Jewish Political Studies Review 20:1-2 (Spring 2008)
Israel in Context
Insel der Aufklärung: Israel im Kontext, vol. 3, Schriften zur politischen Bildung, Kultur und Kommunikation (Island of Enlightenment: Israel in Context, vol. 3, Papers on Political Education, Culture and Communication), edited by Alexandra Kurth, Netzwerk für politische Bildung, Kultur und Kommunikation (NBKK), 2005, 232 pp.
Reviewed by Simon Erlanger
Ever since Angela Merkel became German chancellor two years ago, official German policy has reverted to the pro-American and pro-Israeli positions it had abandoned during the years when Gerhard Schröder was chancellor. Public discourse, however, is still dominated by anti-American and especially anti-Israeli attitudes. Two generations after the Shoah, it has become fashionable both in German media and academia to call into doubt the legitimacy of the Jewish state, belittle its democratic credentials, and question its chances of survival.
To counter this development a group of young German social scientists, political scientists, and historians have formed the Netzwerk für politische Bildung, Kultur und Kommunikation (NBBK). The group is concerned about the rising anti-Semitism that singles out Israel as its favorite target. The NBBK fights distortion and propaganda with fact and scientific method, and is bringing out its own series of publications called the Schriften zur politischen Bildung, Kultur und Kommunikation. The first volume deals with the politics of history and memory; the second analyzes anti-Semitism from the eighteenth century to the present anti-Semitism of the Left.
The third volume focuses on the state of Israel. Edited by the political scientist Alexandra Kurth, the book presents a set of well-researched, well-written articles. Its title reflects its aim: to put Israel-notwithstanding the tendency to delegitimize it and deny its democratic credentials-in the proper historical and political context.
Shedding Light on Israel
This book begins with an overview by Stefan K. Braun of Zionist history from the early nineteenth century to the founding of the state. In the second article, Samuel Salzborn characterizes the Israeli polity as a liberal democracy in a constant state of emergency. He demonstrates that Israel has so far successfully maintained the liberal-democratic values it largely inherited from Europe and largely embodies. Noting that Israel still lacks a constitution, Salzborn describes how a constitution is nevertheless slowly evolving in the context of basic laws and the periodic recalibration of the subtle balance between the Supreme Court and the Knesset. Far from viewing the lack of a constitution and the powers of the Supreme Court as a defect and a danger to Israeli democracy, he depicts a work in progress, a vibrant, diverse society’s gradual endeavor to define itself.
In the next article, editor Alexandra Kurth gives a short history of the Israel Defense Forces and its significance in Israeli society. On this subject in particular, disinformation and prejudice prevail in Germany. The political scientist Steffen Hagemann also confronts distortions in his detailed, well- researched account of the Second Intifada, which he describes not as an outburst of popular anger but a war planned and launched by the Palestinian Authority during and after the unsuccessful negotiations at Camp David and Taba. This intifada, Hagemann maintains, has cast doubt on basic assumptions of the Oslo peace process and, by rekindling existential fears, turned the clock back for much of Israeli society.
Next, Rolf Schleyer gives a sobering account of the history of German-Israeli relations. Postwar Germany, he asserts, paid restitution not because of guilt but to be readmitted to the family of nations. Germany only reluctantly established relations with Israel and its main motive for these ties has been political and economic gain. German economic interests also lead it to maintain relations with a country such as Iran.
The question of interests is also central to Ilka Schröder’s article on the European Union’s attitude toward Israel. Until 2004, Schröder was a member of the European Parliament, and she tried to draw attention to the EU’s problematic financial contributions to the Palestinian Authority. Although galvanizing much support, she encountered opposition from the EU’s upper echelon, particularly the then European Commissioner Chris Patten. Yet much of the EU money was embezzled and financed what Schröder calls the PA’s “anti-Semitic war of terror.” Schröder, currently a lecturer at Georgetown University, explains the EU’s behavior as a conscious imperialistic policy whereby Europe strives to become a great power at the expense of the United States. This includes meddling in the Middle East by subverting Israeli interests.
In the next article, Joachim Wurst describes the emergence and psychological mechanisms of modern anti-Semitism and particularly of genocidal Islamist anti-Semitism. He traces the development of this trend from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Mufti of Jerusalem in the 1930s and 1940s through the pan-Arabism of the 1950s and 1960s up to the present-day Islamism. Finally, in a case study Götz Nordbruch highlights the ubiquity of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories in today’s Egypt.
An Urgent Mission
As noted, the book is well researched and, though written in a scholarly manner with numerous references, highly readable. It provides a helpful survey of the development and challenges of the state of Israel. Schröder’s insights into the EU’s anti-Israeli machinations are especially enlightening. The NBKK’s struggle against ignorance and mendacity in the German popular and academic discourse is an urgent necessity, and its publications, which have gained wide dissemination, are a major contribution.
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SIMON ERLANGER was educated at the University of Basel and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He currently is a lecturer in Jewish history at the University of Lucerne and a journalist.