Ending The Taboo Of The German Language In Israel

The language of the Nazis will now be offered as an official course in public high schools.

Matthias Heine

The language of the people that built Auschwitz has always been regarded with deep suspicion in Israel. You could only study German at university or at Tel Aviv's Goethe-Institute, and hearing the language on the streets can sometimes still turn the heads of locals.

But this is all about to change as Israel introduces German as a school subject.

German is taught at state-run schools or university in 144 countries around the world, even in North Korea. It was always possible to study German in Israel but the standing of German as a language in the country â€" for comprehensible historic reasons â€" was not very high. Indeed, it was not offered as a normal public school subject.

German courses were available at Israeli universities, but students rarely took advantage of these courses as they were missing the basics that they should have learned in high school.

But all of this is about to change. German will be introduced as a compulsory subject choice during the coming school year that starts in late August. Students at participating schools will then be able to learn German as a foreign language.

Aug. 8, 2015 marked a bit of history when Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Secretary General of the German Conference for Ministers for the Arts and Culture, Udo Michallik and the German Embassy envoy Monika Iwersen signed the necessary documents to usher in the new course offering.

Michallik declared it "a remarkable development" that Israeli students are now able to learn German at school and receive a German certificate. "How far we have come during the last 50 years of diplomatic relationships," he added.

Five schools will initially offer regular German lessons as part of the curriculum from ninth grade onwards. Introducing German at other schools, even primary schools, is also considered. The exam for the German language certificate, which can be taken after four years of German, is to be recognized as the equivalent exam for the Israeli A-Levels, the Bagrut, even though they have been going on for more than two decades via the Goethe-Institute in Tel Aviv.

In Tel Aviv â€" Photo: Bezalel Ben-Chaim

Finding teachers

These bold plans will, however, have to prove their worth after years in which studying the German language was declining steadily. But this pessimistic view of things may be outdated by now: The director of the language department of the Goethe-Institute in Tel Aviv, Jörg Klinner, confirmed that the number of enrolled course participants indicate that learning German has become more popular over the last five years. The number of German language students at the Goethe-Institute Israel (which comprises the Institutes in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem since 2012) exceeded 2,000 in 2014, up from 1,752 two years earlier.

The lack of suitable teachers constitutes another problem. The Israeli German Teacher Association, established in 1986, once had 80 members. But there were only 36 members left in 2012. Their training is often inadequate. Native German speakers often lack the necessary knowledge of the Hebrew language, whereas Israeli German teachers who did not have the chance to study in Germany were educated solely in Israel.

The Goethe-Institute is attempting to improve the current situation. Jörg Klinner explains that the Institute continually offers advanced training courses, often supported by staff from the Israeli German Teacher Association, for the entirety of German teachers around the country. Currently, there are no German language teaching methodology courses available in Israel to aspiring German teachers â€" but Klinner is in contact with an Israeli university to change the status quo.

Although the German language is profiting from the increasingly improving image of Germany around the world, no one should discount how ambivalent the feeling towards the language is in Israel. This is particularly evident in the comment made by an employee of the German Embassy, who thinks that it can be seen as huge progress that "German can now be spoken freely while walking down the street."

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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