“Of course we talk about history, and it’s perfectly right to say that Germany has a special responsibility,” he said. “But if you only use this argument [you] give people a chance to relate to Israel from some kind of political correctness but without real understanding of the situation in Israel and the common interests.”
And Weckerle pointed out that you can’t change a politician’s mind until you get through to his voters.
“If you would look what in the mainstream society is happening, then you will find a press that is rather aggressive toward Israel, you have very few politicians in these times that are really willing to speak out in support of Israel,” Weckerle said. “In the end, politicians want to be popular and they want to be reelected and being pro-Israel in times of crisis isn’t really something that will get you any popularity.”
British Muslims for Israel and Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin aren’t the only groups in Europe fighting the rising tide of anti-Israel media bias. In September, former Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar officially launched the Friends of Israel Initiative. Aznar recently called for the “re-legitimization” of Israel, and his board consists of mostly non-Jewish world leaders. The organization, based in Europe, includes among its founding members former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, former Czech President Václav Havel, Irish Nobel Laureate Lord William David Trimble, Italian politicians Marcello Pera and Fiamma Nirenstein, British historian Andrew Roberts, and others.
At the launch, Aznar told Foreign Policy: “This idea is a consequence of my convictions and the convictions of many different people. We believe in the values of the Western world and we believe that it is necessary to enforce at this moment our way of life, and that the weaknesses of the Western societies, especially in Europe, is a problem for all of us.
For us, Israel is a part of the Western world. Israel is not a country of the Middle East, it’s a Western country in the Middle East. Therefore, the interests of Israel are our interests. Israel is a democracy and we have a responsibility to contribute to helping democracies in difficulty. Lastly, there is a very serious situation: the effort to delegitimize Israel and we think it is very dangerous to accept this without a reaction.”
Though Israel does have a tense relationship with European intellectuals and media, these groups aren’t ready to give up—quite the opposite. That’s because the media in Britain, according to Afzal, doesn’t speak for the people. I asked him how representative British media is of the population’s opinions on the whole.
“It’s not representative, which is the bottom line,” he said. But their work remains so important because such biased media coverage can, over time, erode sympathy for Israel even among its supporters. Take your average consumer of news in Britain, he said. “If he gets the same anti-Israeli, delegitimized point of view, day in and day out, then decent people will start to turn their backs on Israel.”
And Weckerle points to issues like Germany’s economic ties with Iran, which enable the Islamic Republic to evade sanctions designed to derail its quest for nuclear weapons. One of the biggest issues on that front is the fate of the European Iranian Bank of Commerce in Hamburg.
“We have been protesting against this bank for months now, and there have been various very clear demands from Israel and from the U.S. to close this bank,” Weckerle said. “Until recently, Germany actively refused to shut it down—which it could and it should. In the last days there were signs that Merkel is taking steps to finally close the bank. But even if this happens, which is not sure at all, a closing of the EIH some months ago would have hurt the Iranian regime much more. Again, it looks like the Merkel government, instead of going ahead and showing determination towards the Iranian regime, will only do what is absolutely necessary, as late as possible.”
On a cultural level, Afzal made a point to avoid the traditional talk of “coexistence” between Jews and Muslims in Europe and beyond. He isn’t opposed, of course, to this activity, but rather wants to take it beyond the commonalities and into the realm of real debate.
“What I would say about coexistence groups is, it’s great having a Muslim and a Jew in a room together and agreeing that we shouldn’t eat pork and agreeing that male children should be circumcised,” he said. “But what you’ll rarely find is that they actually talk about the issues that matter. So that’s why we try not to get too into the coexistence game. We have set beliefs and it’s our job to advocate it to the grassroots Muslim community and beyond.”
Seth Mandel is a writer specializing in Middle Eastern politics and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Horowitz Freedom Center.
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