Das Hamas-Pogrom zeigt, dass der Zionismus gescheitert ist…

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Das Hamas-Pogrom zeigt, dass der Zionismus gescheitert ist, sagt der israelische Historiker Moshe Zimmermann

Der israelische Pionier der deutschen Geschichte, Prof. Moshe Zimmermann, blickt auf das Europa der 1930er Jahre zurück, um zu verstehen, wohin sich Israel bewegt

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Zimmermann. Israel's current government, he says, is a "kakistocracy" – meaning rule by the worst citizens. If there were rankings, Netanyahu would be competing for first place with "Nero, Czar Nicholas II or Donald Trump."
Zimmermann. Israels derzeitige Regierung sei eine “Kakistokratie” – also eine Herrschaft der schlechtesten Bürger. Wenn es eine Rangliste gäbe, würde Netanjahu mit “Nero, Zar Nikolaus II. oder Donald Trump” um den ersten Platz konkurrieren.

In the early 1960s, Moshe Zimmermann’s mother was summoned for a reprimand by the principal of Ma’aleh High School in Jerusalem. She was asked to explain why her boy, who was a good student, had drawn a likeness of a man in an SS uniform on a table in the school. The fact that both the principal and the mother were proud Yekkes – Jews of German-speaking origin – undoubtedly added to the mutual embarrassment. Not to mention the fact that Moshe’s father was the principal of the adjacent primary school.

“My poor mother had to explain what had befallen her jewel,” Zimmermann tells Haaretz in an interview marking his 80th birthday. From the distance of years he notes that the background to the incident was the seminal historic event that was then unfolding in Israel: the trial of Adolf Eichmann. “I was riveted by that story, and it was clear to me at that moment that I wanted to be a historian. As a child who grew up in a Yekke home, it was also clear to me that I ought to, and wanted to, deal with the enigma called Germany.”

In the decades since then, Zimmermann became a pioneer and shaper of the study of Germany in Israel. Today an emeritus professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and former director of its Richard Koebner Minerva Center for German History, he has written and edited dozens of books and articles on Germany’s Jews and their complicated and tragic relationship with their homeland, and has proved that history can also be gleaned from sports and the cinema. In contrast to some of his colleagues in academia, however, Zimmermann also goes out of his way to maintain his image as a public intellectual, one who is not afraid to sound his voice trenchantly and acutely about current events, drawing on his insights as a historian. At the height of his career he found himself in courtrooms on several occasions, fending off lawsuits that were filed against him for statements he had made.

“A historian is supposed to stimulate thought,” he observed this month at a conference held in his honor at the Leo Baeck Institute in Jerusalem. “A historian who insists on being neutral, a person of footnotes, and does not provoke, is doing a disservice to the profession.”

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“When I think about Germany and about German historians who constantly hid behind the ‘neutrality’ and ‘objectivity’ of history, I know where that leads,” he says. “Those who are colorless, who are neither here nor there, in the end collaborate with what exists. Writing a chronicle is boring. There is no point in telling what happened in Troy, for example, only in order to tell a story. A historian needs to infer from the past about the present.”

Viele Menschen vergleichen den7. Oktober mit dem Holocaust. Sie bezeichnen die Hamas als “Nazis” und sehen das Pogrom, das in Gemeinden des Südens verübt wurde, als moderne Parallele zu den von ihnen verübten Pogromen.

“Was am 7. Oktober geschah, hat große Ähnlichkeit mit den Pogromen, die nicht nur während des Zweiten Weltkriegs gegen Juden verübt wurden, und zwar nicht nur von deutschen Nazis, sondern auch von ‘guten’ Litauern, Polen und Ukrainern. Als Historiker ist es für mich wichtig, nicht zu sagen: “Hier gab es ein Pogrom”, sondern daraus die Konsequenzen für die zionistische Bewegung abzuleiten. In dem Moment, in dem ein Pogrom gegen Juden im jüdischen Staat, dem zionistischen Staat, stattfindet, legen sowohl der Staat als auch der Zionismus Zeugnis von ihrem eigenen Scheitern ab. Denn die Idee, die der Gründung des zionistischen Staates zugrunde lag, war es, eine Situation wie die, in der sich die Juden in der Diaspora befinden, zu verhindern.

“Wir müssen über Folgendes nachdenken: Wie kam es dazu, dass der Zionismus enttäuschte und dass der zionistische Staat – oder seine Propheten, von Herzl an – nicht in der Lage ist, die Ziele zu erreichen, die er sich gesetzt hat? Das Ereignis des 7. Oktober, ein Pogrom auf israelischem Boden, im Staat Israel, ist ein Wendepunkt in der Beurteilung des Erfolgs des Zionismus und ein Wendepunkt im israelisch-palästinensischen Konflikt.

“Ich schaue mir an, was passiert ist”, fährt er fort, “und ich sage: Die zionistische Lösung ist keine [wirkliche] Lösung. Wir kommen in eine Situation, in der das jüdische Volk, das in Zion lebt, in einem Zustand völliger Unsicherheit lebt, und das nicht zum ersten Mal. Darüber hinaus müssen wir berücksichtigen, dass Israel die Sicherheit des Diaspora-Judentums verringert, anstatt das Gegenteil zu bewirken. Diese zionistische Lösung ist also sehr mangelhaft, und wir müssen untersuchen, was diesen Mangel verursacht hat.”

And what is the cause?

“We need to understand that there are different solutions for Jewish existence, and to accept that the Jews have the right to choose. Emancipation and Jewish nationhood can exist side by side. Some say that emancipation is enough for us, that we can manage the risks of life in the Diaspora. Others say they want a national solution. The very fact that the two solutions are perceived as mutually competitive is already [evidence of] the incipient failure of the nationhood solution.”

To which we need to add the situation at which Jewish nationalism in Israel has arrived.

“Jewish nationhood in the Land of Israel went through a process of nationalism, racialism and ethnocentrism. It created a situation of being unable to reach a modus vivendi with the neighboring world. I look with longing at the early Zionists or at those who were in Brit Shalom [1920s intellectuals in Mandatory Palestine who sought a binational state] and who thought about something different, not about eternal war. The moment you think about eternal war, you expose yourself to the same weaknesses we saw on October 7 in the cruelest form.”

So where do we go from here?

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“It’s clear that the two-state solution needs to be the logical result, even though at the moment it looks hopeless and totally absurd. The alternative is either for us to execute a Nazi-like act against the Palestinians, or for the Palestinians to execute a Nazi act against us, meaning an attempt to destroy [Israel] – an apocalyptic ‘solution’ of Armageddon.

“Eight years ago, [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu replied to the question of whether we are always to live by the sword with ‘Yes.’ That is an appalling answer. There are people who would say that there is another alternative: We can expel them from the country, or the Palestinians can live under Israeli rule. But those are solutions that every sensible person would consider unrealistic, and reject. The two-state solution with a completely new conception of ‘state’ should be the aspiration.”

A pro-Palestinian demonstration held outside the White House last month. "It's clear that the two-state solution needs to be the logical result, even though at the moment it looks hopeless and totally absurd."
A pro-Palestinian demonstration held outside the White House last month. “It’s clear that the two-state solution needs to be the logical result, even though at the moment it looks hopeless and totally absurd.”Credit: Jose Luis Magana /AP

Are you referring to the establishment of a federation?

“Two states, alongside each other, within a new, modern, framework. When I look at Europe, I find the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter the current plight of the European Union. It’s a situation in which countries were willing to give up part of their sovereignty for the benefit of a superstructure, without giving up the old state.

“Two systems, one next to the other, in order to obviate a situation of the sort we were familiar with until World War II,” Zimmermann adds. “We need to evoke the picture of Europe when we think about the Middle East, despite the great challenge of Ukraine. Some people will burst out laughing at that: ‘Come off it, we’re not Switzerland.’ But we need to remember that the Europeans were caught up in harsh confrontations and in enmities that were thought to be eternal, yet they nevertheless succeeded in creating a European union. If it’s possible there, it’s also possible here. I am not being delusional.”

The Zionist solution is not a solution. Jewish people who live in Zion live in a condition of total insecurity. Beyond this, we need to take into account that Israel is causing a reduction in the security of Diaspora Jewry.

Moshe Zimmermann

Isn’t that a utopian scenario?

“We know which forces are interfering, but the term ‘utopian’ says that I am inventing a story that seems unconnected with reality. That is not the case. A basis exists. We work with and cooperate with Palestinians all the time. Even the settlers take pride in the fact that the people who build their homes come from there. In other words, they are able to find a common language with them at some level. Work needs to be done on the religious component. In Europe, it has been much weakened in the modern era. In the Muslim and Jewish worlds, religion has become influential and fundamentalist, and we need to work on secularizing or liberalizing it. That is dependent on education for coexistence, instead of toward confrontation and hatred. This needs to be done with persistence, and with speed, because otherwise the solution I am apprehensive about – destruction, liquidation and expulsion – will become real. And that is something we cannot accept.”

Angesichts der rasanten Entwicklung der Ereignisse kann man vergessen, dass wir bis zum 7. Oktober mit einem anderen Ereignis beschäftigt waren, das historische Züge trägt: dem Staatsstreich der Legislative. Die Angst um die Zukunft der israelischen Demokratie veranlasste viele, Vergleiche mit der Nazizeit anzustellen.

“Als Deutschlandforscher neige ich seit Jahren dazu, mich auf die Weimarer Republik zu beziehen, in der die Demokratie durch autoritäre, nationalistische, rassistische und revisionistische Kräfte gefährdet war. Jahrelang haben wir versucht herauszufinden, wo wir in Israel auf dem chronologischen Kalender der Weimarer Republik stehen. Jetzt, im Jahr 2023, fragen wir uns das: Gibt es nicht Züge des Regimes in Israel, die aus der deutschen Geschichte nach 1933 bekannt sind? Aber der israelische Fall des Jahres 2023 kann mit jedem Punkt in der Geschichte verglichen werden, in dem die Regierung eine Kakistokratie war – ein Begriff, der “Regierung durch die schlechtesten Bürger” bedeutet – sei es Nero, Zar Nikolaus II. oder Donald Trump. Wenn es einen Wettbewerb gäbe, würde die gegenwärtige israelische Regierung um einen Platz an der Spitze der Liste kämpfen.”

Wo sehen Sie die Gefahr?

“Der Begriff ‘Putsch von oben’ ist angemessen, um die Situation zu beschreiben. Wenn die Gewaltenteilung, die Unabhängigkeit der Justiz und die Rechte des Einzelnen in Gefahr sind, dann sind die Ängste der Verfechter der liberalen Demokratie durchaus berechtigt. Wenn die Mehrheit nach fundamentalistischen religiösen Werten oder rassistischen Grundsätzen handelt, sind die Befürchtungen mit Sicherheit berechtigt. Die Tyrannei der Mehrheit, gepaart mit der Herrschaft über ein anderes Volk durch ein apartheidartiges, rassistisches System, ist eine schreckliche Mischung, jedenfalls wenn wir uns die Geschichte an anderen Orten anschauen.”

Zimmermann is currently engaged in a new research project – the study of “nations that went mad” – which sets out to explain “how nations deviate from their course and become extreme,” he says. “The occupation with Germany, which went mad in 1933, until it decreed its self-destruction, and the occupation with astonishing developments in Jewish and Israeli society, led me to deal with a trans-human phenomenon: societies that at a certain point went off-course, or simply ‘went mad,'” Zimmermann explains. “I am examining how societies arrive at a situation in which a sensible outside observer can think to himself: How could these societies, learned and rational, be swept up into collective acts of madness?

“I am looking to locate the spot at which societies fly off-course and find themselves on a dangerous track. It’s important to locate this point in order to cope with such situations in the present.”

What do societies in which this happens have in common?

“It happens in societies that are unwilling to come to terms with insoluble situations, or in societies that are dogmatic in the search for a solution. My guide is the story of the ‘Final Solution.’ After the Nazis made certain assumptions – that there was a problem that needed to be solved – within the external conditions that were created, they had to move from phase to phase until that stage: the Holocaust. It happened without being planned in advance.”

Who is in your sights? Is Israel also on the list?

“The United States during the periods of [Sen. Joseph] McCarthy and of Trump, the Soviet Union in the period of the public trials [under Stalin], Mao’s China and also societies in the Muslim world. Israel went mad starting in 1967 when the idea of biblical territory began to dominate it politically. Romanticism is a dangerous tendency, as we saw in 19th-century Europe. The story of ‘Greater Israel’ and the settlements is the story of a society that is becoming a hostage to biblical romanticism that is sweeping the whole society to perdition. And that is the problem: Once you have embarked on the path, it’s difficult to leave it without undergoing another catastrophe. That happened to Germany in 1945 in the most drastic way. We obviously do not want a catastrophe like that.”

מליאה ביטול עילת הסבירות 24.7.23
Government ministers in the Knesset this past July, celebrating passage of a bill weakening the Supreme Court.Credit: Amir Cohen / Reuters

* * *

Moshe Zimmermann was born in Jerusalem on December 25, 1943. His parents had arrived in Mandatory Palestine five years earlier from Hamburg. The family of his mother, Hannah Heckscher, of Sephardic Portuguese ancestry, lived in the northern German city for some 400 years. Some branches of the family tree converted to Christianity. One ancestor became a minister in the German government in 1848, others immigrated to different destinations in northern Europe. Zimmermann’s mother left Germany in 1937, first for England, to which her brother had also fled, and afterward, with the aid of a capital certificate – a privilege reserved for affluent families – immigrated to Palestine.

His father, Karl (later Akiva) Zimmermann, was also born in Hamburg, but the family’s origins lay in Eastern Europe and they were thus viewed as Ostjuden (“Jews from the East”). “My father wanted to be a German writer, but in 1933 he could not enter university,” Zimmermann says. As a substitute, he attended a seminary for Jewish teachers and taught in a Jewish school in Stuttgart. He too immigrated to Palestine in 1938, with a Mandatory worker’s certificate, which he obtained by learning carpentry.

Moshe was the first child born in the family – he has three siblings: two sisters and a brother. All of them were educated in the state-religious track and went on to become liberals and left-wingers, “according to the Israeli categories,” Zimmermann says. In Israel, his father was the principal of the Ma’aleh primary school, which Moshe attended. “The whole elite of the National Religious Party [NRP] went there and received a liberal state-religious education: the children of [the philosopher and scientist] Yeshayahu Leibowitz and the children of [NRP] cabinet ministers Burg – with the exception of Avrum – [Haim Moshe] Shapira and [Zorach] Warhaftig. Some in my class became settlers, including a rabbi in Hebron, and others, like me, are on the left side of the map. A classmate of mine was Herzl Halevi, whose nephew is the army chief of staff [Herzi Halevi, who is named for his uncle, who died in the Six-Day War]. Two years below me were the writer Haim Be’er and the [late] journalist Amnon Dankner.”

What is your first childhood memory?

“For a historian, the term ‘memory’ is very problematic. The first photograph in my possession that is relevant for me is of a boy standing on a balcony on King George V Street in Jerusalem next to [what became the] Israeli flag. The date is May 8 or 9, 1945. With the aid of the photograph, I can still remember the celebration that took place to signify Germany’s defeat in World War II.” Later memories are related to the War of Independence. They revolve around “a boy going to kindergarten who has to worry about a shell falling or a sniper operating from the Old City.”

He lived adjacent to the first Knesset building, on King George Street, in the city center, and followed Israel’s unfolding history from that same home balcony. “I remember the demonstrations against the Reparations Agreement [with Germany] and the attempt to assassinate MKs and [bring down] the government. I remember the major politicians who scurried about in front of our home.”

Zimmermann verließ Jerusalem im Alter von 50 Jahren und lebt heute mit seiner Partnerin in Kiryat Ono, östlich von Tel Aviv. Sein einziges Kind, Ariel Zimmermann, ist Richter am Bezirksgericht Tel Aviv. “Das Jerusalem von heute ist mir fremd”, sagt er. “Mein Jerusalem ist der westliche Teil. Der östliche Teil gehört mir bis heute nicht. Ich habe keine Verbindung zu ihm.”

Er erinnert sich, dass er ein “guter Schüler war, aber einige waren besser als ich”. Er erinnert sich, dass er in Geschichte einmal eine Note von 8,5 erhielt, “was die letzte Note vor der Note ist, die Gott gegeben wird.” Mit 18 Jahren lehnte die Armee seine Einberufung ab, weil er zu dünn war. Er nutzte die Zeit, um ein Grundstudium an der Hebräischen Universität Jerusalem zu beginnen. Nachdem er etwas an Gewicht zugelegt hatte, wurde er eingezogen und erhielt eine einzigartige Aufgabe. “Ich war für die Bibliotheken und die Publikationen der Generalstabseinheit zuständig”, sagt er. “Ich habe keine ‘Falafels’ [Slang für Schulterklappen] auf meinen Schultern. Es ist nicht die Art von Dienst, mit der man sich brüstet, aber aus meiner Sicht war er sehr nützlich.

Was haben Sie dort gelernt?

“Alles über das Völkerrecht und die Probleme, die die Militärstaatsanwaltschaft damit hatte. Der damalige Generalstaatsanwalt war Meir Shamgar [später Präsident des Obersten Gerichtshofs]. Während des Sechs-Tage-Krieges, an dem ich als Reservist teilnahm, bestand meine Aufgabe darin, den Militärstaatsanwälten das ‘Sicherheitsinstrumentarium’ zur Verfügung zu stellen. Wir wussten im Voraus sehr genau, dass wir uns auf eine Besatzungssituation vorbereiteten, und es wurde ein Handbuch für das Personal erstellt, in dem beschrieben wurde, wie man sich im Einklang mit dem Völkerrecht verhalten sollte.”

Die Materialien, auf die sich Zimmermann bezieht, auch “Shamgars Werkzeugkasten” genannt, enthielten Texte zum Kriegsrecht, zu internationalen Konventionen, zur Rechtsgeschichte und zu einschlägigen Gesetzesentwürfen.

The two-state solution needs to be the logical result… The alternative is either for us to execute a Nazi-like act against the Palestinians, or for the Palestinians to execute a Nazi act against us.

Zimmermann resumed his studies after his army service; one of his teachers was the renowned historian Jacob Talmon. He wrote his doctoral dissertation in Jerusalem and Hamburg in the 1970s, on the subject of the connection between German nationhood and Jewish emancipation. “It was clear to me that German nationhood was very important for Germany’s Jews, because it was the pre-national reality of separate German entities that blocked their way to equality of rights. But that connection was unstable. The Jews became national-oriented Germans, and the German nationalists said, ‘We don’t want them,’ and invented the new antisemitism. Before, they hated the Jews because they were different; now they hated them because they were trying to be similar.”

What does the German antisemitism of that period have in common with the present-day antisemitism on campuses in the United States and on the streets of some European cities?

“In the meantime, the State of Israel was created, which became a platform for antisemitic attacks. I am not saying that there is antisemitism because of Israel. Heaven forbid. Antisemitism exists because of a legacy of prejudices. But the platform that’s called Israel allows antisemites to express themselves not in the old way of ‘Jews have crooked noses,’ but to speak about ‘Israelis’ – who [just happen to be] ‘Jews.’ That takes us back to the most relevant question today: How can one distinguish between references to Israel that are antisemitic and those that aren’t? That requires a great deal of differentiation. And then you say: When there are stereotypes, beliefs and antisemitic intentions behind criticism of Israel and its policy, we are in the realm of antisemitism.”

As far as Israel’s leaders are concerned, every critique of the government is antisemitic, isn’t it?

“That’s the catch. Israel is aware of this difficulty and is abusing that knowledge. Official Israel makes sure to interpret every criticism of this sort as antisemitism. Because Israel dared, with its effrontery, to present itself as the exclusive representative of Judaism and of the Jewish people, it is bringing about a situation in which whoever attacks Israel can make use of the same Israeli arrogance that identifies Jews with Israel, in order to speak in condemnation of Jews when they speak about condemnation of Israel.

“The result is that pressure is created from both sides. From the Israeli side, every criticism of us is antisemitism; and from the antisemitic side, everything Israel does is Jewish. That is the thin rope on which we walk all the time. And because it is so thin, there is usually a fall from one side of it or the other, and so this argument is mostly not useful.”

Prof. Moshe Zimmermann.
Credit: Hadas Parush

* * *

Zimmermann’s critique of nationalist extremism in Israel has landed him in court several times, after he pointed out similarities he observed between Nazi Germany and phenomena that occur in Israel.

“I have suffered personally from the self-righteous approach of ‘There can be no comparison.’ My attempt to draw a comparison between a particular element in the Third Reich and what is happening here became the foundation for a judicial campaign against me. And it was very difficult to explain to judges – though in the end it succeeded – what the role of the historian is, why these comparisons are appropriate and why, also as a Jew, one must always make comparisons,” he says. “Whoever, like me, received a state-religious education, learned virtues that the Torah speaks of – kal vehomer [roughly, all the more so], gzeira shava [a parallel between]. That means you make a comparison and from it you reach a conclusion.”

In 1995, half a year before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Zimmermann was at the center of an affair that caused a public furor. A local newspaper belonging to from the Yedioth Communications Group interviewed him and titled the resulting article, “Children of Hebron settlers are exactly like Hitler Youth.” Zimmermann was quoted as saying, “There is a whole segment of Israeli society that I unhesitatingly assert is a copy of Nazism. Look at the children in Hebron, they are exactly like Hitler Youth… From the age of zero their head is stuffed with ‘bad Arabs,’ antisemitism, how everyone is against us. They’re transformed into paranoids from a master race, exactly like Hitler Youth.” In the interview, Zimmermann also drew a comparison between “Mein Kampf” and the Bible as books from which an extreme ideology could be derived.

Zimmermann maintained that his words had been taken out of context, and set forth his version in an article he published in Haaretz. “When the question is asked, in reaction to the terrible things children from Hebron said on the anniversary of the death of Baruch Goldstein [perpetrator of the 1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshippers in the Tomb of the Patriarchs there], as to whether there is a place for comparing their views to what we encountered in the study of National Socialism, we need to take seriously the comparison as the grounds for a reply.

“And the positive reply, however grave it sounds, has a basis. So too in regard to another comparison that was discussed in angry tones. The allegation was made that publishing chapters from ‘Mein Kampf’ in Hebrew, for teaching purposes, is liable to have a detrimental effect on readers in Israel. To which I responded that in Israel, as differentiated from the countries of Europe, racist, right-wing extremism is nourished also from the use of the Bible, and not ‘Mein Kampf.’ However, are we to therefore ban dissemination of the Bible in Israel?” Concluding the article, Zimmermann wrote, “Precisely because I am knowledgeable about the history of Nazism, I can warn about the harmful potential that is latent in every society.”

That prompted some politicians to call on the attorney general to launch an investigation of Zimmermann on suspicion of incitement and insurrection. MKs from the NRP termed him an “Israel-hating paranoiac” and described what he had said as “shocking incitement that could aid Israel haters and Holocaust deniers.” Lecturers at the Hebrew University urged the institution to be rid of him, and Haaretz columnist Dan Margalit wondered, “If a Jewish professor in Jerusalem talks about Bible study in Israel in the same comparative context as inculcation of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf,’ what is left for Germans to repent about?”

Gegen Zimmermann wurden drei Verleumdungsklagen eingereicht, die letztlich alle erfolglos blieben. Zu seiner Verteidigung rekrutierte er auch die Nazi-Zeit, als er in Haaretz schrieb: “Viele zitieren gerne Heinrich Heines Diktum: ‘Wo Bücher verbrannt werden, werden am Ende auch Menschen verbrannt’. Das hat ein Vorspiel: Wo Menschen die legale Meinungsfreiheit in Frage stellen, werden sie schließlich auch Bücher verbrennen. Am 10. Mai 1933 geschah das in Nazi-Deutschland. Ich frage mich: Wird das jetzt von denen empfohlen, die mich wegen meiner Meinung von der Universität ausschließen wollen? Die Bücher zu verbrennen, die ich geschrieben habe, oder die Vorlesungen, die ich gehalten habe? Es wird eine Menge Arbeit auf mich zukommen, denn es geht nicht nur um meine akademischen Studien. Jedes Jahr lernen Zehntausende von Studenten aus Lehrbüchern, an deren Erstellung ich beteiligt war. Werden auch sie auf dem Scheiterhaufen verbrannt werden?”

Sie haben behauptet, dass das, was Sie über die Siedler von Hebron gesagt haben, aus dem Zusammenhang gerissen wurde. Was haben Sie tatsächlich gesagt, zu dem Sie weiterhin stehen?

“Ich habe ein Interview gegeben, in dem ich erklärt habe, dass ein Verhalten, wie es das Reich geprägt hat, auch bei uns zu finden ist. Ich sprach über einen prominenten Fall, der einen Vergleich zwischen der Erziehung der Kinder in Hebron und der Erziehung der Hitler-Jugend zulässt. Oder wenn ich mir [Meir] Kahane anschaue, der ein Flugblatt verbreitete und das Gesetz “Koschere Tochter Israels” einführte – das besagt, dass jüdische Frauen per Gesetz vor sexuellen Kontakten mit Nicht-Juden geschützt werden müssen -, dann befinden wir uns in der gleichen Schule wie der Nationalsozialismus. Ich bin Historiker. Ich tue dies nicht, um zu verunglimpfen oder um Schlagzeilen zu machen, sondern um aus der Geschichte zu lernen. Mit analytischen Methoden versuche ich zu verstehen, was unsere Gesellschaft in der Gegenwart und in der Zukunft verbessern und nutzen kann.”

Sie haben einen Preis bezahlt.

“Es hat mich nicht sehr befriedigt, vor Gericht zu sitzen. Es hat viel Zeit und Geld gekostet und meinem öffentlichen Image geschadet – die Leute halten dich für einen Israel-Hasser. Selbst in der Zeit vor den sozialen Medien funktionierten die Post und das Telefon. Ich habe meine Portion in sehr großen Dosen bekommen. Ich sah das Ausmaß des Hasses und der Missverständnisse. Die Leute behaupteten, ich sei ein SS-Mann, nur weil ich ihnen erklärte, dass der Kahanismus dieselben Elemente enthält, die man auch im Nazismus findet.

“But as a historian, it was my duty. And the more time that passes, what was written about me in Wikipedia as a denigration, becomes the Balaam-like example of ‘came to curse, left by blessing’ [from Numbers 24]. Because of what I was quoted as saying, which wasn’t accurate, settlers and their supporters took me to court three times, and in each case the defamation suit was rejected. What’s interesting is who those people were. Rehavam Ze’evi, who later became a cabinet minister, a few parents from Hebron, who were joined by Mrs. Orit Strock [currently a cabinet minister from the Religious Zionism party] and all kinds of others. In retrospect I can say that they proved that what I maintained is right: that there is place to compare certain elements of Israel’s behavior with what I am familiar with from German history after 1932 as well.”

איתמר בן גביר
Itamar Ben-Gvir distributing copies of a book by Meir Kahane outside of a Jerusalem high school, in 2000.Credit: Noga Raviv

You aren’t the first or the last to draw that comparison. Prof. Leibowitz spoke of “Judeo-Nazis” before you, and Yair Golan, when he was deputy army chief of staff, spoke after you about similar “processes.”

“I spoke in a period when the right was afraid of the left. Today the Israeli right rules with a high hand. It’s the consensus. If you examine what I said then, the warning was well-grounded. What I said at that time is proving itself today, and the matter should have been dealt with already then.”

Die Geschichte von “Groß-Israel” und den Siedlungen ist die Geschichte einer Gesellschaft, die zur Geisel einer biblischen Romantik wird, die die ganze Gesellschaft ins Verderben reißt. Wenn man diesen Weg einmal eingeschlagen hat, ist es schwierig, ihn wieder zu verlassen.

Moshe Zimmermann

Einige Monate später, im Oktober 1995, sagte der verstorbene Journalist Amnon Dankner in der Fernsehsendung “Popolitika” in Bezug auf Itamar Ben-Gvir (damals ein 19-jähriger rechtsextremer Aktivist der Kach-Partei): “Es ist erlaubt, sich gegen den kleinen Itamar, den Nazi, zu verteidigen”, und sagte zu dem Mann, der heute Minister der Regierung ist: “Halt dein Maul, dreckiger Nazi”. Ben-Gvir verklagte ihn. Diesmal war Zimmermann hinter den Kulissen an dem Prozess beteiligt. “Ich musste ein Gutachten darüber erstellen, ob die von Ben-Gvir vertretene Lehre dem Nazismus ähnelt.” Das Gericht bestätigte die Verleumdungsklage, entschied aber, dass Dankner eine Entschädigung von nur einem Schekel zu zahlen habe.

In einem weiteren Verfahren, das Zimmermann gegen Haaretz und einen ehemaligen Studenten von ihm angestrengt hatte, verlor er. Zimmermann behauptete, dass ein Artikel, den der Student in der Zeitung veröffentlichte, ihn verleumdete, indem er behauptete, er habe Israel mit Nazis verglichen, während Deutschland ihn finanziell unterstützt. Das Gericht wies die Klage ab und erklärte: “Es ist unvorstellbar, dass ein Professor als öffentliche Persönlichkeit seine umstrittenen Meinungen, zu denen auch ein Vergleich zwischen Jugendlichen aus Hebron und Hitlerjungen gehört, veröffentlichen kann, sich aber im Gegensatz dazu weigert, Kritik an seinen Ansichten zu akzeptieren.” Zimmermann sagt heute, er bedauere diese Klage.

Zurück ins Jahr 1995. Zwei Monate vor der Ermordung Rabins veröffentlichte Zimmermann in Haaretz einen Artikel, der sich heute wie eine sich selbst erfüllende Prophezeiung liest. Unter der Überschrift “Weimarer Schrift an der Jerusalemer Wand” schrieb er: “Die Geschichte der Weimarer Republik, ein klarer Testfall für den Zusammenbruch der Demokratie im 20. Jahrhundert, erscheint aktueller denn je.” Er warnte vor der Art und Weise, wie “die Feinde der Demokratie deren Funktionsregeln ausnutzen, ohne dass das demokratische Regime in der Lage ist, sich angemessen zu verteidigen”, und fügte hinzu: “Eines der Paradoxa der Demokratie ist, dass ihre Demontage nicht vor Ort spürbar ist.”

Er warnte vor der Gefahr politischer Attentate: “Wer die Geschichte Weimars – Deutschlands auf dem Weg ins Dritte Reich – kennt, weiß, dass die Ermordung von Bürgern, Polizisten und Staatsmännern, die die Republik repräsentierten, durch Rechtsextremisten die Demokratie schon mehr als ein Jahrzehnt vor dem Regierungswechsel bedrohte.” Unter Verweis auf die Ermordung des deutsch-jüdischen Außenministers Walter Rathenau im Jahr 1922 durch Rechtsextremisten bemerkte er, dass dies “oft als der Anfang vom Ende der deutschen Demokratie angesehen wird” – und verglich diese Situation mit der israelischen Realität am Vorabend des Rabin-Attentats.

Das war vor 28 Jahren. Können wir sagen, dass Sie Recht hatten?

“Ich schrieb damals, dass sich ein politischer Mord anbahnte. Wer, wie ich damals, den Vergleich zwischen dem Weimarer Fall und dem Staat Israel aufmerksam verfolgte, wusste, in welche Richtung sich die Dinge entwickelten.”

Auf der anderen Seite gibt es jetzt Linke, die sagen, sie seien von ihrem naiven Glauben, dass ein Frieden mit den Palästinensern möglich sei, “ernüchtert”. Die Rechten sind begeistert. Sie sagen, sie forderten, dass die “Oslo-Verbrecher” wieder in Echtzeit vor Gericht gestellt werden.

“Die Rede von den ‘Osloer Verbrechern’ erinnert an die ‘Novemberverbrecher’ vom November 1918 – dem Monat, in dem die Deutschen das Waffenstillstandsabkommen unterzeichneten. Damals brandmarkte die deutsche Rechte diese Menschen, von denen wir im Nachhinein wissen, dass sie das Richtige taten, als Verbrecher. Und die israelische Rechte brandmarkt die Menschen, die den Weg nach Oslo geebnet haben, als Kriminelle. Ich gehöre nicht zu denen, die ‘nüchtern geworden sind’. Die große Perspektive, die wir anstrebten, war Oslo. Die beiden Seiten, eine neben der anderen, mit gegenseitiger Akzeptanz.

“Ich bin nicht naiv. Ich weiß, dass es in der palästinensischen Bevölkerung eine ausreichend große Kraft gibt, die für ein Großpalästina eintritt, so wie es auf israelischer Seite die Befürworter eines Großisrael gibt. Das Verbrechen ist die Kollaboration zwischen den Extremisten auf dieser und auf der anderen Seite. Dementsprechend gibt es keinen Platz für “Desillusionierung” über Oslo. Die verschwindende israelische Linke zeugt davon, dass sie ihr Vertrauen verloren hat, wenn sie die gleichen sprachlichen Prägungen wie die Rechte verwendet.”

Auch in Deutschland sagen einige, sie seien “desillusioniert” von der Politik der ehemaligen Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel, die die Tore für die Einwanderung geöffnet und einige Menschen nach Deutschland gelassen hat, die die deutschen Werte nicht übernehmen wollen. Erst kürzlich gab es Berichte über Razzien in terroristischen Einrichtungen in Deutschland, unter anderem bei der Hamas. Und vor diesem Hintergrund gewinnt die extreme Rechte an Stärke.

“Die rechtsextreme, populistische Partei zog 2017 in den Bundestag ein. Was für unmöglich gehalten wurde, wurde Realität. Sechs Jahre später wird diese Partei [die AfD – Alternative für Deutschland] nur noch stärker. Die Politik aller traditionellen Parteien – nicht mit ihr zu kooperieren – wird noch komplizierter werden. Wird die “Brandmauer” zwischen den etablierten Parteien und dieser Partei durchbrochen werden? Die Befürchtung ist, dass die Leute am Ende sagen werden, es gibt keine andere Wahl, wir müssen mit ihr zusammenarbeiten.

אינגו האן דניאל הלמבה סלפי
Members of the far-right AfD take a selfie in the Bavarian parliament this past October.Credit: Matthias Balk/DPA

“From that moment we know how the disaster will occur, because we Israelis have excellent experience. Netanyahu needed [Ben-Gvir’s party] Otzma Yehudit for parliamentary reasons at first, and then as ministers. Judging by this model, we should be apprehensive that the flood will arrive in Germany, too.

“The difference is that the Germans understand well what the Third Reich was and they have a defensive shield in the form of a constitution. But the case of Germany can’t be isolated from the European situation. So we need to be concerned about what is happening in Germany. I also find it very worrisome that ties exist between the populist right there and the settler right in Israel. A kind of fraternal alliance based on enmity for Muslims.”

Let’s talk about Islam in Germany. The authorities there are intervening to prevent Muslim demonstrators from denying Israel’s right to exist, and this after Merkel said in the past that “Islam has become part of Germany.”

“There are about five million Muslims in Germany. You can’t say that they don’t belong while you agree that Jews belong to Germany when there are no more than 200,000 of them there. The demand being made of those Muslims is to adapt themselves to the German constitution. Anyone who disagrees with the constitution is ostracized. Every time Israel attacks Gaza, there are Muslim elements in Germany, some of them well instructed by the Turkish government and indirectly also by Iran, who speak out against Israel and use antisemitic slogans.

“There are antisemitic elements in the Muslim world, but in the past it displayed a more tolerant attitude toward Jews than the Christian world. In the wake of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the use of European antisemitic slogans by the Muslim world emerged as a weapon against the Jewish state.”

You maintain that Israel has also contributed to this development.

“Israel does everything to place weapons in the hands of its enemies. The moment the Israeli government includes outright racists who talk about ‘Jewish power,’ ‘erasing the Arabs’ or annexation, you are serving those forces. When we act very cruelly against Gaza – and I of course remember the cruelty of October 7 – it’s clear that people who feel that they identify ethnically or religiously with the group that is suffering will take to the streets.

“And that gives rise to another paradox: They are serving their enemy. The German right, which constantly talks about the mistake of accepting Muslim elements as refugees in Germany, says: ‘We were right in 2015 when we said that they must not be admitted. The Muslims are showing us that they are against the Jews, against the constitution, and we, as a result, are in favor of the Jews.’ I hope that readers will be aware of the ironic note: Suddenly the populist German right is on the side of the Jews.

“That is a tactical achievement, of course,” Zimmerman continues. “Public opinion polls show that it’s those who vote for this right who display the highest level of antisemitism. Most Muslims in Germany have undergone an integration process, and don’t have the struggle against Israel on their agenda. But those elements who do so are now receiving a voice, in the social media. So there is a dual danger. On the one hand, that the Muslim element in Germany will acquire a clear antisemitic hue; and on the other hand, that the German right will be reinforced by this situation – and after all, we don’t want that.”

During your years in academia you also dealt with the attempt by the Education Ministry to shape the education of Israel’s children in history. What did you want to see included in the curriculum in Israel?

“That a multicultural way of life is preferable to a culture war, and that an attempt at dialogue is preferable to war. That Jewish nationalism arose as part of the national movements of Europe. That antisemitism is a prejudice, hatred between societies. That other genocides have also taken place [beside the Holocaust]. They said, ‘Heaven forbid, it was something exceptional, different, something else entirely, we are special, there’s no comparison.'”

What happened to the program you formulated and proposed?

“It was attacked by political elements and became a dead letter.”

To conclude, Zimmermann wishes to return to his favorite arena: comparing between then and now. “When I look at the Israeli propaganda system – ‘Together we will win’ – it’s hard for me not to remember the spirit of steadfastness in a war I am familiar with from German history. You’re in a tough situation, and you know that you somehow have to cultivate this spirit of ‘We will hang in there.’ That’s the type of thing that generates misery. The comparison is of course not one to one, but in Germany in 1944 slogans appeared such as, ‘Our walls are broken but our hearts are firm.’ Today you see, ‘Together we will win’ in every corner of the country. It’s an attempt to generate unconditional support, which prevents a discussion about the goals of the war and the logic of the war.

“You have to be very careful about the work of propaganda,” Zimmermann sums up. “Anyone who has studied German history and watched Goebbels’ career, sees what a dangerous instrument propaganda is – one that can lead to a loss of the way.”

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Über admin

Hausarzt, i.R., seit 1976 im der Umweltorganisation BUND, schon lange in der Umweltwerkstatt, seit 1983 in der ärztlichen Friedensorganisation IPPNW (www.ippnw.de und ippnw.org), seit 1995 im Friedenszentrum, seit 2000 in der Dachorganisation Friedensbündnis Braunschweig, und ich bin seit etwa 15 Jahren in der Linkspartei// Family doctor, retired, since 1976 in the environmental organization BUND, for a long time in the environmental workshop, since 1983 in the medical peace organization IPPNW (www.ippnw.de and ippnw.org), since 1995 in the peace center, since 2000 in the umbrella organization Friedensbündnis Braunschweig, and I am since about 15 years in the Left Party//
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