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AMERICAN EDITION October 16, 2012 Dear Friends: I’m tired! I’m “election-ed out!” It seems as if our own election has been going on for, not months, but eons (It has!). Now, to add to that, an opponent for Chancellor Merkel has been named (see below) for the 2013 German election and, lo and behold, Prime Minister Netanyahu has called for early (Jan. 22) elections in Israel. It’s good for the media and the pundits but it’s tough on us poor regular people who have to slog through all the political verbiage in order to see who might become leaders of those nations we care about the most. However, we trudge on! The German government is still trying to hold the European Union together as the economic pushes and pulls (mostly pulls) seem intent on breaking it up. In the midst of all that the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee awarded its Peace Prize to the European Union though, interestingly, Norway is not an EU member. An AJC press release noted. “The Nobel Committee observed that war between such countries as France and Germany is unthinkable, that the fall of the Berlin Wall opened a new era, making possible EU membership for several Central and Eastern European countries, and advanced reconciliation in the Balkans. “The stabilizing part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace,” the Nobel Committee said. Though there have been many skeptical comments about the award and the EU itself, however, one should remember that it is a “Peace Award” and not one for Economics. As far as “peace” is concerned it has done its job. Back to the economy – something about which I have almost no expertise. However, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaueble has plenty and is a master politician 1
besides. In a Spiegel On-Line article he proposed a Master Plan for Europe. If you’re interested click here to read about it. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/schaeuble-presents-euro-reforms-andbroad-new-powers-for-eu-a-861529.html Let’s get on with the news… IN THIS EDITION THE CHALLENGER – A long time Social Democrat will go against Chancellor Merkel. Can he put together a winning coalition? ANTI-SEMITISM: A NEW WAVE? – Do several incidents make a wave? IS ENOUGH, ENOUGH? – How much financial help do fellow Germans deserve? WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? - About the Jews that is! AN END TO THE CIRCUMCISION DEBATE? Can the Bundestag really end it? NEW LOOK – SAME OLD NAZIS – Do new clothes change what is essential? RELIGION IN GERMANY: PAY OR GO (OUT) - No Euros, no Heaven. THE CHALLENGER With the German elections coming up in about a year the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the major opponent of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), has named the person who will oppose her for the Chancellor position. You will be hearing a lot about him in the next 12 months as he becomes the “point man” in an effort to dislodge Germany’s most popular politician. The candidate is Peer Steinbruck. Wikipedia notes, ““Steinbrück was born in Hamburg on 10 January 1947…[He].studied economics in Kiel [and] graduated in 1974. After graduation Steinbrück worked for several German ministries and, from 1978 to 1981, in the office of German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. In the 1980s, Steinbrück was Chief of Staff to the Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia, Johannes Rau.
In 1993, he became Minister of Economy and Infrastructure in the State of Schleswig-Holstein. He then returned to North Rhine-Westphalia, where he became Minister of Economy and Infrastructure in 1998 and Finance Minister in 2000. From 2002 to 2005 Peer Steinbrück served as Minister President (Ministerpräsident or governor) of North Rhine-Westphalia. He headed a coalition government between the SPD and the Green Party. In the state election on 22 May 2005, Steinbrück's SPD lost to the Christian Democratic (CDU) opposition. This loss also had consequences for federal politics: then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who already was enfeebled by weak opinion polls and criticism within his own party, announced to call for an early federal election for the Bundestag. This ultimately resulted in the 2005 federal election. After the 2005 Bundestag election, SPD and CDU formed a grand coalition under the leadership of new Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). Peer Steinbrück became finance minister of Germany. Since 2005, he also has been deputy chairman of the SPD. He is generally considered a member of the more conservative wing of the party. After the 2005 Bundestag election, SPD and CDU formed a grand coalition under the leadership of new Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). Peer Steinbrück became finance minister of Germany. Since 2005, he also has been deputy chairman of the SPD. He is generally considered a member of the more conservative wing of the party. The SPD has turned to a very experienced leader who has held the post of Finance Minister at a time when finance and economics will be the key questions before the German electorate. In commenting on the selection, Spiegel Online observed, “Steinbrück, though, is widely credited with having shown a steady hand during the darkest moments of the crisis in 2008 and 2009. And he has also given every indication recently that he is up for the challenge. "Steinbrück is the most dangerous candidate for Merkel because he is attractive to centrist voters," political analyst Gero Neugebauer told Reuters on Friday. Gerd Langguth, another well-respected commentator on German politics, added: "He would be the most capable of poaching voters from the conservative camp." So we now know who will be taking on Germany’s best politician. Because it’s virtually impossible for any party to gain a majority by itself, Germany almost always has to have a ruling coalition. Steinbrück will have to cozy up to the Green Party the SPD’s natural partner. The battle will soon be underway as Germany becomes more like the U.S. and has long election campaigns. While there will be no direct campaigning until next year, I expect that the verbal
shooting will start very shortly. We’ll try to keep you updated as the battle unfolds. BTW – If you want to read a very good interpretative article click here to read one by Dr. Jackson Janes, the director of Johns Hopkins’ American Institute for Contemporary Studies. http://www.aicgs.org/issue/election-2013-germanyscampain-commences/ ANTI-SEMITISM: A NEW WAVE? Giulio Meotti writing in Y-Net News.com about a new disgraceful poem from the pen of Günter Grass headed his article, “Something Rotten in Germany”. While I’ll get to Grass in a few moments, with a tip of the hat to Shakespeare, I would add that the Grass poem is just a blip on the screen when compared to other rotten matters taking place in the Federal Republic. In the last two issues I have reported extensively on the “circumcision circus” wherein the circumcision of male children all of a sudden has been called into question. Without question, it is a direct poke in the eye of Jews and Muslims who have had this religious ceremony performed for thousands of years. On top of that a kippa wearing rabbi was viciously attacked (broken cheek bone) and had his young daughter threatened by a gang of youths who have not as yet been apprehended. As if that was not enough, DW recently reported, “On Wednesday (26.09.2012), the Secretary General of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Stephan Kramer, was threatened with an attack. On the same day, a taxi driver in Berlin refused to drive a family to a synagogue. Both cases have been picked up by the police for investigation. I have known Stephan (a good friend) for a long time. He is a well known and articulate spokesperson for Germany’s Jewish community, and in this case was interviewed by Ofer Aderet for Haaretz. Stephan stated, “"I carry a gun 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Kramer responded, adding that he did not feel under threat at the moment because he had just returned to the city after being away. Kramer said he no longer trusts the Germans. "Only the Jews can save themselves," he said. On Yom Kippur, Kramer says he made use of the gun, pointing to it "to scare off" a man who threatened him on a street in this city. "He yelled at me very aggressively ... asking me what I am doing here and that I had had no right to be
here," Kramer said. "He also yelled at my children, [aged] 8 and 10," Kramer related, adding that the man came within five centimeters of his face. "He screamed that if my kids weren't there he would ... I had to guess what ... Hit me, kill me," Kramer continued, adding, "Then I decided to tell him that I carry a gun and showed it." Kramer explained that he opened his coat to reveal the gun to the man but emphasized that he did not draw the weapon. "I hoped it would scare him," Kramer said." Both men filed complaints with the police, who are investigating the incident. Kramer, 44, has held his post at the organization, which oversees 106 Jewish communities comprising around 100,000 individuals, for five years. Berlin, where he lives, is home to about 12,000 Jews. Just a few weeks before, Kramer related, he was standing near the Cologne Cathedral with other Jewish leaders when a group of people "passed us on the street and said, 'Look, Jews!' the way that people say, 'Look at the monkeys in the cage," Kramer said. Once, Kramer said, only "losers and drunks" did such things, but "today it's people from the middle of society ... bank clerks, insurance agents, people with cars and children," adding, "When it reaches the normal people it's more dangerous." When asked about the reasons for this behavior Kramer said: "It's not because they love Hitler and what he said. It's because they fear for the future. The economic crisis and [Germany's] identity crisis" makes Germans more extreme in their attitudes toward minorities, Kramer suggested. I fully sympathize with Stephan. If I was accosted (even verbally) on a public street, especially if I had young children with me, I would be furious and angry as well. I think the last paragraph shows his good common sense. What is driving some Germans (only some, of course) to look for scapegoats is, as Stephan accurately notes, is the economic situation and their own identity problems. Insecurity pushes people to extreme acts and, in most societies, Jews become a likely target. While I sympathize with insecure people, as Stephan points out, sometimes they are dangerous. History, especially the 1930’s and 1940’s in Germany are good examples. Let me now briefly deal with the new Grass poem. The Jerusalem Post reported, “Gunter Grass, the Nobel Prize laureate in literature who is barred from entering Israel because of his anti-Israel writings and membership in the Nazi Waffen SS, launched a second poetic attack on Israel by praising atomic spy Mordechai Vanunu. In a new book of poems titled Eintagsfliegen, which was released on Saturday in
Germany, Grass terms Vanunu, a former worker at the Dimona nuclear facility, a “hero” for his decision to transfer secret information to England’s Sunday Times in 1986. An Israeli court later convicted Vanunu of espionage and sentenced him to 18 years in prison. In the poem titled “Hero of our days,” Grass praises him as a “model” because “he helped to bring the truth” to the public. I’m not a psychiatrist but I believe Grass’ hatred of Israel has really pushed him over the line. The news a couple of years ago about his voluntary service in the Waffen SS, which he withheld for many years, so shredded his credibility that even his Nobel Prize didn’t save his reputation. His anger toward the victims encapsulated in Israel is quite obvious. One can only now see him as an old bitter man. Before leaving this set of very troublesome events, one must ask the question as to whether if taken together add up to something that the Germans must take more seriously. If the anti-Israel/anti-Semitism focus has taken a turn to the worse by more of the population, it is bad for the Jews but, frankly, worse for Germany. It is something that must be watched closely and dealt with before it blossoms again into something very unhealthy in German life. IS ENOUGH, ENOUGH? When is enough, enough? When the two Germanys were reunited on October 3, 1990 one was strong and rich while the other was poor, dysfunctional and in need of a lot of help especially the financial variety. DW recently reported, “The former East German states have been subsidized to the tune of billions of euros - not always successfully. Struggling regions in the west now want a share of the financial support. Twenty-two years after German unification, the gap between east and west is widening once again. The gross domestic product in the eastern states has shrunk by 2 percent, and now stands at just 71 percent of per-capita GDP in the West. Prospects are not good. Many of the young generation are moving away; not enough trainees are coming onto the eastern German job market. Wages and salaries there are about a quarter less than what they are in the western states. But in western Germany, too, there are entire regions struggling with the consequences of structural change. The industrial Ruhr valley is just one example. For a long time now many people have been calling for an overhaul of the system, and for subsidies to be allocated differently. Two decades after the euphoria of unification, the everyday reality is hitting home.
In discussing the reunification process, DW further noted, “Within just a few years, the Treuhand agency responsible for privatizing East German industry had sold off around 14,000 state enterprises. The Solidarity Pact, a massive program of subsidies for the East, pumped a net worth of around 1.4 billion euros into eastern Germany between 1990 and 2010. Around two-thirds of this was for social welfare payments - and still is. This historic agreement is valid until 2019, but year by year the subsidies given to the East are gradually being reduced. My reading is that at the moment the German economy is in fairly good shape. However, after all these years of pouring money into the East are the “Wessies” getting fed up and will they start demanding that more of their tax money be diverted to needed improvements in the West? There is no direct “Jewish” quotient in this matter. However, with the East still relatively poor and needing financial help while the West is questioning whether they should be continuing such assistance, what impact does that have on German politics? Do extremists grab hold of the issue in order to further incite political unrest? Do the neo-Nazis, and their NPD party, become the champions of whatever social unrest develops? I think it goes without saying that any diversion of funds has political implications and that is something that has to be thought through carefully. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? Once I was old enough to realize what had happened in World War II especially to the Jews, I began to ask myself, “What were people in Germany thinking during the Nazi period? Didn’t they understand what was going on and what their government was doing to other people; some of them their own citizens?” After reading a number of books on the subject and talking to present day Germans I came to know, I added to my questions, “What about the youngsters today? What do they think?” While there are numerous books and articles on the subject(s) a new one has just been published which includes a very personal angle. Spiegel Online reported, “German historian Moritz Pfeiffer broke new ground this year with a book analyzing why his grandparents supported the Nazi regime, based on an interview with his grandfather and systematic fact-checking of his statements. His approach was unprecedented. The roles played by parents and grandparents during the Nazi era have been a taboo subject in many German families.
In the book, "My Grandfather in the War 1939-1945," published in March, Pfeiffer said his grandparents had suffered the same "moral insanity" that gripped many Germans of their generation -- an emotional coldness, a lack of self-criticism and a "strong deficit of moral judgment." He said he hoped others of his generation would follow suit and start questioning relatives of that generation before the Third Reich passes out of living memory. Judging by the reaction to his book in recent months, that call has fallen on deaf ears as far as younger Germans are concerned. But it has struck a chord with older people born during or shortly after the war, many of whom feel that they were left in the dark about what their parents did and thought, Pfeiffer told Spiegel On-Line. "At each of my readings, people from that generation said they weren't told anything by their parents," said Pfeiffer, a historian at a museum on the SS at Wewelsburg Castle. "Family life was marked by silence, evasion and suppression relating to the experiences during the 1933-1945 period. In addition, people told me they regretted not having learned much about it in school either." Conversely, younger generations, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, have been taught extensively about the Holocaust and Nazism in school, through television documentaries, public memorial services and the Internet, said Pfeiffer. But while they are well-informed, they see it as an abstract event unconnected with their own personal family history -- even though millions of Germans knew about the Holocaust while it was happening. Moritz Pfeiffer has done a service by digging deeply into German thinking of the 1930’s and 1940’s but more important is the final paragraph above regarding young Germans today. The thought that these youngsters have removed themselves psychologically from the Nazi period (and the Holocaust) is nothing new. It’s been obvious for a long time. Do we fault them? I don’t see how we can. People will think and feel what they will and no outside force can really change that. What is also obvious is that no matter how good and deep education is, it is not truly capable of changing attitudes, especially ones that lead to guilt. Kids are not going to feel guilty for something that is very removed from them. Do we give up and forget about it? I hope not but there must be a different kind of positive direction education can take that will be mentally healthy for them while, at the same time, producing positive attitudes toward democracy, Jews and, for our purposes, Israel. I am not an educational expert or one that is comfortable with philosophy. However, it seems to me that our focus on more and more Holocaust education will get us nowhere. What is needed is early education (starting with the family and kindergarten) on the positives associated with democracy. Salted in must be the fact that of all the Middle Eastern countries only Israel is truly democratic. As far as Jews
are concerned, some early teaching about Jews and the Jewish community of today should be highlighted. A visit to a synagogue or a Jewish school would do a lot more than another lecture. I don’t want to get too carried away. I am sure that others are way ahead of me with similar ideas and programs. AJC itself has something called Hands Across the Campus which does much of what I’ve suggested. I’m probably a latecomer. Enough! Just let it be said that if more attention is paid to the very young (even in the U.S.) we won’t have to concern ourselves as much with the question of “What are they thinking?” AN END TO THE CIRCUMCISION DEBATE? Is the circumcision debate in Germany finally coming to an end? Y-Net News reported, “Germany's cabinet approved a ruling by a Cologne district court that circumcision constitutes "bodily harm" sparked an emotional national debate about religious freedom and the procedure itself. An embarrassed German government pledged to bring in new legislation by the autumn to safeguard the right of parents to have their sons circumcised. "It was always our intention to lift this ruling," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference. Parliament must still approve the bill for it to become law. The speed with which national lawmakers agreed to draw up a new law underscored sensitivity to charges of intolerance in a country haunted by its Nazi past. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country risked becoming a laughing stock if Jews were not allowed to practice their rituals. The bill states that the operation should take place with the most effective pain relief possible and only if parents have been fully informed about the nature of the procedure. It makes no mention of religious motivations for circumcision. The court ban had applied only to the Cologne region but doctors across the country refused to carry out operations because of what they saw as a risk of legal action. "It was very important that our government reacted so quickly and responsibly. The proposal is balanced and suitable for lifting the legal uncertainty," said Charlotte Knobloch, a German Jewish leader.
The Times of Israel added, “Jewish groups welcomed the bill, which was drafted by the Justice Ministry in Berlin. “It is a clear political signal that Jews and Muslims are still welcome in Germany,” said Dieter Graumann, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “We are happy that Jewish commandments and Jewish life are not being pushed into illegality.” However, Deidre Berger, executive director of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee, said she was “extremely concerned” whether the Bundestag will indeed vote the bill into law. “Public opinion seems to be against circumcision, and many parliamentary delegates from all parties are ambivalent. In addition, major medical associations in Germany are anti-circumcision and are likely to oppose the draft law,” she told the Forward. Groups critical of ritual circumcisions have already come out against the bill. Deutsche Kinderhilfe, a children’s rights group, said the government acted blindly and denies children their legal rights, according to the DPA news agency. “It is creating more problems than it is solving,” the group’s chairman, Georg Ehrmann, said about the proposed law, criticizing that it accepts painkillers that in his view are insufficient. Perhaps a positive Bundestag vote will end the legal situation at least for the moment. It looks as if it will happen in November but maybe my AJC colleague Deidre Berger is right and there will be a battle. No matter what, there is little doubt in my mind that the medical associations and child protection agencies will continue their fight to, at least, have all circumcisions only performed by medical doctors. The new law, even if it is passed quickly by the Bundestag, will leave a bad taste in the mouths of many Jews and others who have not forgotten Germany’s anti-Semitic history. Some things go away, some things don’t. In my opinion the circumcision matter has all the elements of something that will be long lasting. NEW LOOK – SAME OLD NAZIS The Forward ran a Reuters article detailing the “New Look” that today’s neo-Nazis have in Germany. It notes, “Germany’s neo-Nazis are hanging up their bomber jackets, unlacing their black leather boots and even grabbing a bite to eat at their local Turkish kebab shop. Eschewing their predecessors’ fierce aversion to anything “un-German”, they blend into the local community and easily escape detection. But police and experts say this new generation of young fascists is potentially far more dangerous and reckless than their older peers.
“Today a neo-Nazi can eat Turkish kebabs and still go out and beat up immigrants,” said journalist Johannes Radke, who has reported on the German far-right for more than a decade. “They say, ‘We’ll let everyone do whatever they want as long as they’re a Nazi at heart.’” Headquartered in the down-at-heel western industrial city of Dortmund, a new group known as the Autonomous Nationalists (AN) is at the forefront of this transformation. They share the hard-core xenophobia of older cadres in the far-right, but their appearance and tactics are those of a dynamic, Internet-savvy youth movement. They wear stylish running shoes and expensive brand name windbreakers and communicate with each other via Twitter. The use of English slogans at protests, for decades taboo in far-right circles, is widespread. “They see themselves as the avant-garde of the Nazi scene,” Radke said. “They’re much more professional than some drunk, dim-witted skinhead - and more dangerous.” Why should we be surprised? Wearing jack boots, brown uniforms and using the traditional “Heil Hitler” salute would be stupid and while their leaders might be extremists they don’t seem dumb. Frankly, they are most dangerous when they look like and act like everybody else giving off at aura of being reasonable when spewing their hate-filled anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic message. The government seems to be on to this new look and, hopefully they will be following it closely. Read the full article by clicking here. http://forward.com/articles/164072/germany-battles-new-look-neo-nazis/?p=1 BTW there is also something called the neo-Nazi music scene. There’s a lot more to it than just a name. Click here to read about it. http://www.thelocal.de/society/20121011-45489.html RELIGION IN GERMANY: PAY OR GO (OUT) For those of you who are members of synagogues and complain about the high cost of membership, Jewish education for the kids and seats for the High Holy Days, consider yourself lucky. If you were a German Catholic and didn’t pay your dues (in Germany it’s a tax) according to Juergen Baetz reporting for AP, you would, “be denied sacraments, including weddings, baptisms and funerals. Your road to heaven would have arrived at a Stop Sign. A decree issued last week by the country's bishops cast a spotlight on the
longstanding practice in Germany and a handful of other European countries in which governments tax registered believers and then hand over the money to the religious institutions. In Germany, the surcharge for Catholics, Protestants and Jews is a surcharge of up to nine percent on their income tax bills - or about (EURO)56 ($72) a month for a single person earning a pre-tax monthly salary of about (EURO)3,500 ($4,500). For religious institutions, struggling to maintain their congregations in a secular society where the Protestant Reformation began 500 years ago, the tax revenues are vital. The Catholic Church in Germany receives about (EURO) 5 billion ($6.5 billion) annually from the surcharge. For Protestants, the total is just above (EURO)4 billion ($5.2 billion). Donations, in turn, represent a far smaller share of the churches' income than in the United States. With rising prices and economic uncertainty, however, more and more Catholics and Protestants are opting to save their money and declare to tax authorities they are no longer church members, even if they still consider themselves believers. While Baetz does not mention Jews in his article, Tax rates.cc notes, “Members of the Roman Catholic, German Protestant, Lutheran and Jewish churches have to pay church tax. The tax rate amounts to about 8% or 9% of the annual income tax liability and varies according to the district of residence. It is a deductible expense for income tax purposes. I do not believe that any Jew is denied religious services because of non-payment of taxes. However, burial in the communal synagogue may be denied. In any case, Mr. Baetz does a service by pointing out that while elements of religion are free they are not without cost. The maintaining of buildings plus teacher and clergy salaries are not inexpensive. However, for many the costs are just too much and so people are leaving. Jews are sort of a special case. The vast majority of Jews in Germany are Russians and have not reached an economic level where they would be subject to the tax. So they get a free ride. For those of the Muslim faith the matter is even more complicated. Their religion is not yet formally recognized by the taxing authorities and so the underwriting of mosques and Imams is private. However, since most are of Turkish descent and are actually citizens of Turkey, I believe the Turkish government takes care of much of the cost for them. If you’d like to read the Baetz piece, click here. http://apnews.myway.com/article/20120928/DA1ISTDO1.html
************************************************************************************************ See you in November DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be contacted by clicking here Both the American and Germany editions are posted at www.dubowdigest.typepad.com Click here to connect
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