends to put great emphasis on words and misconceptions that have love been ingrained in the discourse. I particularly enjoyed when he looked at his audience and said “Being European does not make you progressive. And being a Muslim does not make you conservative.”

The last speakers of the day, Chazan and MK Nitzan Horowitz, were good enough reason to wait for. Most of you who are familiar with my writing know that I particularly share Horowitz’s enthusiasm for J14. I apologize ahead of time for the quality of footage – I wasn’t planning on documenting these speeches on video. Here is Nitzan’s speech in full:

But it was Chazan who stole the show, and her fiery speech will be remembered as the pinnacle of this meet. I didn’t manage to get all of it due to some technical problems with my camera. This first segment opens with the attack of Im Tirzu and others on Chazan and the New Israel Fund. As you can see, this is an issue that Chazan is not only worried about, it has had a deep effect on her personally. She’s had some tough times because of it. Yet, I have to say, it was a pleasure to see one of my favorite former MKs take the podium and deliver the goods.

This second segment deals more with Israel-German relations. The bottom line? A true friend tells the truth. A true friend criticizes when needed.

For me, this was the true lesson to be learned from this conference: Germany needs to become the true friend to Israel. The holocaust should not be an obstacle to that. Exactly the opposite is true.


Read also:

Alone in Berlin: Unsuccessfully trying to forget

Alone in Berlin (part II) – A powerful memorial, mistreated

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    1. delia ruhe

      She’s not afraid to tell it like it is. I admire her for that. I wish we had a few more of her kind of plainspoken people in the Western world. But it’s just easier to give Bibi what he wants and forget about what Israel needs.

      If there is such a thing as “the new antisemitism”, it’s happening in states that refuse to tell it like it is to Israel. The kind of “friendship” offered by the US and Canada and Germany and the UK and others who allow their criticisms to be silenced by the Israeli right is no friendship: it is greasing the way to Israeli self-annihilation.

      And maybe that’s precisely what these states want. After all, Israel has become a drag on Western geopolitics. Although it has the fourth largest military on the planet, it contributes nothing to keeping or restoring the peace anywhere in the world. Although it is a wealthy country, it demands military aid from the US and expects the other states to pick up the tab whenever it decides to destroy Gaza or Lebanon. Israel is, quite simply, a parasite.

      The longer Western states put up with this, the more intense the unspoken anti-Israel irritation becomes — and the more they secretly long for the demise of the Jewish state.

      So can this failure of “friendship” be classified as a contemporary form of antisemitism? That is a real question, not a rhetorical one.

      Reply to Comment
    2. sh

      “So can this failure of “friendship” be classified as a contemporary form of antisemitism? ”
      That’s an interesting one, Delia Ruhe. Is this European “friendship” towards Jews the equivalent of “orientalism” towards Arabs?

      Reply to Comment

      I disagree with both SH and Delia.
      Western/European support, often unconditional, to Israel is driven by parts guilt and parts, at least in the U.S., domestic politics(Israel Lobby).
      For this support to be considered anti-Semitism, the (potential) outcome of this policy, if we assume it is very bad for Israel, is not enough to think about. One must also think about motivations. If Western states pursued this because of latent hostility towards Israel; yes, then that would be anti-Semitism.
      But they don’t do it because of that. They do it because of a mix of political pressures domestically(this is especially true in America) and misguided beliefs of what should constitute support for Israel(basically give Likud whatever it wants).
      Ultimately, if Israel survives or not ultimately depends on Israel alone and it’s own struggle with it’s settlers, the racism, the attacks not only on non-Jews but increasingly on the ‘wrong’ kind of Jews too.
      To blame Western states for the internal political developments in Israel strikes me as thinking that the West holds far more sway on the political trends and preferences in Israel than what is actually true.
      And to say Western support, however misguided, is somehow ‘anti-Semitism’ is not only sloppy thinking but frankly a bit xenophobic too.
      This struggle will not and cannot be won by any outsiders. It is a battle for Israelis, because it is their own country and nobody else’s.
      And in the end, even if outsiders can help a little bit on the margins, if Israelis fail this, then Israel will not be saved from the anti-democratic wave and it will finally engulf the country completely, banning Arab parties, banning left-wing Jewish organisations as ‘traitors’, throwing them in jail, the total and final takeover of the settlers and their rabbinical allies and so forth. This battle has to be won by Israelis and nobody else. To somehow blame outsiders for these trends(for ‘allowing’ them to continue, as if this is somehow an evil masterplan) strikes me as desperate.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Delia Ruhe: “If there is such a thing as “the new antisemitism”, it’s happening in states that refuse to tell it like it is to Israel. The kind of “friendship” offered by the US and Canada and Germany and the UK and others who allow their criticisms to be silenced by the Israeli right is no friendship: it is greasing the way to Israeli self-annihilation.”

      Exactly. And the same for the USA’s Jews, who “speak no evil” where evil cries out for recognition. As to which, please read Dahlia Scheindlin

      Reply to Comment
    5. delia ruhe

      I will think on that, SH, as it’s a way to analyze the possibility outside the narrower question of antisemitism, with all its baggage.

      I think this faux friendship I’m perceiving is exclusively big-P Political, whereas Orientalism is largely cultural (if often exploited by politicians).

      It just seems to me that no one in the US Congress or the Canadian parliament — outside of a few of the Jewish members and most of the Christian fanatics — really gives a damn about the welfare of Israel (and probably wishes that burdensome Israel would just disappear). Nevertheless, they regularly engage in their “Who loves Israel more?” contests because the Lobby is funding their campaigns (U.S.) or they’re terrified of Global News (the biggest news org in Canada owned by a staunch and powerful Zionist family).

      In Germany, it’s a different story, of course, and Chazan is right to advise Germans not to let the past govern the Israel-Germany relationship but rather, shared values.

      But I have yet to see any of these politicians do something aimed at getting Israel off its path of self-destruction — except, perhaps, Obama in his first year. All he got for his pains was public humiliation by Bibi.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Steve

      It’s amazing how much time is spent psycho-analyzing Israel, while ignoring the very real truth that Israel isn’t up against random Arab people or random Muslim people, they are up against irrational terrorist organizations who seek to destroy Israel. Israel recognizes that Hamas are crazy radicals, yet so many critics demand that Israel act like they’re up against sane people instead of Hamas. Really weird stuff.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Hank Berman

      We all have an obligation to move forward, speaking truth to any power that stands in the way of unification of the rightful citizens of the Middle East in brotherhood. When it is antisemitism, confront the virus that threatens harmony. When it is anti Muslim, anti Arab or anti Islam, it must be challenged in the same way, for what it is, a saboteur of the promise of peace in the region. Don’t allow the Holocaust to be defamed by its utilization as a device to censor necessary discussion about what is happening today and what needs to change tomorrow. When the government of Israel decides that the most effective means of ‘state survival insurance’ (what ever one believes a genuine democratic state should look like) the expenditure of several billion euros on Palestinian infrastructure, schools, hospitals, clean water, jobs, etc. will be a far more effective means for that very survival.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Passerby

      As much as I agree with some of the things Chazan says in criticizing changes within Israel, it is important that she understand why this is happening.
      The Israeli Left, and I’m talking about the far Left from Meretz on, decided that instead of fighting Israeli politics inside Israel, that it would make a compact with Israel’s enemies and conduct most of its attacks by joining forces with people outside of Israel.
      This has been very effective. Israel is truly becoming a hated pariah state on many levels thanks to the agenda of many of its far-leftists. The New Israel Fund is certainly responsible for this as are many of the people here at 972. Your magazine, in fact, is exactly what I’m talking about.
      What did you think would happen? Did you think that Israelis would take it lying down? Did you think Israelis who:
      – have to send their kids to the army for years,
      – who themselves probably fought in wars – where unlike the depictions on this site, were marked with the deaths of many Israeli soldiers, some of them truly fine people –
      – who struggle to live decent lives in a place where making a decent living can be hard enough
      – who live in Israel because they believe in certain ideals that are based on the actual histories of diaspora communities including the stories of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and the Holocaust in Europe
      – who are fully aware that vast swathes of the land were barren when the Jews arrived and are far from barren today thanks to the tireless labor of many (usually leftist) Zionists?
      – whose parents and grandparents worked tirelessly to build a nation even when the country had a very small economy and back then you really needed to have a strong vision to make things work
      – many of whom are refugees of one sort of another from countries where Jews were not particularly beloved
      – Who know well that the country is not racist, and fairly liberal, and a fairly decent place caught up in an impossibly complex war…
      This majority and their representatives were never going to just roll over and play dead as they are turned into a pariah. As they are slandered with these ongoing vile and hypocritical campaigns where every possible epithet has been hurled (Mccarthyite, racist, apartheid, Jim Crow, etc.) at a country that isn’t McCarthyite, racist, apartheid-like or Jim Crow like.
      No, they are going to fight back. These laws wouldn’t exist if some of you folks and the New Israel Fund hadn’t been so successful and if you hadn’t begun to hold hands with Israel’s enemies.
      It’s a shame. I miss my Israel of the type Chazan is talking about. But it doesn’t surprise me that there’s a strong reaction brewing to the attacks against it.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Steve

      To PASSERBY: What’s amazing is seeing a bunch of people who claim to be “pro-Israel and merely critical of Israel’s politics” actively promoting electronic intifada, ben white, max blumenthal, and other such deranged people who actively promote the end of Israel’s existence via the “one-state solution” (aka the “final solution” for Israel). And somehow these people manage to get their own columns on popular websites.

      Reply to Comment
    10. delia ruhe

      Excellent, European! Thank you.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Kibbutznik

      @ Passerby

      ” The Israeli Left, and I’m talking about the far Left from Meretz on.. ”
      I take it you do know that the Kibbutz Artzi movement has traditionally aligned with Meretz ?
      ” What did you think would happen? Did you think that Israelis would take it lying down? Did you think Israelis who:
      – have to send their kids to the army for years,”
      you think that we dont send our kids to the army for years ?? !!!
      have you any idea of the percentage of us that serve in combat units and vote Meretz ?
      ” who themselves probably fought in wars – where unlike the depictions on this site, were marked with the deaths of many Israeli soldiers, some of them truly fine people – ”
      you should pay a visit to our kibbutz graveyard , we have 7 dead soldiers , the last two were both Meretz voters .
      Passerby,Israel is truly becoming a hated pariah state on many levels thanks to the agenda of many of its far Right , most of whom were not around when our parents and grandparents built this country .
      We dont hold hands with Israel’s enemies.
      We do vote Left and will continue to do so whether you like it or not, and I’m talking about any of the Left wing parties be it Avoda or Meretz or Hadash , you can call us ” the far Left ” if you like but dont make out that we are less Israeli than you are or that we dont serve, because that my friend is total bullshit .

      Reply to Comment
    12. arib

      Naomi Chazan is an excellent example of a failed politician pushing a failed ideology, where the only people prepared to listen to her are those living outside of the country she speaks about. Irrelevant to the nth degree.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Robert Soran - Schwarz

      Germany is a true friend of Israel. And of Palestine. Much more than any of the other larger European countries. And it is – don’t be surprised, people – a true friend of Palestine. Germany has a two-fold policy in the ME: one for public consumption, careful to do not hurt Israeli “sensitivenesses” and totally anti-Hamas. And one behind the scenes,but very active, which severely criticized the policy of late Olmert (Gaza attack) and of Netanyahu governments and opened new channels for discrete German-Palestinian (including Hamas, too) exploratory talks.
      It’s not just a coincidence that only Germany was able to mediate the Israel-Hamas negotiations on releasing Shalit and Palestinian prisoners…

      Merkel would never say – not in public, not in confidential setting – that Netanyahu is a lier. She’s not Sarkozy, and not Obama. But she means it and has let Netanyahu know during a four eyes face-to-face meeting that she doesn’t trust his words because they fundamentally differ from his acts.
      Holocaust limits the handling freedom of the german foreign policy in ME, but at the same time Germany’s absence from the 19th and 20th century colonial map in ME makes it a strong contender in becoming the major EU mediation player in the region. Remember: Britain, Spain, France, Italy, they all were colonial powers in North Africa and the Middle East. Germany wasn’t …

      And I’d like to add something similar about the Boell Foundation: In Berlin, as a host to Middle Easterners it may be too cautious, too nice. But in the field it isn’t, especially not in the occupied territories. There it often raises its voice, loud and clear.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Robert Soran - Schwarz

      Naomi’s speech was really a highlight for the Jewish and Israeli scene last week. I’ve seen the whole speech and I only am happy to know that such people are among us, on the same side of the fence Netanyahu and all his law changes try to erect in Israeli society.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Robert Soran - Schwarz

      “Estranged” friends isn’t the right word for “Fremde” Freunde. Estranged means rather allienated, drifting apart, GETTING strange.
      This is not what the conference name intended to mean. Well, I admit that I’m also looking for a better translation …
      Alien? Unfamiliar? Odd? Maybe Foreign Friends? I don’t know either :–)

      Reply to Comment
    16. Robert Soran - Schwarz

      Germany’s main problem in always being what you call a true friend that always criticizes what deserves to be criticized is not the past, but the present: the over-active, loud and aggressive, often blackmailing Central Council of Jews in Germany and its affiliated organizations, institutions and affiliates.
      They all are – surprise, surprise – totally Zionist and increasingly orthodox due to enormous Russian Jews influx to Germany (most communities count today more than 80% of their members as being recent immigrants from former USSR. Each time Germany is critical of something happening in Israel, the Central Council comes up with accusations of anti-Semitism and plays loudly the Auschwitz/Holocaust card. It is a real shame …

      Reply to Comment
    17. Manfred

      Prior to WWII most European jews in Central and Eastern Europe were ethnic Germans. That makes them close. That Israel culturally belongs to the Middle East is nonsense. In fact the Holy Land is at the core of Europe.

      Why doesn’t Israel turn the Gaza strip into an Egyptian protectorate and join the EU? I don’t get it. Germans learned after 1945 that territorial control doesn’t matter.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Passerby

      Kibbutznik, we are more alike than you think. It pains me greatly to write what I wrote. Unfortunately these days it’s more accurate than not. To which party does Naomi Chazan belong? Meretz.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Kibbutznik

      ” Kibbutznik, we are more alike than you think ”
      Are we ?
      Because my favorite politician was Shulamit Aloni , to which party did she belong ?
      Meretz .
      Who is/was your favorite politician Passerby ?

      Reply to Comment
    20. Reiner Bernstein

      Thank you very much, my dear friend Naomi Chazan, for your courageous deliberations of about what Israel is facing today: a process of de-democratization that is dangerously undermining the essence of its society.

      Best, Reiner

      Reply to Comment
    21. Passerby

      I’m afraid I’m not a fan of any Israeli politicians. Politicians, by their nature, are typically egotistical and have sharp elbows.
      If I have to choose, I’d say my favorite was Lova Eliav. I also admire Amnon Rubinstein. And now that I think about it, I actually like Shimon Peres. Shoot me.
      Shulamit Aloni? Too extreme.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Kibbutznik

      ” If I have to choose, I’d say my favorite was Lova Eliav. I also admire Amnon Rubinstein. And now that I think about it, I actually like Shimon Peres. Shoot me ”
      Interesting choice.
      Amnon Rubinstein does not like us post-zionists much but there again who does 😉
      I wouldnt shoot you for choosing those three but I was always Rabin’s man so Shimon Peres leaves me cold .
      What was it you found too extreme with Shulamit’s politics ?

      Reply to Comment
    23. Passerby

      By “us post-Zionists” I’m sure you weren’t referring to me…


      What was it I found extreme with Aloni? What didn’t I? She was a firebrand and she had a big mouth and when she attacked ideas or people whom she opposed, I found that her criticisms usually went too far.
      If you’re going to talk about Meretz, I think two good contrasts for her are Beilin and Chazan. If you go through Beilin’s various peace enterprises over the years, he was usually careful not to be overly (and overtly) hostile to those he opposed. Same with Chazan. Sure, they both spoke out, but somehow they managed to keep the idea of Israel being a family within their presentations. Aloni did not. With her it was “us and them.”
      On a basic level, I have a serious problem with that.

      I liked Rabin as well. It is a shame on so many levels that he was murdered. As time passes, I think this has become clearer than ever.
      I think Peres was more clever and ultimately always had a broad and long-term vision for Israel. Rabin was the doer and Peres was the thinker. One thing they proved, though, is that politics in Israel were and are always brutally hard.

      Reply to Comment
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