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Behind the Headlines Schmidt’s Victory Revives Anxiety Among German Jews

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The electoral victory last week of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s Social Democratic Party (SDP) and his Free Democratic Party (FDP) coalition partner headed by Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher has revived anxiety in West Germany’s small Jewish community over the Bonn government’s openly pro-Arab policies in the Middle East and Schmidt’s own attitude toward Israel.

The 30,000 Jews living in the Federal Republic and West Berlin have long had doubts. Schmidt was invited to visit Israel as long ago as 1975 and the invitation still stands. But he has never acted upon it. More recently, 10 days elapsed before an official spokesman found it necessary to deny a report in Der Spiegel that Schmidt had denounced Israeli Premier Menachem Begin in very sharp terms, describing him as a “danger for world peace.”

The denial was issued only after persistent questions by the press, an open letter from a West German organization at Jewish Holocaust survivors protesting the alleged remarks by Schmidt as on “insult to the whole Jewish people,” and an official request for clarification from the Israeli Embassy.

Even then, a government spokesman at first did not deny Schmidt’s reported remarks in their entirety. He said they were not directed against Begin personally but at his settlement policies in the occupied territories. Eventually, under continued questioning by the press, a firm denial was obtained.

JEWS BEGIN TO SPEAK OUT

Until recently, the Jewish community has kept a low profile. Its leaders rarely spoke out on the issue of Bonn’s eroding support for Israel and its increasing tendency to woo the oil producing Arab states. But after the Venice summit meeting of the European Economic Community (EEC) leaders where a declaration was issued urging that the Palestine Liberation Organization be associated with the Middle East peace process, the central organization of German Jews issued a strong protest. Bonn wields considerable influence in the councils of the EEC.

The Arab-Israeli conflict was hardly touched upon during the recent election campaign. But in its closing stages, the opposition candidate for Chancellor, Franz – Josef Strauss, leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) become on outspoken critic of the government’s Mideast policies.

He visited Israel and Egypt and denounced Bonn’s appeasement at the Arab rejections states. He drew angry retorts from Schmidt who also faced criticism from within the SDP, notably from Herbert Wehner, chairman of its Parliamentary faction. This caused some embarrassment to Schmidt but did not bring about a significant change of policy.

Strauss, for his part, was never a favorite candidate. With his defeat, the weight of his relatively pro-Camp David stance has largely dissipated and Schmidt is free to continue his policies that are likely to cause a further deterioration of relations with Israel. The Jewish community is too small to exercise any meaningful political influence and is expected to concentrate on community life rather than national politics.

WELL-BEING OF JEWISH COMMUNITY

As for as the well-being of Jews in West Germany is concerned, there are no differences between the SDP-led coalition and the CDU opposition. Both are committed to the principle of helping to renew Jewish life in this country and are generous in offering public and financial support toward that end.

A recent example is the opening of a school of Jewish studies in the university town of Heidelberg. It consists of only three rooms and faces many difficulties. But it symbolizes a firm dedication, shared by non-Jewish Germans in the mainstream of political affairs, to plant new Jewish roots in West Germany.

The some may be said about the struggle against terrorism from the extreme left and extreme right. Jews here are aware of the danger of the neo-Nazi movement which has many links with the PLO and other extremist groups at home and abroad. But they feel secure inasmuch as they can count on the help and support of the authorities. But this feeling of security has its limits where Israel’s security appears to be threatened. The Jewish community, therefore, is not likely to suppress its concern over Bonn’s Middle East policy.

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