Behind the Headlines: New Israeli Consul General in Berlin Battling Four Decades of Propaganda

For over 40 years, the 16 million citizens of the former East German regime were carefully tutored in the vicissitudes of hatred for all things Zionist.

So when the two Germanys were reunited last year, the Israeli government immediately started planning ways to reach out to these new citizens who knew nothing of the Jewish state.

Berlin, located in the middle of the five new states that joined the German Federal Republic, was deemed the best launching ground for this counteroffensive against anti-Israel propaganda.

Steps to establish a consulate here were taken even before the German parliament voted this summer to re-establish Berlin as the capital.

And picked to be Israel’s first consul general to Berlin was Mordechai Levy, a career diplomat whose flawless German attests to his years of experience in Germany, both as a child and later as a member of the Israeli foreign service.

“We believed the unification process would be detrimental to Israel-German relations if the new citizens of a united Germany would not take part in the rapprochement policy that Germany experienced for almost 25 years,” Levy explained in a recent interview, shortly after beginning his duties here last month.

“Our task is to make sure that this population takes part in the rapprochement, and I have reasons to be confident that they are ready to do so,” he said.

AN UNPRECEDENTED OPPORTUNITY

In 1963, the family went back to Israel, where Levy served in the military during the Six-Day War. After studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he entered the foreign service and spent years abroad in both Stockholm and Bonn.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Levy was working in Israel on the desk for German-speaking countries.

For Levy and others in the Foreign Ministry, the end of Soviet domination in East Germany was met with relief tempered by memory.

“We felt that we had to be aware of Jewish concerns about unification, but also do justice to the good experiences we had with the Federal Republic of Germany,” said Levy.

“We had such a bad experience with the German Democratic Republic as a state, which was so hostile to Israel, that actually we had no reason to be very sad that this kind of state disappeared and democracy was extended throughout all of Germany,” he said.

Unification also gave Israel — and Jewish organizations worldwide — the opportunity to make contact with the few hundred Jewish citizens of the former East German republic.

Levy believes that one of his main tasks will be to introduce the Jewish community to Israel and help them establish a sense of affiliation.

“This is a special case of a community that has had no link with Israel for 40 years, and if they heard anything about Israel, it was always negative,” he said.

Asked whether there is a future for the Jewish community in Germany, Levy noted this was a question being hotly debated.

“I think it is not easy to be a Jew in Germany,” he said simply.

The consul general acknowledged that he came to Berlin without the same obstacles facing other Jews. As someone who has spent nearly 10 years in Germany, he has what he called “a more realistic, less emotionally loaded” approach.

“But this doesn’t mean I am not aware of the emotional dimension which is part and parcel of the Israeli-German relations,” he said.

Levy said he was distressed to find that during the Persian Gulf War, when Israel’s existence was directly threatened by the Iraqi chemical arsenal, some German anti-war protesters took a position that ignored Israel’s interests.

“They simply forgot that in order to save Israel from such dangers, it’s not enough to cry out against war. One had to take steps to rule out the existential danger which Israel was facing at that time,” he said.

What he hopes to see from Germans is not only a sensitivity to Jewish concerns — which are very much in the foreground in Germany — but a sensitivity “also toward Israeli matters, because Israel is the only Jewish state.”

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