Syria could invade Israel

Jewish Life in Germany - Past and Present

Richard C. Schneider

Richard C. Schneider, Editor-at-Large at BR / ARD, was a correspondent and studio manager at ARD Studio Tel Aviv from 2005 to 2015. He was born and raised in Germany as a child of Holocaust survivors, has written numerous books on Jewish life in post-war Germany and made two award-winning four-part documentary series about Jews in Germany after 1945 for ARD: "We are here! Jews in Germany after 1945" , 2000, and "anyway German! Jews in German Post-War Culture ”, 2005.


Anti-Jewish images and language can be found everywhere in the media - therefore it is essential to deal with the resentments, prejudices, clichés and also the bias towards Jews in the editorial offices.

BU MISSING (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

What do we want to talk about here? About the image of Jews in the German media? Or about the image of Israel in the media? Or about the image of Israelis living in Germany or about Jews abroad and how they are portrayed in German media, for example Jews in the USA? And when we're talking about the United States, are we talking about the so-called "Jewish lobby" or about Americans who happen to be Jews? And when it comes to Germany, are we talking about the image of Jewish Germans in the media or about German Jews or about the image of Jews in Germany? What are we talking about? About which image of which Jews in German media?

To use Facebook, it's complicated. But if we want to ask ourselves which Jews are perceived in the German media, we should rather ask how the respective journalist or author Author with "the Jews" holds. What are Jews to her, to him? In what context does he or she perceive Jews?

What does "Jewish" have to do with it?

Let's start with a banality. For a non-Jewish journalist, is a Jew in Germany with a German passport a "German", a "Jewish German" or a "German Jew", or rather a foreigner? Maybe even with a "migration background"? For it will depend on how Jews are written and reported. Often there is no prior information or education on this topic. This could be seen, for example, when reporting on the terrorist attack in Vienna at the beginning of November 2020. The attack began in front of the synagogue in Seitenstettengasse in the 1st district, where the Israelite religious communityVienna also has office space. But the live reporting on television quickly turned the "Israelite" into an "Israeli" religious community. Because the correspondent was obviously not clear about the difference: Terms like "Mosaic" or "Israelite" are old German words for "Jewish" and have nothing to do with the State of Israel or the Israeli nationality. This reveals a lack of thought and carelessness, because one is not even aware of the problem.

And so many journalists don't ask themselves why they write in an article about a writer - to name just one example -: the "Jewish author XY". It would never occur to him, the "Catholic" or the "Protestant" Unless it had a meaning in connection with the work. Then that would make sense. It becomes downright unacceptable with the addition of "Jewish", that is, when the Jewish being is to be emphasized on purpose, although it is absolutely doesn't matter. A famous example: the Frankfurt real estate agent Ignatz Bubis and the property speculation in Frankfurt's West End in the 1970s. Of course, the German media focused on the "Jewish speculators" at that time. Of course there were also non-Jewish speculators who were involved in the demolitions and new buildings in the city district. But at that time the media almost only got excited about the Jews when it came to the dubious ones In a famous SPIEGEL interview, Ignatz Bubis said at the time that one could call him a speculator, but calling him a "Jewish speculator" is anti-Semitic. Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder was in his play "The Garbage, the City and Death" (written in 1975) much "braver" than the media. He immediately denounced his speculator figure as a “rich Jew.” Point: The fact that a dispute arose in the feature pages about whether it was anti-Semitic or not was pure mockery.

Back to the here and now, which is not that different. It is true that the custom may have largely prevailed that the religious affiliation of the person who is written or reported about in the media should not play a role. But still the addition "Jewish" is still popular today. Perhaps unconsciously - because one is not aware of the fact that one has a prejudice. Or quite consciously to convert the person who is being reported about into a certain or even to put a crooked light, because one would like to activate prejudices in the readers, listeners and viewers.

How Jewish life is reported

So we should deal here with resentments, prejudices, clichés and also the bias towards Jews in the editorial offices, because that is exactly what it is all about. Photo editors, for example, are particularly "imaginative" when it comes to a Jewish topic. People like to take photos of ultra-Orthodox Jews from the archive that are hardly (still) in Germany. For example, SPIEGEL 2019 in a special issue on history of Jews in Germany. On the cover two poor ultra-orthodox. The picture comes from the Scheunenviertel in Berlin between the world wars. The title of the magazine: "Jewish life in Germany". Until then, just: cliché. But then comes the real scandal, in the subtitle: "The unknown world next door." This one cover captures an essential problematic of German reporting and the German view of Jews in Germany. A cliché and the statement that Jews are not one of them. They are a world "next door". Not: right in the middle or even an integral part of society. No. Marginalized. In the past it was actually compulsory, today in the minds of many non-Jews and, of course, journalists as well. In 2021, the existence of Jewish life for exactly 1700 years will be celebrated with numerous events across Germany. But in the minds of many it is and remains a world that does not belong.

By the way: a cliché photo that has recently been used by many newspapers and TV stations shows the back of the head of a non-ultra-Orthodox Jew with a blue kippah on which a Star of David can be seen. The problem with this is that most Jews in Germany are no different from non-Jews at all. You are not wearing a kippah. And the few who do it rarely do so in public because it has become too dangerous. But where the editors think they have to "identify" Jews, the cliché is used and thus also reproduced - instead of thinking about how Jews can be represented more adequately and more appropriately to today's reality.

When it comes to Israel, it doesn't look very different. Photo editors also like to show Orthodox Jews, settlers with submachine guns or soldiers. No question about it, where it makes sense in terms of content, these images are justified. But otherwise? Do these segments of society represent all of Israel? It is interesting to see how two "labels" for the Jewish state have emerged in most of the media over the past few years negative Label "Israel" with all the well-known connotations, such as "apartheid state", "colonial state", "occupying power" and much more. On the other hand, there is that positive Label "Tel Aviv": the city on the Mediterranean is hip, a high-tech hub, has great restaurants with fusion food, a great nightlife, is liberal. There is beach, sun, beautiful women, cool boys, the city is multicultural, That is what people like to show, but it often gives the impression that Tel Aviv does not belong to Israel, that it is not part of this state, which is otherwise portrayed as "evil". But that becomes a problem in Tel Aviv. After all, Tel Aviv is "good". So you have to separate it from the rest of the country. This may often be quite unintentional - or it may not - the red line between deliberate prejudice and unconscious cliché is sometimes very fine. You could do that with that See article against pianist Igor Levit in a left-wing liberal daily newspaper in autumn 2020. That Levit is Jewish was not mentioned. However, the article contains obvious anti-Semitic clichés and allegations. The article accuses Levit of two things: that he is a bad pianist (although this is hardly explained and explained) and that he uses a "victim claim ideology" with his political tweets - a frequent anti-Semitic figure of thought, according to which Jews establish a victim status and use it for dubious purposes ("influence", "power", "money") would abuse. With this term alone, the article has certainly opened the space for such associations. In addition, there is criticism that Levit tweeted after the renewed attack on a Jew in front of the synagogue in Hamburg that he was “tired.” Tired of the eternal anti-Semitism in Germany. And then the article also contains formulations about Levit's contacts and his network Here too, formulations were chosen that create associations for anti-Semitic stereotypes and consequently conspiracy theories, according to which Jews are optimally networked or act in secret and clandestine (conspiratorial).

To make it clear again here - and the mere fact that it has to be made clear shows how tense and twisted the discussion on the subject of Jews in Germany is: Of course, the critic can find Levit bad as an artist. And of course he can also criticize Levit's tweeted. But without anti-Jewish whispers. It would be that simple.

This large German daily newspaper has already attracted attention with its anti-Semitic cartoons in the past. And every time an excuse came, that it was not intended that way, that it was a misunderstanding. In the case of the last anti-Semitic cartoon (Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was roughly portrayed in the best striker fashion with all "typically Jewish" features) the editors - again after a public apology - took the action. The collaboration with the cartoonist was terminated many saw it as the right step, but the question of why an anti-Semitic caricature was once again hoisted in the paper was not discussed further in public.

As reported about Israel

Make no mistake: anti-Jewish patterns can be found everywhere in the media, not just left of center. This is no different than in all of German society. And just as "classic" anti-Semitism has increasingly shifted in recent decades to Israel-related anti-Semitism in the form of an often only supposedly legitimate and necessary criticism of the State of Israel - this has also developed analogously in the editorial offices Saying is tricky and not politically correct. "Criticism of Israel", on the other hand, seems supposedly legitimate and necessary. However, the term "criticism of Israel" does not apply to any other country. It is fed by a feeling of moral superiority that has been gaining ground in Germany, including in politics, for many years. and because one thinks that one has dealt intensively with the crimes of National Socialism, the impression is sometimes given that one can now conclude with this chapter. There are many examples in German politics or in public debates. But here too one has to be fine There are those who are really clear about what they are saying or doing, and there are others who, without thinking about it, adopt an attitude that seems to be becoming mainstream, without wondering to what extent it is at all justified and right Incidentally, this does not only apply to Israel. Let us remind you of the tone of voice with regard to Italy during the euro crisis and Greece. What seems to be gaining acceptance around the world with a view to Israel can of course also be found in Germany: the "3D test" for the detection of anti-Israeli anti-Semitism according to the Israeli politician Nathan Sharanksy. The 3D test seeks to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and Examine Israel-related anti-Semitism on the basis of three criteria: The three Ds stand for demonization, double standards and delegitimization. So when the Jewish settler movement in the West Bank is repeatedly attacked as a violation of international law and as an obstacle to peace, but about the illegal settlement of Morocco in the occupied Western Sahara or Turkey in Northern Cyprus is hardly or not at all talked about in politics and also in the media, then the question quickly arises why that is so.

The famous American journalist Thomas Friedman of the New York Times described the Israel boycott movement BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) as clearly anti-Semitic. And not because she criticizes Israeli politics, because that is of course and of course completely legitimate - but because BDS (and others) completely ignore the much worse crimes that are committed in Syria, Saudi Arabia or Iran, for example Acts of Israel, on the other hand, were declared a singular crime or even a greater crime than any other. This attitude is definitely noticeable in the media. So is about attacks by the Israeli air force on Gaza reported in Headlines, only to say at some point in the text that these attacks were a response to Palestinian rocket attacks out Gaza, to name just one example. So there will be actio and reactio just turned around. Why is this happening? Just because Israel is the occupying power and therefore automatically guilty? Apart from the fact that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is far too complex to be able to clearly assign guilt or innocence to one side, the argument of the occupation as a justification for the reversal of the sequence of events would not really be plausible. So why is this happening? The answer seems obvious.

While the Israeli occupation in the West Bank has been a constant topic in the German media for decades, while the mere announcement of an annexation of areas in the occupied West Bank by Prime Minister Netanyahu in the summer of 2020 became a major media event - an annexation that did not take place at all - is today about the Illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 hardly (any more) discussed. That is exactly the application of double standards in reporting Israeli politics.

How could one report on "other" cultures, religions and ways of thinking?

But back to the German domestic situation. Just the phrase "Jewish fellow citizens" as politicians and journalists like to use is an indirect exclusion. If a Jewish German suddenly spoke of his "Christian fellow citizens", everyone would be understandably confused about this usage. Because what, please, is a fellow citizen? Either all citizens or all fellow citizens. In view of such fundamental democratic questions, it would be all the more important for journalists to check their own language usage very carefully. It is obvious that this also has to do with the German education and training system. The problem of how and what is said and taught about Jews affects all of German society. The fact that reporting about Jews is often so problematic may of course also be due to the fact that there are inhibitions and insecurities among non-Jewish Germans in view of the burden of the Shoah; often it is probably just sheer ignorance; with some, the prejudice and conceit of those who feel superior are likely to come to the fore - and again and again a fundamental lack of empathy is revealed. The problem goes further than anti-Semitic tropes in many reports and reports, or the increasing Israel-related anti-Semitism in schools, or the reproduction of clichés in political language. The fundamental question that arises is how one should deal with other cultures, religions and ways of thinking. The problem is much bigger than it can be confined to the anti-Jewish.How do you report on a culture that is not your own, and whose views and ideas you do not understand and perhaps even reject because they do not correspond to your own value system? In my opinion, such questions are given too little thought in many journalism schools or editorial offices, despite increasing globalization. The same applies here, of course: this is not an exclusively journalistic problem.

If a journalist makes a critical report on circumcision among Jews (or Muslims), can he criticize this ritual as barbaric? Yes, of course. But is it also right and appropriate? Does such a criticism do justice to this phenomenon? Does an article like this manage to make it clear to the non-Jewish reader how important circumcision is in Judaism? And that this is not viewed as barbaric at all in Judaism, on the contrary? So that the Jewish concept of what is barbaric and what is not is simply different? Not better, but different?

Something similar can be found with the criticism of Israel's military actions, for example in Syria. Are so-called "preemptive" strikes appropriate or not? This is not a purely Israeli problem, nor is the question of the extent to which international law on war crimes is still consistent or not. It actually regulates war between two regular armies who can be recognized as such by their uniforms. But what happens today in so-called asymmetrical wars? Where one of the actors uses the conscious tactic to act from civilian territory and does not wear a uniform and is therefore indistinguishable from civilians? Many states have Fighting with this problem, even in Germany, for example in Afghanistan. Also Israel, for example in Gaza or in Lebanon with Hezbollah. Accusing Israel of war crimes quickly and with pleasure is easy and maybe sometimes right. But it happens more often than for example with Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or with war crimes on the African continent. And it fails to take into account the larger issues behind today's form of asymmetric wars. That is the subtle difference. So it would be worthwhile to keep asking the question whether your own assessment and condemnation criteria that you apply also do justice to the matter you are reporting on, and whether they are correct. As has already been said several times, these are questions that go far beyond the problematic reporting on Jews and Israel. But without awareness and clarity on these larger questions, one will never be able to write sensibly about Jews or Israel either. It is then often stated that one expects more from an enlightened, democratic state like Israel than from China or Saudi Arabia. What in the reverse does that mean that human rights and international law are not generally applicable?

And if there is also pure ignorance in terms of Judaism, it will be fatal. For example, when the biblical sentence "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" appears in the text during an Israeli military attack, quasi as evidence of the cruelty of Judaism since antiquity. But this biblical sentence was an incredible achievement. Because this sentence from the Torah, which Christians call the 'Old Testament', says that one has no right to perpetrate more violence than one has to endure, but in reporting as described above, Jewish humanism turns into anti-Jewish resentment.

With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is another problem. In Germany in particular, Jews are often seen as victims. While pictures of the little boy from the Warsaw ghetto raised with his hands, the tattooed forearms of the survivors of Auschwitz, the mountains of corpses from Dachau or the hopeless look of a Jewish child from a hatch of a cattle wagon of the Reichsbahn dug their way deep into the collective consciousness of the German culture of remembrance while Jews were predominantly without rights, weak, persecuted and humiliated for two millennia in European history and were and are seen in the same way, Jews are no longer victims today. In Israel in particular, the historical image of the Jew is thwarted. The suntanned, vigorous Jew in the Israeli uniform with a submachine gun in hand - this picture has not been around for that long. Many have not yet got used to it, many do not want to get used to it. Of course, that doesn't mean that you can or should approve of everything that Israeli politics or the army do. But one always has to check carefully where the collective image of the Jew does not correlate with the real one. And what that then does with the non-Jewish author and the readers or viewers or users. Only one thing is clear: the way Jews are portrayed in the German media tells more about German society than about the Jews who are supposedly reported.