DuBow Digest Article American Jewish Diplomacy & Germany

Eugene DuBow Editor & Publisher: DuBow Digest (dubowdigest@optonline.net) Some months ago I was invited to give a talk on “Jewish Diplomacy”. While the event never came to pass I did a lot of thinking about the subject. I queried myself, “Is that what I was doing in Berlin in 1997 as the Founding Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin Office?” Was I a Jewish diplomat? I didn’t have a black limousine, a diplomatic license plate or – come to think of it – I didn’t even have an automobile. No diplomatic pouch or codes. Just plain old e-mail and an agency with a pretty good reputation and history to back me up. I knew very well that I was being sent to Berlin because Germany was the most important country in Europe as far as Jewish interests were concerned and it was important to have an American Jewish outpost there. But I didn’t represent a nation, an entire people or anything larger than a major American Jewish organization. I had spent a whole career in the U.S. as a “field director” and then the supervisor of filed directors for AJC but in none of those instances did I see myself as some sort of a diplomat or representative of American Jewry. I thought that when I got to Berlin if I could educate some of the Germans about Jewish life in the U.S. and transmit back to AJC national and David Harris, AJC’s Executive Director, what I found in terms of politics and attitudes that would be good enough. David had a more defined mission in mind I believe. A few years later he spelled it out in an interview in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix. He said, “For decades AJC has been a pioneering force in intergroup relations in this country. …intergroup relations is about dialogue. We need to know one another better. …it’s about cooperation. We seek the issues that invite collaboration. But remember, to have a friend you need to be a friend. Intergroup diplomacy is every bit as much about giving as asking.” In establishing a Berlin Office for AJC he took the agency’s domestic intergroup philosophy and applied it overseas. Without consciously recognizing it as such, I did too. Upon my arrival and with some help from my colleague Rabbi Andrew Baker and my Assistant, Wendy Kloke, more than one German newspaper noted that the “Embassy of the American Jews” was to open shortly. Friends and working colleagues started referring to me (at first jokingly) as the “Ambassador”. Perception in some cases develops into reality. It certainly did in this case. I started to be invited to a million receptions. The chief of staff to the President put me on to what I would call the “A List”. I found myself rubbing shoulders with the diplomats and government leaders. I was invited to a small

dinner given by Chancellor Kohl and President Herzog for President Clinton. I was a participant at a 6 person luncheon with Shimon Peres. Move over Talleyrand! DuBow has arrived! In my AJC career I’ve operated with a couple of simple basic precepts. I believed that whatever I did should be aimed at making secure the lives and future of the Jewish people so that they could live in freedom and worship their religion wherever they wished to live. Second, projecting from that, I should devote myself to the security of the world’s only Jewish state- Israel. Simple! Nothing fancy! Jewish security and Israel! I managed. I met with people of high rank, went to meetings, spoke at conferences, made contacts, attended receptions, learned who was important and who wasn’t, got to know the media people, set up and attended meetings that I had arranged for AJC leadership. More than anything else I just talked and talked and talked – and my German isn’t even that good. I got to know the Jewish leaders in Germany, the Israeli Ambassador, his American counterpart and a lot of other people who wanted know more about American Jewry. Of course there were other American Jews in Berlin but no one else representing American Jewry in the way that AJC does. AJC Berlin, indeed, became known in the German media as “The Embassy of the American Jews”. It was not a secret to me even early on that my elevated status had very little to do with me personally. It all had to do with the organization I was representing. AJC had had been having delegations visit Germany for years. It had sponsored conferences, it had engaged in a highly successful exchange program with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and it had established a reputation as the Jewish organization that had the deepest connections and “programmed” more fully than any other with institutions in Germany. In the diplomatic game it’s who you represent that makes you important. If you do not represent an “entity”, especially an important one, you get treated nicely but you really don’t count. Your calls don’t get returned and the people you want to meet with are “not available”. Obviously, if I had represented a different religion/ethnic group my reception would not have been quite what it turned out to be. History has intermingled Jews and Germans and so that the “special” relationship, like it or not, is very much a reality. I found that most Germans, even the leaders, knew very little about American Jewry. To most of them this strange group of people who many believe have “amassed enormous political power” is just an unknown factor. But, because Jews are somehow important to the German psyche there is a great desire on their part to know more. That need fits right in with AJC’s time honored philosophy as to how anti-Semitism should be countered. If we can get others to understand us and work with us face to face the possibilities that it can be lessened are dramatically increased. At the present time, after 12 years of being on the scene in Berlin, the AJC “beach head” is well established. Woody Allen once said, “"80% of success is showing up". I don’t think the 80% figure applies in this case but AJC’s “showing up” in Berlin with a full time office certainly helped it do its job. After two and a half years I felt I had done what

I set out to do (get it started) and it was time for me to go home to my wife and family. Before leaving we were very fortunate is securing the services of Deidre Berger to take my place. A well known journalist (National Public Radio correspondent) in both Germany and the U.S., she knew the issues, many of the people and the political lay of the land. When I first hired her as my associate, I told David, “I think she’s my ticket home”. She was! American Jewish diplomacy is obviously not a one person task in Germany. It has required the full weight of AJC. AJC delegations, office group visits, even individual visits all play their part. It has required the deep participation of Larry Ramer of Los Angeles, the chair of the Ramer Institute (the formal name of the Berlin Office). Larry has spent time, energy and a great deal of personal resource in helping build AJC’s reputation in Germany. He himself has become a Jewish diplomat of the highest order. In order to support its efforts, AJC has added a young people’s facet to its diplomatic outreach. Its young professionals group (ACCESS) headed by Rebecca Neuwirth has been sending its members to Germany first with an organization called Bridge of Understanding and now with its successor, Germany Close Up. Of course AJC is not totally alone in establishing relations with Germany. Other American Jewish organizations have sent groups and individual leaders to “lobby” and make contacts. They make the trek to Berlin to meet with government leaders as well they should. All of them are received “diplomatically” but it is presence and constancy that is taken seriously and so AJC remains the most important player on the American Jewish – German diplomatic scene. No discussion of this is issue would be complete without mentioning the Israeli diplomatic mission in Berlin and the German Jewish community itself. In 1997 (I arrived the year before the office was opened) the German Jewish leadership had many questions about the establishment of an AJC Berlin Office. It took a while but after getting to understand the positive role that AJC could play the idea of an AJC Office was warmly received. Scroll ahead 12 years and I think I am safe in saying that it has become a permanent and important player in German Jewish life. Ignatz Bubis, the late and great leader of the Central Council of Jews in Germany (Zentralrat) became a good friend and supporter right from the beginning and AJC’s relationship with that organization remains today as solid as a relationship can be. The Israeli Ambassador in Germany during my stay, Avi Primor, a world class diplomat himself, understood the importance of having an American Jewish organizational presence and, like Bubis, was a great help and supported AJC fully. His successors, I believe, have all felt the same way. The American Jewish community is not an unimportant factor even in Germany. Having a representation in Berlin is generally seen as a great plus for Jews and Jewish life in the capital city. Diplomacy is defined by Merriam-Webster as “skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility”. I don’t like it! The skill part is, of course, accurate. However, “without arousing hostility” is not correct at all. Speaking out forcefully and publicly on certain issues is part of the diplomat’s job. The ruffling of feathers cannot always be avoided.

There is a kind of diplomatic language one picks up along the way. I had a small newspaper feud with an important writer about the way he described AJC. I thought there were right wing, nationalistic tones in what he wrote. I didn’t accuse him of that. I called his thoughts “dark”. If I had used the word “brown” (i.e. brown shirts) that would have been over the edge. He got the idea. The art of diplomacy requires a “give and take”. What did AJC have to give in Germany? No economy, no military might, not even any coded secrets. Perhaps what we had was even more important – legitimacy. There is no question that the establishment of the Berlin Office (Ramer Institute) was a vote of American Jewish confidence in German democracy. Not an unimportant factor for a country with the sort of history Germany has and the fact that the excellent quality of its democracy is not well known to most Americans – especially American Jews. There is, of course, no “take” or any kind of quid pro quo. AJC is there to share information and hope that what it has to say is taken seriously (Maybe that’s the “take”). “Presence” and a reasonable way of explaining things in a rational manner counts for a lot. AJC has earned its access to the decision makers and they have shown a willingness to listen on the issues that are important to AJC and the American Jewish community. In addition, they do act on important issues if and when, indeed, it is possible for them to do so. I don’t think an organization which technically speaks only for itself could ask for more. What appears above is only the beginning of the story and deals mostly with philosophy and process. The real story, the detailed history, is yet to be told. It not only sits in the AJC archives, it is being added to every day. Some day, some time, some good researcher will dig into it and come out with an interesting book. I hope I’ll be around to read it.

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