Mediacenter // Opinions

DuBow Digest February 2016

Mon, 02/01/2016

Dear Friends:

As I write this, the expected frigid winter weather has finally descended upon us here in the New York area. It gives us something to feel uncomfortable about. However, for most, Presidents’ Day gives us a Monday holiday. We used to just celebrate George Washington’s birthday but it frequently fell on a weekend or middle of the week day which were not very good for shopping. So, some years ago they joined Lincoln and Washington (and who knows who else) into a single Monday event which department store owners now celebrate more than anyone else.

I’m not sure there is much to celebrate these days in Germany. The Chancellor is trying to get other nations, especially Turkey, to stem the flow of refugees from overwhelming the Federal Republic and, perhaps even her political leadership. If anybody in the political sphere is acting like it’s a holiday season it’s the far-right who think that the deep concern about newcomers in the populace will give them a stronger hand in the upcoming state elections and maybe unbalance the current national leadership ranks.

I think it’s safe to say that many Germans are feeling anxiety (read the first piece below) as are we – but for different reasons. They’re worried that they may have new neighbors that they’re not crazy about. We’re worried about having a president and a Congress that fit the same bill. Let’s all hope that negative politics and stupidity will be trumped by common sense and clear thinking. (Pun intended).

Let’s get on with the news...

 

ANGST

Germans have a lot of it. Always have. But what really is it and is it rampant once again? According to Wikipedia “[The word] is used in English to describe an intense feeling of apprehension, anxiety, or inner turmoil.”

According to DW, “Germans are worried. Fear of change increases in times of massive refugee immigration, says opinion pollster Thomas Petersen from the Allensbach Institute in an interview with DW.

Deutsche Welle: Not long ago we were a self-satisfied people with very little social tension. Calm was our trademark. Suddenly, all that has changed, why?

Thomas Petersen: I'm not so sure that calm was ever our trademark. In reality, our trademark was always anxiety, and it was actually unusual that Germans had settled into a phase of relative calm for a while. That was never the case before. The reason that the calm that we had just a year ago has vanished is undoubtedly because of the refugee crisis. People are naturally very concerned about the large numbers of refugees that have arrived here, and therefore they are a little scared that the peace and safety that we once enjoyed is now in danger of disappearing.

Are we once again succumbing to German "angst"? It is no coincidence that the term is used internationally. Do we react more skittishly to change than others?

Previously, I would have said yes. Meanwhile, I think that has changed. People here react with shock and uncertainty, but no more skittishly than others. I don't think that a similar situation in France or the UK would evoke a different reaction.

What unnerves the Germans so much about this large influx of refugees?

There is a general feeling that the societal anchors that one could hold onto in turbulent times are suddenly gone. There is a general feeling of uncertainty. I don't think that one can actually pin it down. It is a strange feeling that everything is being swept away, and suddenly, one peers into the future with uncertainty because one fears that the situation has become incalculable.

Is it fear of terror, or concern about rising crime, or diluting the culture?

A few things come together here. People are naturally very scared about crime and an increased risk of terror, but that is always the case after major attacks, so that is nothing unusual. The fact that 80 percent of those polled said that they are scared of rising crime is of course an echo of the events that occurred in Cologne on New Year's Eve, but that's not really it. There is a feeling of disorientation behind that fear, one that is about more than everyday events.

Are we being overcome by a fear of the future?

When we are bothered in the present it is always because we are worried about the future. People are generally satisfied with the present. That is probably at the core of the current phenomenon. If you asked people if they think everything is fine in Germany, and if it would be best if nothing changed, a great many would likely say: yes. The concerns are not about whether the present can be mastered, but rather that the future may not be.

Is there a typical anxious German?

The tendency to cling to that which already exists becomes greater as one ages. That is understandable. Young people tend to be more dynamic, they want to attain something. They are also more flexible. The older one gets, the more important it becomes to maintain what one has achieved. That is typical for any aging society. And in an aging affluent society, more value is placed on the maintenance of that which has been achieved, and less on the pursuit of the new.

Fear, it is known, is not a good guide. Currently, those who are anxious are gathering around the AfD (Alternative for Germany). Is the political landscape in Germany fundamentally changing?

I don't think you can really say that. Of course the AfD is benefitting from the current uncertainty. Whether it can establish itself as a lasting political force will depend on whether or not the refugee and other crises in Europe can be mastered. I could imagine that if people get the impression that the government has somehow gotten a handle on things, support for the AfD will recede. It will also depend on the AfD itself; for instance, how the party develops internally. There are a lot of factors at play. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that the relative strength of the AfD is certainly a result of the politics of the day.

Dr. Thomas Petersen is a publisher and communication scientist at the Allensbach Institute on Lake Constance. He is the author of the current Allensbach study on Germans and their fear of change.

This interview was conducted by Volker Wagener.

I always thought that the Jewish people had cornered the market on angst. Over the millennia we had good reason to be anxiety ridden since we always seemed to be on the cusp of eradication. But for us it was not directly connected to the possibility of others moving in with us though when the relatives showed up it was rarely a time of quiet and calm. We as a people have lived with angst quite productively since leaving Egypt and I imagine the Germans will manage somehow as well.  

 

THE REFUGEES & THE JEWS

As soon as a great number of Syrian and Afghani refugees started to flood into Germany, given their home nations’ antipathy to Israel and almost anything Jewish, there was bound to be a certain amount of anti-Semitism and open hostility against Jews.

Israel Hayom recently reported, “Official figures show German-born far-right supporters commit the vast majority of anti-Semitic crimes in the country, and Muslim leaders say nearly all asylum seekers -- who can be targets of hate crime themselves -- are trying to escape conflict, not stir it up.

Nevertheless, Jews across Germany are hiding their identity when volunteering at refugee shelters for fear of reprisals, adding another layer of complexity to a social, economic and logistical challenge that is stretching the fabric of German society.

"Among the refugees, there are a great many people who grew up with hostility toward Israel and conflate these prejudices with hatred toward Jews in general," Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews, told Reuters in an interview conducted in October.

Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed last week that anti-Semitic attitudes among some young people arriving from countries where "hatred toward Israel and Jews is commonplace" needed to be dealt with.

The safety of Jewish communities is particularly sensitive in Germany due to the murder of over 6 million Jews by Hitler's Third Reich, which was marked on Wednesday by the international Holocaust Memorial Day. Today, the German Jewish community numbers around 100,500.

According to a 2013 study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, 64% of German Jews avoid the public display of symbols that would identify them as Jewish. It also found that only 28% of them report anti-Semitic incidents.

Such incidents, as recorded by the Interior Ministry, dropped in 2015 but Jews still remember chants by young Muslims proclaiming "Jews to the gas" on German streets in protests against the 2014 Israeli-Palestinian Gaza War.

"We don't approach the issue of refugees with negative expectations in general," said Walter Blender, head of the Jewish community in Bad Segeberg, a town on the mainland about 100 km (60 miles) from Fehmarn. "But we are very worried and skeptical, and anecdotal evidence so far showed that we have reason to be scared."

There is little research on the scale of anti-Semitism in Arab countries, but a Pew poll from 2011 shows a large majority of people there hold unfavorable opinions of Jews.

Researchers say too little effort is put into teaching Western and German values to asylum seekers, including the country's relationship with Jewish communities.

"There is a lack of a deeper understanding of the culture in many Middle Eastern countries, and this results in Western stakeholders being taken by surprise over the fervent anti-Semitism there," said Wolfgang Bock, an expert in Islamism and Middle Eastern politics.

In Germany, refugees with recognized asylum claims learn about the country's history and values alongside language tuition. But some experts say there is nothing about contemporary political issues, such as relations with Israel.

"Education can't just be about the Holocaust and the Third Reich. Schools also need to talk about the Middle East conflict, anti-Semitism based on religious argumentation and conspiracy theories," said Ahmad Mansour, an Arab-Israeli researcher with the European Foundation of Democracy.

But communities across Germany are overwhelmed with processing the hundreds of thousands of asylum applications and are struggling to provide shelter and food to the arrivals.

Some Jewish groups, such as the Berlin-based "Friends of the Fraenkelufer Synagogue," have taken the cultural exchange issue into their own hands with around 40 volunteers helping out at a local refugee center.

"We want to send a message to all the Jews who sit at home and build big fences around their synagogues that it's possible and necessary to approach one another, because if we don't try, things can only turn for the worse," said Nina Peretz, head of the initiative.

The refugee – Jewish relationship and problem has just begun to get underway. I’m a sometimes optimist. I’d like to be one in this case. It’s just a little too early to see how the parties involved; the Jews, the refugees, the Islamic leadership in Germany and the government, will handle their respective roles. We’ll keep an eye on it and let you know how it works out.

 

THE GERMAN MILITARY

Last year sometime I included an article about the state of unpreparedness of the German military. I have never been a fan of the German army and air force being built up to the point where other nations in Europe would begin to get shivers down their spines worrying about some new sort of replay of 1939-1945.

Of course, Germany today, if anything, is the antithesis of the time of a wartime nation. Politically speaking, Germany is about as pacifist as a Western country can be. Been there, done that –with horrible results and an awful 20th Century history. The ragtag ISIS military is a continuing murderous threat. Germany is not.

Having said that, the Federal Republic is, indeed, a member of NATO and does have some military obligations. Over the years I have had the pleasure and honor of meeting many members of the Bundeswehr from generals down to privates. They are great people, proud of their service and willing to fight for their country. They even have a strong international human rights dedication. They are shoulder to shoulder with our own military and, while I am no judge, I would guess that if called on they would carry out their responsibilities exceedingly well.

But, they do not have the proper equipment. You can’t fight without it and in this day and age where the Western countries might be called upon for greater involvement in Syria and/or Afghanistan, they are sadly lacking.

According to DW, “Germany's defense forces are stretched to the limit, military ombudsman Hans-Peter Bartels told lawmakers, calling for an urgent change in policy. The army currently has fewer personnel than at any time in its history.

According to the military ombudsman, the Bundeswehr is facing more diverse challenges than ever before, including its support to the air campaign against the "Islamic State" in Syria, a peacekeeping mission in Mali, the new NATO flast-response unit, and the management of refugees at home.

However, the army is forced to do so with a record low number of soldiers, and outdated and malfunctioning equipment.

"We are short of almost everything," said the SPD politician. "The army is at the turning point. It cannot take more cuts."

Germany currently has 177,000 soldiers, down from some 600,000 at the end of the Cold War. In 2011, Berlin decided to save money by providing only 70 percent of required equipment for some branches of the military, such as armored divisions.

"Today, this planned shortage is jeopardizing education, training and field missions," Bartels told the parliament.

Bartels urged his fellow lawmakers to fully equip the military and raise the military budget from 1.16 percent of the national GDP to at least 1.2 percent. NATO's target spending level - albeit one that few member states actually meet - is a minimum of 2 percent of GDP.

The army received 33 billion euros ($33.78 billion) from the parliament in 2015, and the 2-billion-euro increase currently planned for 2016 is far from enough, according to the report.

The ombudsman also said that the refugee crisis should not become a "permanent mission" for the army.

Delayed deliveries, plus 'teething problems'

This is not the first report to sound the alarm over the state of the German military. An official account in December listed a number of deficiencies in the German air force, with other sources claiming that less than half of military planes were combat-ready. Last week, the Ministry of Defense announced that Germany could not fly its Tornado reconnaissance jets over Syria at night, due to malfunctioning cockpit lights.

Some soldiers have already received new hardware, but even the upgraded equipment was "all late, delayed, full of teething problems and often too few in numbers, and at the same time more expensive than planned," Bartels said.

New billions expected

Following Bartels' Tuesday appearance in parliament, reports citing "sources close to the Ministry of Defense" announced that Berlin plans a drastic increase in military spending. Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen intends to invest some 130 billion euros ($141 billion) in army infrastructure and equipment over the next 15 years, according to the news agencies.

The federal government is also considering enlisting more soldiers, with a decision expected in March.

Maybe help is on the way. Of course, presently there is no military threat to the German homeland. There may be terrorism and terrorist attacks but nothing sizeable on the horizon. And, besides, if anything serious took place, the U.S. is there to guarantee Germany’s safety.

The current situation is an embarrassment but only that. The Federal Republic has bigger things about which to worry, about a million of them.

DRIVING MS. MERKEL

During Angela Merkel’s reign as Chancellor she has been a cautious and wily politician.

She has been able to assess and re-assess situations, get things done and built her personal popularity into one of almost an unassailable level. She has become so well liked that the German populace has of late been referring to her as “Mutter” Mother.

It is a rule of nature that all good things, at one time or another, come to an end. There now appears to be at least a question as to whether that time has come for Mother’s political career. Her “open door” policy in terms of the refugees from the war in Syria has brought about a strong negative reaction from many Germans. It has strengthened a far right party, the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) and has caused many in her own party (CDU) to begin to think about internal alternatives to her.

There is a legitimate question as to what drove Frau Merkel to jettison her caution and open Germany to perhaps 1,00,000 Islamic-Syrian refugees. Here in the U.S. some of our political leaders are wary about admitting any Islamic people. How about 1,00,000 into a country with much less of a population than ours?

To get a handle on what is propelling the Chancellor forward, I came across a column in Der Spiegel by Markus Feldenkirchen and René Pfister entitled, The Isolated Chancellor: What Is Driving Angela Merkel? which grapples with the question.

The authors note, “Chancellor Angela Merkel spent a decade amassing political capital. Now, with the refugee crisis showing no signs of abating, she has decided to spend it. With her legacy in the balance, she has finally found an issue to fight for. But why now?

The screenplay for Merkel's downfall hasn't yet been written, but an initial rough draft already exists. CSU head Horst Seehofer intends to heap pressure on Merkel for as long as it takes until she changes course. 

It hasn't come that far yet, but a critical mass is slowly coalescing. In a letter to the chancellor last week, 44 conservative parliamentarians voiced their opposition to Merkel's course. On Wednesday, Austria announced the introduction of a cap on refugees. The chancellor is becoming increasingly isolated.

As much as the decision to open the borders itself, what amazes many observers is the stubbornness with which Merkel has maintained her political course. Neither the terror attacks in Paris nor the sexual assaults on New Year's Eve in Cologne -- neither the indignation of furious German citizens nor the warnings from within her own party -- has led Merkel to question her decision to keep Germany's borders open. It seems as though Angela Merkel -- à la Vaclav Havel -- is convinced that her course of action makes sense. No matter how the situation turns out.

From Merkel's perspective,[Peter]Altmaier [Merkel’s Chief of Staff] explains, this is what the world looks like: In order to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe late last summer, she had little choice but to open the borders. Now, the task is that of preventing Europe from falling apart. Were Germany to now close its borders, it wouldn't just mark a failure for Europe's border-free travel regime known as Schengen. The refugee flow would also backup across the Balkans and would destabilize the fragile young democracies there.

Greece would become overrun with desperate refugees from Syria and Iraq while Jordan and Lebanon, which are already hosting almost 2 million refugees, could be pushed to the brink of collapse. The alternative is a deal with Turkey, the country through which almost all the refugees have to travel.

That, at least, is the official version. When speaking with Merkel's people, her refugee policies come across as being entirely rational. Like a chain of political necessities.

How about what moves her personally – from inside?

…in an appearance on a popular prime-time political talk show moderated by Anne Will, she repeated her message from the airplane almost word for word. Merkel, for whom almost nothing is less appealing than being forced to talk on television, smiled often during that talk show. On many other issues, you can see by the way she speaks that she doesn't really care about what she's saying. But on this issue, it is completely different. "She was more passionate than usual," says Will, who has interviewed Merkel several times, in hindsight. During the show, Will says, she often thought to herself: "She seems looser, more unfettered in her choice of words. She seemed at peace with herself, almost gleeful. That was new."

[At Brussels summit meeting]… Merkel said nothing at first, a person present at the meeting relates. Only later, after a couple other heads of government had their say, did Merkel …  say: "I lived behind a fence for too long for me to now wish for those times to return." Merkel, the refugee crisis has made clear, has found the courage to justify her politics with her own biography. She no longer wants to be the woman without a face.

[Former Hamburg Mayor] Dohnanyi knew Merkel's parents and he believes that her Christian roots are very apparent in her approach to the refugee crisis. "She is the daughter of a socialist pastor. And her mother was an extremely devout woman. Such things are deep within you, they don't just disappear," he says. The Kasner family (Merkel is the name of the chancellor's first husband) adhered to a practical form of theology that involved helping the poor, sick and disadvantaged, Dohnanyi says.

Merkel grew up with the tenet that, if a stranger is standing in the rain before your door, you let him in and help, he continues. "And when you let them in, you don't grimace," Dohnanyi says. "Christians don't do that." Merkel herself recently said something similar. "We hold speeches on Sundays and we talk about values. I am the chair of a Christian political party. And then people come to us from 2,000 kilometers away and then you're supposed to say: You can't show a friendly face here anymore?"

Pastor Eppelmann [a friend from the former East Germany] is likewise convinced that Merkel's approach to the refugee crisis is deeply rooted in her past. "She stands on a solid foundation that was poured in her childhood and youth." He also points out that her childhood home was not a normal Protestant parsonage; rather it was a church-run home for people with disabilities. Angela Kasner grew up surrounded by disabled people who needed to be cared for. "She breathed in empathy like air and oxygen," says Eppelmann.

Later, Eppelmann goes on, Merkel also experienced what it is like to be pushed around by a regime. She initially was not granted a slot at university despite being best in her class. "Such an experience can break a person," Eppelmann says. As such, Merkel can understand what it must be like for people fleeing Islamic State or the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.

There’s more to this very interesting article. To get some genuine insight into what makes the Chancellor tick, you should read the entire piece which you can by clicking of the link below.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/why-has-angela-merkel-staked-her-legacy-on-the-refugees-a-1073705.html

 

PEGIDA EXPANDS

For some months now I have been writing about the German anti-Islamic movement called Pegida which is an acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West which has a strong connection to extreme right elements including the neo-Nazi NPS Party. Given the number of Islamic refugees entering Germany and other European countries It was almost inevitable that this movement should reach out to other similar organizations in the nations affected. It’s happening!

DW recently reported, “Germany's anti-immigration movement Pegida has signed a declaration with like-minded groups from 14 European countries, agreeing on joint protests in February. The associations warn of "Islam conquering Europe."

The leading Pegida activist Tatjana Festerling criticized Berlin's policies while meeting representatives of several European anti-Islamic movements on Saturday.

Germany was a cautionary tale for the EU, showing to other states what could go wrong when a country open its doors to migrants, Festerling said at the conference in Roztoky, near Prague.

"(German Chancellor Angela) Merkel is growing a massive surplus of men in Germany," Festerling added, referring to the fact that most of the 1.1 million migrants arriving to Germany last year were male.

The Roztoky meeting was hosted by the Czech Usvit (Dawn) party and university lecturer Martin Konvicka, head of the local far-right group Bloc Against Islam.

The anti-immigration groups from different EU states have agreed on international protests on February 6, dubbed the "Day of the European Patriots." The protests are to be held in Pegida's stronghold of Dresden as well as in Prague, Warsaw and other European cities.

"Our basic message will be: Europeans won't give up Europe," Konvicka said in reference to the protests.

The leader of Bloc Against Islam also accused political elites of "suicidal and stupid politics."

End of history

The representatives of the far-right movements signed a joint "Prague declaration," warning that the "history of Western civilization could soon come to an end through Islam conquering Europe."

The English-language document also states that its creators "refuse to submit to the Central European Government" and consider it their duty to stand up against "political Islam, extreme Islamic regimes and their European collaborators."

Attack on 'blonde, white women'

The German Pegida movement gained popularity at the outset of the refugee crisis in 2014. The New Year's attacks in Cologne boosted anti-foreigner sentiment in Germany, with many right-wingers announcing their fears were vindicated by the sexual violence.

At a recent Leipzig rally, Festerling decried the "sex jihad against women" and the "Asylum-Mummy Merkel."

The Muslim refugees "started their wholesale terror attack against German women, against blonde, white women," she told the crowd.

Festerling is facing several criminal charges in Germany, including the one for hate speech.

Pegida, and I guess the other organizations involved, have stayed away from the subject of Jews, Judaism and Israel. They have enough grist for their mill at the moment with the Islamic refugees.

However, when organizations and their followers begin to spread across continents their trouble-making capacities only increase. It’s dangerous for everybody and especially for Jews as history always tells us that with such groups “we’re next”. 

 

THE OBERMAYER AWARDS

Last month I noted that Arthur Obermayer (picture), the man who originated the Obermayer Awards had passed away. Arthur had strong connections to his family’s German origins and did more than most by actually under taking this important project which recognizes non-Jews who have taken action to commemorate and celebrate the importance of Jewish history in Germany.

Arthur’s awards have out lasted him and they now serve as part of the legacy he has left behind. JTA recently reported, “A preacher, teachers, business leaders and an artist were among the non-Jewish Germans who were recognized for helping preserve local Jewish history.

On Monday, they were presented with the Obermayer German Jewish History Awards in the Berlin Senate as Germany prepares to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday, the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The winners of the 16th annual awards, which were established by the late U.S. philanthropist Arthur Obermayer, have faced a mix of support and resistance over the years.

One awardee, Peter Franz of Weimar, was undeterred when neo-Nazis destroyed an exhibit on local Jewish history and left two pigs’ heads
outside the Praeger Haus, a memorial and meeting center he helped create in his town.

In Frankenthal, some residents did not want brass “Stumbling Block” memorials to former Jewish residents in front of their homes, said
award winner Werner Schaefer. “Then our mayor personally approached the homeowners” and convinced them, he said.

In Berlin, after years of “paying lip service” to the history of “Aryanization” of Jewish businesses, local retailers in 2013 finally joined in an annual commemoration of Kristallnacht, said Nils Busch-Petersen, managing director of the Berlin-Brandenburg Retailers Association, who won a distinguished service award.

In general, local politicians and city administrations have been supportive, the awardees agreed.

“But there are also many people who remain silent” about local Jewish history, said Almut Holler of Norden, a retired pastor who shared the award with retired teacher Walter Demandt.

The other awardees are:

Elizabeth Quirbach and Hans Schulz, who helped turn the site of a former Jewish school and rabbi’s house in Braunsbach into a museum and educational center.

Reinhard Fuehrer, former member and leader of Berlin’s House of Representatives, who earned a distinguished service award for early
support for the Obermayer Awards and his work to preserve Europe’s largest Jewish cemetery, in Weissensee.

Elmar Ittenbach, who wrote a history of Thalfang’s Jewish community and a biography of Rabbi Samuel Hirsch, a founder of Reform Judaism in the 19th century.

Also Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the opening of an exhibition in Berlin featuring 100 works created by concentration camp prisoners and ghetto residents on loan from the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. According to news reports, 24 of the artists represented in the exhibition, “The Art of the Holocaust,” did not survive the Shoah.

 

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See you again in March

DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be reached at dubowdigest@email.com

Both the American and Germany editions are posted at  www.dubowdigest.net

About the author
Eugene DuBow

Eugene L. DuBow is a Senior Advisor with the American Jewish Committee. Mr. DuBow was employed for almost 37 years with the American Jewish Committee. From 2000 to 2002 he served as Senior Advisor for Planned Giving. From 1997-2000 he was the founding Managing Director of AJC’s Berlin Office (Ramer Center). This office was the first permanent representation that any American Jewish national membership organization had ever opened in the Federal Republic of Germany.

02/01/2016 Opinion

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