German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel came back Monday from Ankara empty-handed. German military personnel currently stationed at NATO air bases in Turkey will likely soon follow. Amid a growing rift between Berlin and Ankara, Gabriel had failed to convince his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to lift Turkey's ban on German lawmakers visiting the approximately 250 soldiers deployed to the Incirlik air base, a key site of NATO operations in the ongoing assault on ISIS. The prohibition was payback for the German government's decision last month to grant asylum to Turkish military personnel and their families accused of conspiring in last year's failed coup attempt.
This morning, the latest tit-for-tat came from Germany's ruling cabinet green-lighting the removal of the country's troops from the Turkish military base.
The troubles in German-Turkish relations are part of a growing fissure between Turkey and its Western allies that extends beyond the coup aftermath. Turkey recalled its ambassador from Berlin last June after the German Bundestag voted to formally accuse Turkey of perpetrating the Armenian Genocide between 1915 and 1917, which resulted in the deaths of some 1.5 million Armenians.
In March, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Dutch authorities "Nazi remnants and fascists', after they refused foreign minister Cavusoglu and the Turkish Minister of Family and Social Policies, Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, the opportunity to speak at a rally in the lead-up to Turkey's constitutional referendum.
Then, last month, Turkey, a NATO member state, vetoed a proposition to allow Austria's cooperation with the military alliance in apparent retaliation for Austria's call to halt all talks on Turkey's ascension to the EU allies.
Fully conscious of his country's critical geopolitical position, Erdogan has shown a readiness to strongarm his NATO allies
President Erdogan seems keen on pushing relations with Western partners to the brink since Germany has been the lynchpin in the peripheral country's accession to the EU. Turkey, to be sure, has some strong cards to play. Beyond its key role in NATO operations, Turkey cut a deal last year to stop the flow of refugees from its territory into Europe, and the threat of reversing such a policy worries European leaders. Fully conscious of his country's critical geopolitical position, Erdogan has shown a readiness to strongarm his NATO allies, a tactic that has proved successful in the past, as both the United States and Europe have tended to tread lightly in their dealings with Ankara. President Barack Obama, for example, never recognized the Armenian Genocide although he had previously as a U.S. Senator.
Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and President of the United States Donald Trump: Michael Kappeler/ZUMA
Obama's successor, too, appears reticent to attack the key strategic ally in the fight against ISIS. More to the point, Donald Trump seems to share a similar leadership style with Erdogan, both outspoken, "strongmen" figures. Both have harangued the media (although only in Turkey are journalists routinely arrested and entire news organizations shut down), and goaded their supporters into lashing out at dissenters.
But the similarities also appear to carry over into their respective approaches to international diplomacy, and more specifically toward their common historic allies in Europe.
Trump has spoken fondly of the UK referendum to pull out of the European Union and repeatedly criticized Germany's trade policy. At last month's G7 summit, Trump chastised his NATO allies for not contributing enough to the military alliance, and later pulled out of the historic 2015 Paris accord on climate change. Beyond the substance, he was also criticized for his often dismissive and aggressive behavior toward European leaders, which is also reminiscent of the increasingly shrill way in which Erdogan interacts with his neighbors to the west.
For Europe, this brutish politicking has become unpalatable. The continent appears increasingly skeptical of Turkey's place in the Western alliance and has not shied from rebuffing the Turkish president. Such perhaps surprising firmness from European leaders, meanwhile, can also be seen across the Atlantic. Trump's grandstanding has been met with Europeans chiding the American president's ham-handedness rather than seriously considering his desires. In fact, Germany's Merkel suggested recently that Europe "must take its destiny into its own hand," though Berlin-based Die Welt daily noted there are limits to just how free it can be of American influence and resources.
Still, the expected departure of German troops from the base in Turkey is perhaps the first concrete step that Merkel (and the rest of Europe) are taking toward greater self-sufficiency. There are both historic and cultural reasons that Europe (and Germany in particular) are bound to have little tolerance for political strongmen — and it may even be provide a double dose of courage and unity the Old Continent so desperately needs.
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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