Editorial: Germany's abstention in the UN Security Council vote on Libya was a mistake. The French are wondering what's behind our Merkel's hesitation.
One of the disadvantages of political decisions is that we only learn after the fact if they were farsighted or foolish. Whether history will deem our decisions right or wrong often depends on a chain of unpredictable coincidences and uncertainties.
If the military action conducted by the international community in Libya manages to successfully take down the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, then German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister will have overseen the biggest foreign policy failure of the Federal Republic of Germany since 1949.
Opposing our closest allies' resolution for air strikes against the Libyan regime, allowing Germany to take a stand in the United Nations Security Council alongside Russia and China - so much so that we received congratulations from Hugo Chavez - no federal government has ever made such great diplomatic mistakes. Add to this that we could not have signaled more clearly to the Libyan people how uninterested Germany is in their fate.
Last Friday, Angela Merkel clearly felt that she had made a mistake, and quickly traveled to Paris for the Libya conference on Saturday. There, she tried to appease our disgruntled partners with a commitment to provide logistical aid. Verbally, she returned to the side of the Allies. Gaddafi's last hour had come, she said, the world's patience had run dry. But it is questionable whether such words will be able to remove the doubt that has been cast upon German dependability. In France, response to Germany's position has already been devastating. The newspaper "Le Monde," in its editorial section, recently asked whether behind this "lack of solidarity" also lies a German "lack of maturity."
That such questions are even being asked can also be attributed to the clumsy actions of Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. There are of course many good arguments against a poorly prepared military strike in Libya, and the outcome of the strikes is indeed hard to predict. However, Germany's abstention in the Security Council vote was still unnecessary. Westerwelle misjudged the situation on every level: up until the middle of last week, he still expected a Chinese-Russian veto, continued American hesitation and a "no" from the Portuguese. None of this came to pass.
In the end, Germany looked foolish and Westerwelle showed himself to be a foreign minister who celebrated the scenes in Cairo and Tunis as successful revolutions in the name of freedom, but who was unable to assume any real political responsibility when this freedom needed to be fought for and defended.
Westerwelle is no Fischer
When the then Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer defended Germany's resistance to the war in Iraq to Donald Rumsfeld, he said: "I am not convinced." He was "not convinced" by the American rationale for war. Westerwelle believes that he is now in a similar position, and hopes to score points in the domestic arena by opposing military action in Libya. But Westerwelle is not Fischer. Unlike the former Foreign Minister, he is not convincing. Even the allies agree.
In this uncomfortable situation, the German Federal government may find comfort in the fact that the wind can turn quickly. Under the constant fire of live news feeds, the global media network, and emotionally unstable electorates, politics have become unpredictable. Could anyone in the Obama-crazy Berlin of summer 2008 have guessed that Obama in 2011 would be picking up where Ronald Reagan left off in 1986, by bombing Qaddafi?
Only four weeks ago, infuriated French diplomats lambasted President Nicolas Sarkozy, arguing that his foreign policy is "controlled by impulses, amateurish" and is developed only to entertain the media. France had "lost its voice in the world," they lamented. Ten days ago, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe almost resigned after the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy convinced Sarkozy to officially recognize the opposition forces in Libya. Lévy announced the foreign-policy turn on TV while Juppe was stuck in Brussels. A week later, Juppé stood in front of the UN Security Council and argued in support of Lévy's ideas. The magazine "Nouvel Observateur," not known for its enthusiasm for the French President, cheered that France had regained its prestige in the world. Sarkozy had won a "historic diplomatic victory." Ironically, this triumph was achieved through an impulse-driven, amateurish foreign policy aimed at stirring media response.
Whether this French success will continue will be determined in the sands of the Libyan desert. One thing we can learn from the past weeks is that policy decisions cannot always be made in terms of their intended outcomes. The future, more than ever, is just too hard to predict.
Read the original article in German
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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