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News Overview 2015

Israel – a Hopeless Battleground?

Israeli historian Moshe Zimmermann and member of the European Parliament Elmar Brok came together at Stuttgart’s Schauspielhaus theater to discuss the following question: "Israel – a conflict never to be resolved?"

Moshe Zimmermann pointed out that Jürgen Klinsmann should not be underestimated. The audience were briefly taken aback. The historian then raised a laugh when he explained laconically that he wasn’t talking about sport but in terms of social policy. Describing the mood in his homeland, he argued that the former national coach fundamentally changed Germany’s image in soccer-crazy Israel, both with his own behavior and that of his team, during the course of the 2006 World Cup. If it wasn’t before, it is now clear that Israel’s relationships with its neighbors, with Germany, and with the rest of the world are a complex tangle that one can barely get a clear picture of.

In order to shed some light on the matter, Zimmermann joined German member of the EU Parliament Elmar Brok on the podium last Sunday, and the two men spent almost two hours discussing the following question with the audience: "Israel – a conflict never to be resolved?" It was the second event in the Theater x Reality discussion series, organized by Schauspiel Stuttgart, the Robert Bosch Stiftung, and the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper.

Mutual Perception Rooted in the Present

"The image of Germany held by Israelis is very much rooted in the present," said Zimmermann. "Far-right and populist right-wing movements such as Pegida are given very little attention." In this sense, there has been a sea change within Israel over the past few years. "People distinguish between the Germany of today and the Germany of the past," explained Zimmermann.

Moderator and Stuttgarter Zeitung editor Rainer Pörtner added that Germans, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly critical of Israel. The historian had an explanation for this particular observation. He argued that Germans also base their opinions on what’s happening in the present. And in the case of Israel, he made the point that it seems like the country is always at war and repressing the Palestinians.

Speaking in front of an almost fully packed theater with roughly 600 audience members, the two men thus got to the nub of the problem: the fact that there is no end in sight to the conflict in which the Middle East is embroiled. In terms of finding a solution to the crisis, Zimmermann is the proponent of a somewhat radical theory, believing that it might take a catastrophe to bring about a genuine peace process. "I’m a historian," said Zimmermann. He explained that his job is to analyze historical trends. "It took a catastrophe of epic proportions, for example, to turn arch enemies France and Germany into friends."

Averting Catastrophe

He then turned his attention to the present day, offering a rather dispiriting assessment of the current political situation in the Middle East. "Those who are smart learn from the experience of others; those who are foolish learn from their own experience. Unfortunately, the fools currently have the upper hand in the Middle East."

Upon hearing this, Elmar Brok made a passionate assertion that it’s the job of politicians to avert precisely this kind of major disaster in the region. Nevertheless, he was forced to concede that he had hoped that a peace settlement could be reached many times over the past few decades, only to be disappointed on each occasion.

Katja Bauer, moderator and Stuttgarter Zeitung editor, pointed out that the hard line pursued by Israel could be a result of the history of the Jewish people – and a reflection of their determination to never again be victims.

A Democracy Threatened to Its Very Core

Zimmermann explained that this argument could be used to justify a very different kind of policy within Israel. He described how the first migrants to the country believed that their hopes for peace could only be fulfilled by coming to an understanding with their neighbors. He argued that Israeli politicians have only started playing the "fear card" more often in recent times, thus bringing with it the constant emphasis on the country’s "fundamental Jewish character."

"We’re actually a secular society," explained Moshe Zimmermann, "but religion is playing an ever more prominent role in modern life." Taking into account the sizable minority of Israeli Arabs, the historian reached the somewhat sobering conclusion that "all this talk of a Jewish state" could threaten the country’s democracy to its very core.

(Knut Krohn, Stuttgarter Zeitung, April 2015)

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Israeli historian Moshe Zimmermann