eyes on the U.S.

A French Plea For American Democracy To Rediscover Its Centrist Soul

Tea party's cure
Tea party's cure

-Editorial-

PARIS – Once upon a time, there was a Republic that knew how to overcome ideological differences. It was largely governed from a certain middle ground, a magical place and the matrix of what political art can produce in its most intelligent and, often, noble form: reform by compromise.

This Republic of yore could find majorities thanks to center-leaning politicians from the country's two main parties, Republicans and Democrats. Momentous policies were thus enacted: the New Deal's welfare state, the fight against 20th century totalitarianism, the Civil Rights Act, the conquest of space …

Across the Atlantic, the Old Continent — too often absorbed in ideological squabble — longed for a flexibility similar to that of the American political system.

Yet, as the years passed, this system was bound to grind to a halt. The workings of the American democracy have been getting rustier and rustier. The latest example of this is the government shutdown as the White House and Republican-led House of Representatives are locked in a standoff over the federal budget.

The new budget year started on Oct. 1 and, without a deal, the Treasury has no money to pay civil servants — meaning that parts of the government's basic services are simply shut down.

It's the politics, stupid

Of course, it is an eminently political affair. The Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, have no intention of voting the budget unless they get the cancellation of Barack Obama's health care reform — an eventuality that the president and the Senate, controlled by his party, refuse to even discuss.

But things do not end there. Although this is already harmful to the economy, the shutdown could lead to something much worse: the default on the American debt payment, should the Republicans adopt the same conduct come Oct. 17, when the debt ceiling will need to be raised. The beginning of the U.S. economic recovery could be seriously jeopardized, bound to lead to negative repercussions on the rest of the world's economy.

It would be wrong to assume that there is a genuine disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over Obamacare health reform. It is but a pretext for the extremist, fundamentalist core of the Republican party, the Tea Party, to sabotage Obama's presidency. Such is the reflection of an increasingly polarized American public life.

There is no rational justification for the actions of the Tea Party, except for the hatred they share for this President, or for a view of politics that falls under the frame of permanent civil war.

A majority of the American people strongly oppose the Tea Party, but their representatives in Congress risk nothing. Their constituencies were tailor-made by Republican governors, guaranteeing them reelection. And meanwhile, the Founding Fathers of this great Republic will continue to turn over in their proverbial grave.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

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.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

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.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

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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