Background Report a Crisis of Identity

The Jewish community in West Germany is undergoing a crisis of identity. The community has been fractured by Israel’s military actions in Lebanon and buffeted by the German media and many Germans who seem to take delight in being able to “demonstrate” that their former victims have become “no better than our fathers.”

The agony and anguish permeating some sections of the Jewish community are not always the consequences of newspaper headlines and slanted articles which seek to denigrate Israel. Sometimes these feelings result from seemingly minor and accidental encounters between individual Jews and Germans.

For example, an Israeli journalist in Bonn accidentally met a German colleague whom he did not see for almost a year. Without any of the usual greetings she approached him and snapped: “Why are you behaving in Lebanon as the Germans did during the Third Reich?” This assertion, in one way or another, has become a commonplace in most of the German media.

A German journalist who happens to be a dedicated friend of Israel was asked the other day whether he watched a television program on the Middle East. “I did not,” he answered, “and I’m glad I didn’t. That would certainly have been another nightmare. I just refrain from such sort of things.”

Last week a statement critical of Israel was issued by 43 “Berlin Jews” which compared Israel’s military actions in Lebanon with German nationalism during the Nazi era. Both state operated German TV channels carried this statement but failed to carry a statement by the chairman of the Jewish community of West Berlin, Werner Nachmann, on behalf of the community defending Israel’s actions as a means of safeguarding life and security and as an act of self-defense on the part of Israel.

RESIGNATION AND APATHY

Among Jewish youth in West Germany there is a growing feeling of resignation and apathy. An official of the Central Organization of the Jewish Communities in Bonn said this is the first time he has encountered this feeling since the end of World War II. “Israel’s actions are the center of any political discussion nowadays,” he said. “But the question is no longer whether one is pro-Israeli or not, but rather of how best to preserve Jewish identity altogether” in light of Israel’s actions in Lebanon.

A young Jewish activist in Frankfurt said he was not bothered by those Jewish students who took a tough stance against Israel’s policies. “That is perfectly normal,” he observed, “and besides, only a few students take this stance. The problem is the mass of Jewish youth who just do not want to hear or know. They are practically in hiding.”

A young Berlin Jew, who has been volunteering his free time to explain Israel’s cause, told me that he was considering leaving the country. “There is a real anti-Jewish campaign here,” he said. “Everyone can feel it. I detect it in every television newsreel, in nearly every newspaper. But I have encountered it in many personal incidents, too What I have been through in the last few weeks has really given me a lot to think about.”

The tiny Jewish community in this country has always suffered from an identity crisis. The development during the last six weeks has compounded this crisis within the community as well as between the community and its neighbors.

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