Dr. Hava Bugajer-Gleitman, Vienna SPME

Dr. Hava Bugajer-Gleitman, Vienna Scholars for Peace in Middle East (SPME)


The main theme of the international conference, that was organised by Dr. Elvira Grözinger, chairperson of SPME in Germany, marked the 10th anniversary of SPME and was on the subject of

“Since 150 years: Anti-Semitism, Middle East and no End”.

Following greetings by the Jewish community, officers of SPME and the Israeli Ambassador to Germany, h.E. Jeremy Issacharov, Dr. Assaf Romirovsky, Director of SPME, USA gave the keynote lecture about BDS movement and the Middle East conflict.

All speakers pointed out that any settlement of the conflict must include Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Dr. Richard Landes from Boston University, now Jerusalem, referred to those journalists who promote the propaganda of Muslims who want the dominance of Islam over the entire world, while neglecting the other voices (of Muslims), because they keep more silent and are not so “sensational”. Those journalists are mediators of a “deadly journalism”. “Global peace” does not mean peace in the Middle East only, and not taking into account those who want to establish a global caliphate, the jihadists. Two common mistakes are established in our public opinion:

– We are wrong to be more afraid of our own fascism than of the Islamic fascism; – We are wrong to say that we must accept Islam and the followers of Islam without any comment, because of what “our society” has done in the past to the Jews.

The BDS campaign was initiated after the PLO realized that the military option to destroy Israel has no chance and an agreement under their conditions cannot be achieved. Initiating the BDS campaign is based on a decision of PLO to weaken Israel with other tools. There is unbalance in academia between the Israeli and Palestinian narrative, the Palestinian narrative is dominating among scholars. The Palestinian narrative and Israel-bashing are becoming mainstream. Not “fighting the Palestinians”, is the objective of SPME but, correcting of the distortion. BDS is strongly supported by the Muslim brotherhood and other fundamentalist Arab movements, fighting for the establishment of political Islam.

The journalist panel that followed included: Simon Akstinat, Juedische Rundschau Michael Wuliger, Juedische Allgemeine Dr. Alexander Grau, Cicero, Malte Lehmig, Tagesspiegel, Benjamin Weinthal, Fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Jerusalem Post

A recent survey unveiled that 40% of Germans favour opinions that are anti-Semitic, although most of them would not define themselves anti-Semites. At present, Jewish schools and all other Jewish facilities have to be protected by police carrying machine guns and concrete blocks or bollards must be installed. Very large rallies directed against Jews were held in 2014 and now again, after President Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem. Germany supported the declaration of UNESCO that ignores Jewish heritage of the “Kotel” (Western Wall) and of Jerusalem. Germany’s foreign minister called the Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas “his friend” but not Prime Minister Netanyahu. These are some of the negative sides of German-Jewish relations at present.

Although the existence of Israel is not questioned, the security policy of Israel is constantly under attack. Jews are expected not to show their identity on the streets and not to speak about the Holocaust since this “might hurt” the feelings of the Muslim population. Open antiSemitism, that was “taboo” in Germany after 1945, is now becoming accepted.

Violence as after 1933 (formation of the Nazi government) is not acceptable yet, but antiSemitism, as was before the Nazis, at the beginning of the 20th century, is not strictly denounced any more.

There are “grey zones” of the Middle East picture in the media, said Dr. Grau from Cicero online. The common German has a picture of the Middle East that is far away from reality, he imagines an orient that is a “perfect” product of the 19th century and opposes Western colonialism. He is not even aware of the exact geographic location and borders of this place that “still kept” the romantic features of the 19th century. The persons accepted in Germany as the “Middle East experts” like Michael Lüders or Gerhard Konzelman (who was the main expert of the ARD), often copied older descriptions from the 19th century images and were “continuing them” into the 20th century. These orientalists ignored Israel and the USA, whose governmental systems allow the greatest freedom in the world. Israel’s unique freedom of speech and liberal democracy are not given the recognition they deserve, because there is a readiness in the western cultures to “swallow” anti-Semitic streams (of different origins) on behalf of own interests. Anti-Semitism is not any more an obstacle for “becoming friends” as long as there is “consensus” on other subjects. BDS is accepted by Westerners in spite of its close ties with Islamic fundamentalism.

Michaela Engelmeier, former MP and member of the Board of the Socialist-Democratic party of Germany, past athlete and judo teacher, was the first speaker on the next day. She began her warm pro-Israeli plea with the history of the German-Israeli relations. The Shoa is not only to be commemorated, verbally and by conducting memorials, it is a continuous obligation for Germany to support and intensify the relations with Israel. Relations should not be only “preserved” but efforts should be done continuously to intensify them. Germany’s obligation is to make sure that the following generations, including the younger generations of immigrants, take over these obligations. This is a part of the German heritage “package” that every immigrant that wants to stay and take advantage of life in Germany, must accept. The skewed reporting in the German media should be stopped and the ongoing role-switching of Israel and Jews from victims to perpetrators should be denounced and fought. The two-state solution demands compromise by both sides that must negotiate it amongst themselves. It cannot be achieved by pressure or by one-sided decisions. Terror and attacks of Hamas must be stopped first. Anti-Semitism is subject to autonomous growth in the entire world and there is a latent anti-Semitism involving 40% of German population that should not be tolerated. The speaker was pleased to report that Jewish life in Germany is growing, but unfortunately it must be guarded and kept under strong security since it is endangered. She suggests to strengthen cooperation with other countries on these points.

Dr. Mordechay Lewy, previous Envoy to Germany and Ambassador of Israel to the Holy Sea, spoke about the history of German–Israeli relations in the last 50 years.

Relations during the era of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, between 1977-82, were very bumpy. Personal animosities dominated relations and the Chancellor never visited Israel. “History is not a court of justice”, was said about it later. Fears that unification of Germany will open a door to new hostilities against Jews and the Jewish state did not come true. Attempts to establish diplomatic relations with Eastern Germany were not successful.

The future of German-Israel relations was discussed by Rogel Rachman, the envoy to Germany from the Israeli Embassy. The current generation had no personal contact to family members who were living during the Shoa. The Shoa for them is a part of history that they are indifferent to. Therefore they see no reason to nurture special relations or responsibility towards a Jewish state. 70% of Germans think that time has come to leave behind this part of German history and 80% think that Germany has no responsibility to the Jewish state and it is unjustified to have such demands. Israel and Germany developed close technological ties and cooperation on the hi-tech sector, on cyber-security, water technology and cancer research. Germans are attracted to Hebrew books translated into German and there is a vivid cultural exchange. Trilateral agreements were closed between Germany, Israel and Africa, Israel was asked to deliver know-how for projects in Africa that will attract the local people and reduce immigration from Africa to Germany. Germany is the only place in Europe in which the Jewish population is growing and not shrinking. The historical cultural ties between the countries are expressed well with the question “Why should a student from Germany go to Haifa, if he can go to London that is closer?” But in a cultural-historical context, Haifa “closer” than London. It is of importance to promote studies of each other’s history in both countries and to promote the exchange of young people.

“Zionism and Anti-Semitism in history and at present” were the theme of the following panel. The Zionist movement begins in the 19th century and is embedded in the European national movements of the 19th century. It is the national movement of the Jewish people.

Prof. Dr. Karl Erich Grözinger from the University of Potsdam spoke about “Hope: Zionistic ideas in history and at present”. The Qumaran Scrolls were supposed to be borrowed from Israel Museum for an exhibition in Germany. The German Museum that wanted to exhibit them expressed doubts whether it should return the scrolls to Israel or to the Palestinians. The texts in the Qumran scrolls were written in order to preserve the Jewish cultural heritage. Disregarding historical and cultural facts, as was intended by the German Museum, is a massive political intervention. Unfortunately, this disregarding of historical and cultural heritage occurs often at present in relation to Jewish and Israeli heritage. The difference between Zionism and other national movements of the 19th/20th century are the centuries (and millennia) of anti-Semitism that took place before. Anti-Semitism was continuous over many centuries. It should not be divided, since all categories: medieval-, ecclesiastical-, and lastly racially motivated anti-Semitism are same phenomenon appearing in “new masks”. The victims were always the same – Jews. The opponents of the Jewish State of Israel also gave a “new mask” to the new anti-Semitism that is increasing again. Its present mask is political, a political opposition to the Jewish State of Israel. The shift of anti-Semitism to the political track allows the outbreak of similar patterns, but covered under this new mask. Zionism and the Balfour declaration that followed Zionism recognized that the land of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish nations. Those who deny this show an anti-Semitic behaviour pattern because they are denying the world’s Jews their right for their own homeland and shelter. Stateless, homeless and culture-less in regard to Jews expresses the anti-Semitic intensions of such an opinion. Zionism had various directions in the past related to religion, tradition and nationality, but combating Zionism in general is one of the important patterns of anti-Semitism at present. Judaism includes many conflicts; not understanding them is also a source for anti-Semitism. Judaism is a symbiosis of nation and religion: Jews are members of both a nation and a religion; in contrast to Christianity, that is a supra-national religion. The old definitions of anti-Semitism have no validity at present times. Anti-Semitism at present is defined only by the hate towards the Jews and it finds itself every time a new shape and form, like a hydra. The ancient hate is the base and main feature of anti-Semitism.

Dr. Monika Schwarz-Friesel, TU Berlin, reported some details on the Israel-related antiSemitism, resulting from her recent research projects. The patterns of anti-Semitism observed were: – Anti-Semitism related to Israel – Empirical anti-Semitism – Expertise vs. layperson’s opinion – Empiric opinion vs. subjective feeling

The Israel version was dominant, 80% was Israel-related and 94% of all anti-Semite stereotyping were also related to Israel. “Hate of Jews” has a cultural continuity, and “like a chameleon it changes its colors”, and adapts every time to new external conditions. Hatred of Jews is neither hatred towards single persons, nor a xenophobia related to a biased system. It must not be obligatory, an expression of racism, and a presence Jews is not a precondition. Jews were a cultural entity in Europe before the Shoa, and hate of Jews was directed against Judaism and Jews, it was a cultural hatred. The object of hate is removed from reality, creating concepts on the line of Jews being “The enemies of mankind” and transforming it, targeting Israel. Israel is the “thorn in the flesh” of the world and “disturbing the world peace”. Another conception created is that Jews turned to be oppressors therefore Israel is a state of “oppressors” and of “real enemies” of mankind. The image of “the well-poisoners” that was in use since medieval times is also used again and spread by Abbas and his authority “Israelis are water poisoners”, has its supporters among Europeans. These concepts were considered to be fringe appearances within small groups, but are advancing to become mainstream opinion even in higher intellectual circles. Anti-Semitism in general, although attributed to the lower social class, was always determined in the past by the higher class and by cultural elites in examples going back to the Middle Ages. It is a common say since two thousands of years „I never met a Jew but I hate them, they are a cruel people who do demonic deeds…“. Anti-Semites coming from left wing circles do not admit their anti-Semitism and prefer to hide it behind wording directed against Israel. Anti-Semitism is based on emotions although it is often hidden behind arguments that pretend to be rational. Often are the claims they use represent a relative true, truth is in their mind only, but does not fit reality and history. The anti-Semite usually uses a pseudo-argument that he was “only” criticizing Israel, making his anti-Semitic wording equal to a legitimate political criticism of Israel. Such Anti-Semitism coming from the left wing or from the intellectual and higher educated “classes” is the most dangerous, because it is easier believed and accepted, while common opinion holds that right-wing anti-Semitism is the only dangerous one. Israel (and its flag with the Star of David) is the symbol for all “Jewishness” and therefore it stands in the center for incitement by all anti-Semites. “Israel-hate” has become the form of anti-Semitism in the 21st century and is the “politically correct” language of the offenders. Placing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on the same level is a de-realization that does not fit in with real facts.

The last panel on Sunday dealt with the not very glorious chapter of teaching and schoolbooks – the speakers were Jörg Rensmann, Klaus Thoerner and Cordula Behrens.

While it is known that Palestinian schoolbooks that are financed with German/EU support are a source of hatred toward Jews and to the Jewish State, not much is known about German schoolbooks. Schoolteachers and other teaching professionals were reading from German schoolbooks biased description of Israel. The narrative used was the Palestinian narrative. The books reflect a very ambivalent opinion regarding the justification of a Jewish state in Palestine. Certain facts that were officially proven to be untrue in the past are still repeated in the books. The relation to terrorism is very questionable. The attack on Israeli athletes during the Olympic games in Munich in 1972 is described as a “spectacular coup”. While the Palestinians are described as poor victims struggling for their and their family’s lives, Israelis are described only as soldiers and there is no mention of Israeli civil society. One teacher reported about her and her colleagues’ struggle for correction of errors in the German schoolbooks, lasting years and about the hostility of “school establishment” and of parents they were facing.

Both German and Palestinian schoolbooks keep silence about many generations of Jewish presence in the land of Israel and about the Jewish relationship to Jerusalem. The Jews “vanish” after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in year 70 AD and re-appear again only as demonic “Zionists” in the 20th century. Palestinian schoolbooks are financed by the EU funding to the UNRWA. The Palestinian Ministry of education dictates their content. After years of protests, in 2016(!) 4 German MPs forced an investigation about their content. Jewish presence in Palestine and the Jewish immigration to Palestine before and during the Shoa are not mentioned and the Shoa is also not mentioned in the books. Demonizing descriptions of Jews, using medieval terms and glorified killing and annihilation of Jews are in the texts. These texts contribute to the de-legitimization of Israel. Past history of the Jews is completely disregarded. All maps show a Palestine “from the Jordan to the Sea” and the Palestinian/Arabic culture is described as going back to the Canaanite culture and being its direct continuation. This conveys the opinion that there never was a Jewish culture in the land and delegitimizes the presence of Jews in present times. The Jewish sanctuaries were “converted” and became Arab sanctuaries and young people at school are asked to join Jihad because Israel is the source of all evil that poisons the Palestinian ground. The law of return for Palestinians is considered natural. This subject is always described in the books in strong religious narratives.

This session about the schoolbooks, same as the entire conference, were overshadowed by the demonstrations directed against Jews held at the same time at the Brandenburger Tor, after the announcement of the USA to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Mrs. Behrens, one of the teachers, spoke about the presence of many women and little children, many held on the shoulders of their fathers, at the demonstration. These children living in Germany are educated to hate from their early childhood. They were brought along by their parents to watch the fire set on Israeli flags and to listen and join the crowd shouting “death to the Jews”. This was an attack on Jews and on their cultural values that these children witnessed and were asked to participate in. Some persons with covered faces and some German youngsters from extreme leftist organisations holding their flags were also present. The policemen were standing there watching and did not intervene although burning flags, covering of faces and incitement contradict the German laws. Nothing was done since the violent demonstrations against Israel and Jews in 2014, after which it was promised that this kind of incitement will not be allowed to repeat in the future. It is suggested to the children and youngsters that they might themselves be murdered by Israel that is murdering children. This is an instrumentalization of the children and educating them to a culture of incitement and glorification of martyrs against the Israelis (Jews). These children are doomed to live with hate and undergo “brainwash”. As a result they are not able to learn and integrate at school and nothing was and is done to prevent it, neither at school nor by the authorities.

At the end a short video was shown about the burning of the Israeli flag at a rally orgnaized by Arabs in Berlin which took place during the conference and shocked everybody.

The meeting was closed after a resumé by the organizers, expressing that much more must be done in the future.