German Policy and Media on Gaza
by Ali Fathollah-Nejad
The Gaza massacre, at least for the moment, is over — ended just before Barack Obama’s inauguration, so as not to cast an unwelcome cloud over his first hours as U.S. President. The initial Palestinian death toll is 1,300 . . . and expected to rise. (Four times that number were injured, and more wounded may be discovered). The number of the Israeli dead — 13 Israelis, ten of whom were soldiers, lost their lives — was one hundredth of the Palestinian dead. Such are the revealing casualty statistics of this so-called war — onslaught or even slaughter would be a more accurate term to describe the world’s fifth largest army using the high-tech weaponry of the world’s No. 1 military power against the civilian population as well as a scant number of armed combatants.
Only two and a half years after the last Israeli onslaught in which a comparable number of people were killed — with the difference that the Lebanese, unlike the imprisoned Gazans, had a better chance of fleeing from the murderous bombs dropped on them — much of the world found themselves in a state of shock again as they witnessed the reemergence of barbarity at its worst. Israel did not allow any Western journalists to cover the bloodbath of its “Operation Cast Lead,” though the non-Western world, watching Al Jazeera, Press TV, or TeleSur, could witness the carnage inflicted upon Gaza.
Needless to say, the “pictures” shown by the West’s “enlightened” media were antipodal to those shown by the non-Western alternatives mentioned above, which the same Western media promptly denounced as “propaganda.” Let’s take Germany for example, Europe’s economically as well as demographically strongest country, whose Constitution (Basic Law), as a lesson of the terrible experiences of the Nazi period, commits the German people, “[c]onscious of their responsibility before God and man, . . . to promote world peace” (Preamble), emphasizing that “The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world” (Art. 1, para. 2).1 One might expect the German people’s political representatives to feel obliged to respect those principles. Nothing of the sort!
“Unlimited Solidarity” Reloaded
In a telephone conversation on the second day of Israel’s attacks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “agreed that the responsibility for the development of the situation in the region clearly and exclusively lies with Hamas.” Berlin’s spokesperson further declared: “Hamas unilaterally broke the agreement for a ceasefire, there has been a continuous firing of . . . rockets at Israeli settlements and Israeli territory, and without question — and this was stressed by the chancellor — Israel has the legitimate right to defend its own people and territory.”2 Merkel’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier embarked on a “peace mission” — the German media’s description — where he observed from a safe distance in Rafah the “self-defending” Israeli bombs being dropped upon “self-responsible” Palestinians. Steinmeier, who as Schröder’s chief of staff played an inglorious role in keeping Germany-born innocents in the Guantánamo camp,3 is running as the Social-Democratic Party (SPD) candidate for the chancellery. Impressive seamlessness!
Like the United States during the immediate post-9/11 days, today Israel is the unmerited beneficiary of Germany’s “unlimited solidarity” aiding and abetting crimes.
Now, what about the German media, which in turn are bound by the German Press Code stating that “[t]he freedom of the Press enshrined in the Basic Law includes the independence and freedom of information, the right of expression and criticism” (Preamble) and that “[r]espect for the truth, preservation of human dignity and accurate informing of the public are the overriding principles of the Press” (Section 1)? Their story of “civilizational” war — comfortably embedded within the good-versus-evil scheme — was not surprising at all, though hardly compatible with the above principles.
The media overwhelmingly and across the political spectrum represented the interpretation given by the Israeli leadership, i.e. that the “Jewish State” was fighting a “defensive war” against rocket-throwing “Hamas terrorists,” pursuing the noble cause of defending “Western democracies,” such as Israel, in the “war on terror” against Islamism. Despite this narrative’s non-sense in moral, political, and legal terms, it was echoed in papers of every political couleur. The only newspaper consistently and extensively covering the “systematic nature of the destruction” (UN humanitarian chief Sir John Holmes)4 has been the left-wing junge Welt — which, alas, has only a small readership. This sole anti-imperialist German paper has been severely demonized by the ideologues of the mainstream but has received much praise from such respected personalities as Hans von Sponeck, a former UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, who resigned in protest of the UN Security Council-mandated genocide of Iraqis in the 1990s.
The country’s most prominent televised political discussion “Anne Will” announced that it would run a show on Gaza on 11 January, but in an unprecedented step canceled the topic only three days before the scheduled date, replacing it by a program on “suicide” — as if suicide were more important than mass killings. Seeing the freedom of press and democracy in peril, a protest initiative was launched, signed by over 700 worldwide.5
When not outright erased as in the case of the canceled “Anne Will” program, the Gaza coverage à l’Allemande was fundamentally composed of (1) prescribed discriminatory terminology, with “radical Islamist Hamas” used as a journalistic mantra to describe Israel’s opponent while such loaded terms as “radical Zionist” were never attributed to Israel; (2) the tale of “double hostage-taking” of both Israelis and Gazans by Hamas; and (3) the repetition of Israeli government positions even by journalists working for the most prestigious public broadcasters. German correspondents joining from Tel Aviv were practically embedded with Israel’s army.
What was scrupulously omitted in the media’s narrative was the history of the conflict, particularly the fact that we had, on one side, an illegal occupying power flouting world opinion as enunciated by numerous UN resolutions and international legal opinions and, on the other, the brutally occupied who were being practically starved to death. At best, this was only considered a marginal detail diverting one’s attention from the “continuous rocket attacks” by Hamas which rendered normal Israeli life impossible. No mention of course was made about the worthiness of Palestinian life.
What Lessons from the Judeocide?
Still under the long shadow cast by the monumental — and in its industrial fervor unique — genocide of the European Jews, the country’s media did not provide space for any discussion worth its name about the great ordeal that Gazans suffered while the “international community” acted in complicit silence. And when debated, as was done in “Anne Will”‘s competitor political talk show “Hart Aber Fair” (“Hard But Fair”), it was carefully made sure that the talk was not “switched” to a “discussion of facts.” Instead, in a highly obvious manner, a frantic effort was made to connect anti-Semitism and criticisms of Israel. While anti-Semitism certainly exists among some Germans, the more prevalent form of racism in today’s Germany is Islamophobia, which went un-discussed, despite it being relevant as a factor that explains official ideology and public opinion. Hardly a fair practice.
What was even more scandalous was the fact that Jewish voices against Israel’s operation were widely ignored. To be heard in the mainstream mass media, Jewish critics of Israel were forced to take out an ad. In the SüddeutscheZeitung, under the header “German Jews say NO to the murder by the Israeli army,” European Jews for a Just Peace (EJPJ) Germany said: “We are appalled by this inhumanity. . . . Do German politicians really believe that it is a compensation for the murder of our Jewish families and relatives that Israel can now . . . do whatever crosses her mind? . . . Hamas is using terrorist methods, but this is also what the elected officials of Israel do, in fact a hundred times more effectively.”6
It is deeply disturbing, and particularly sad for someone who has grown up in Germany, to raise the question “What have Germans learned from the Holocaust?” and to hear either embarrassed silence or “We must not criticize Israel.” I thought the lesson to be learned from the Holocaust was the duty to resist any kind of racism, oppression, and wars of aggression and to refrain from demonization which effectively paves the way for tacit acceptance of violence and war. That is the lesson codified in the Basic Law, too, albeit held in contempt by the German media and politicians. Despite the narratives promoted by them, however, polls suggest that a significant number of Germans are increasingly becoming aware of the moral hollowness of such “unlimited solidarity” and beginning to recognize that barbarity must be called barbarity, no matter who the perpetrators are.
A Rogue State: “If the Cap Fits. . . .”
Jewish Oxford international relations professor Avi Shlaim concluded his article on Gaza: “. . . Israel’s record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with ‘an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders’. A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism — the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfils all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it.”7 As the leading scholar on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Norman Finkelstein corroborates Shlaim: “The record is quite clear.” Well, it is.
This is why it makes sense to launch a campaign against Israel in the same way it was done against Apartheid South Africa, which was a Western colonial state with entrenched racism, backed by “Western democracies” and engaged in apartheid and oppression . . . much like Israel.
I agree with the historian Ilan Pappé: it is now high time to expose the links between the Zionist ideological factor and the crimes committed by the “self-righteous ideological state” of Israel.8 This might conceivably awaken those Germans who remain asleep in a highly disturbing state of moral apathy.
In the end, one awaited in vain a major German, or any other European, newspaper headlining an article — as Le Monde did after 9/11 with “Nous sommes tous Américains” (We are all Americans)9 — with “Nous sommes tous Palestiniens,” Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Instead, it’s as if the same headline blared, on the front pages of virtually all papers: “We are all Zionists.”
2 Agence France-Presse (AFP), “Germany’s Merkel Blames Hamas for Gaza Violence,” 29 December 2008.
6 “Deutsche Juden und Jüdinnen sagen NEIN zum Morden der israelischen Armee,” advert in Süddeutsche Zeitung, 17 January 2009, p. 10.
7 Avi Shlaim, “How Israel Brought Gaza to the Brink of Humanitarian Catastrophe,” The Guardian, 7 January 2009.
8 Ilan Pappe, “Israel’s Righteous Fury and Its Victims in Gaza,” The Electronic Intifada, 2 January 2009; cf. also Ilan Pappe, “Dummy or Real,” London Review of Books (online), 14 January 2009.
Ali Fathollah-Nejad is a German–Iranian political scientist focusing on the international relations of the Middle East. For the open letter protesting the cancelation of the TV debate on Gaza