MIAMI â€" The gradual renewal of ties between the United States and Cuba no longer qualifies as news. Both sides have put aside their prerequisites for sitting and talking â€" an end to the embargo for Cuba, and Cuba pledging to change its political system.
Each country has followed a basic script guiding both toward full restoration of ties. But now we must ask what President Barack Obama will actually gain with a decision that was not entirely devoid of risks, and what are the reasons for hastening the calendar of rapprochement? On the Cuban side, the current state of affairs across Latin America doesn't favor waiting for better conditions in what remains of Raúl Castro's presidency. The region is seeing fundamental changes in some areas that will undoubtedly spill over into Cuba.
These include instability in Venezuela and new leadership in Argentina, which could prompt changes in Havana's web of alliances. The collapse of left-wing populism and the return of liberal economics are possible, so Cuba's priority is to balance its position in Latin America through better relations with the United States.
Obama has the advantage of no longer being politically vulnerable to the risk he took on Cuba. The Cuban issue lacks the weight it had years ago in Florida, where its impact was often crucial to voting results. The influence of those groups opposed to normalizing ties and ending sanctions has been eroded, and elsewhere in the United States, Cuba is simply no longer a priority. This has been evident in the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries to date, where candidates of Cuban origin (Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) haven't been able to exploit it to their advantage.
The de-escalation of tensions may even have a domino effect elsewhere in the world. As Cuba stops being an infiltration sponge from other zones (Africa, the Caribbean and South America), Havana is proudly taking on a mediator role, in Colombian peace talks, for example. It is collaborating against drug trafficking and assuring safe passage to the Panama Canal, and has come to terms with U.S. policy in Guantanamo.
The only risk Cuba may pose to the United States relates to its own domestic situation, should its economy deteriorate and undermine its political stability. Cuba's only remedy for domestic confrontations for now would be to use its troops and security apparatus. The United States is busy enough for the moment dealing with more explosive situations elsewhere (the Middle East and east Asia), which means Washington ultimately wishes only stability off the Florida shore. Raúl Castro, take note.
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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