BERLIN - People who were there said he cried for several minutes at the executive committee meeting on the morning after his defeat. As party members analyzed what had gone wrong in the state election campaign, the governor of the German state of Lower Saxony, David McAllister, burst into tears. Angela Merkel comforted him, and by now he’ll be feeling a lot better.
It is surprising that imagining a politician crying should seem so touching – especially when the politician in question is a man. But what’s really surprising is that we are still surprised. But of course in some ways that’s not so surprising. What we need to look at squarely in the eye is the fact that we’re not nearly as “advanced” as we like to pretend.
Let’s look at some examples. We live in a democracy, yet we still expect children to do what they’re told. We don’t want anybody to be disadvantaged in any way because of their background, what they look like, and so on, but those who seem the slightest bit “different” to us are routinely harassed. We women fight for the life we would like to have – without any limitations or discrimination due to our gender – yet still find it incredibly sexy to play partner to a successful man.
Yes, a big car and plenty of money make it easier for the little lady to look the other way when he’s obnoxious. She will in any case complain to her female friends about how he’s not in touch with his feelings – and express admiration for men like McAllister who can cry in public. But what happens when her own husband comes back from the office one day, pale, his tie loosened, and tells her there’s a big problem at the office and bursts into tears? What then?
It’s all about the bacon
Because the truth of the matter is this: men who are sensitive, vulnerable, scare women – especially when a sudden display of feeling might seem to presage some kind of breakdown or God forbid his ability to bring home the bacon. And men know this. So men hold back their tears and try not to cry, and may also get angry when on top of whatever it is that is making them want to cry they feel the strong pressure not to.
David McAllister’s tears came because he suffered a political setback. His tears were those of a person who is completely exhausted after an experience marked by extremes of feeling, wavering constantly between high hopes of winning and the dread of losing, and then having to face the reality that it hasn’t worked out after all. His were both tears of disappointment, but also the tears one cries when something comes to an end.
A study conducted by the German Association of Ophthalmologists (DOG) found that until the beginning of their 13th year, boys and girls cry about the same amount of time. It is only with puberty that striking differences appear in the way they express feeling – on average, males break out in tears between six and 17 times per year, while for females the figures are 30 to 64 times a year. Women cry on average for six minutes; men get things under control again in between two to six minutes.
And while women mainly cry when faced with problems that seem insoluble or when they feel excluded, what makes men cry are empathetic feelings and when a relationship comes to an end – a relationship with a person but also with a company, association, club, team, whatever. Anybody who follows sports knows this and has seen countless male soccer players and other athletes in tears.
The same goes for male politicians, and we didn’t learn that from McAllister. American President Barack Obama wiped away a few tears after he won the election; so did Russian President Vladimir Putin after his victory. Those were tears of joy, the opposite of McCallister.
In his 1998-2005 diary, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl wrote about drawing the final line under his time as the head of government on Oct. 17, 1998: "When I was a boy I was told that men shouldn’t show emotion. I find that a stupid idea. Why should there not be situations where a man has a right to cry? When something touches me, I don’t see why I should hide it."
Happily, David McAllister sees things that way too.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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