Tag Archives: Germany

Back in the Middle East

In the past few weeks, I packed up my belongings, got rid of a lot of them, and put much of them in storage. On Wednesday, I boarded a flight to Israel, with a suitcase bursting at the seams and a large backpack almost as full.

I’m back in Israel now, and plan to be here for a while. I left Germany just as winter was starting in earnest, and arrived just as what is called “winter” here is starting – which has a lot in common with late summer or fall in Germany, and nothing at all with German winter.

I’m thrilled to be back, and wondering how long the euphoria can last. I will finally resume posting in the coming days, and hope to be able to share with you some interesting thoughts and experiences.

If there’s something in particular you’d like to hear my take on, don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

Was der Deutsche nicht kennt / Ignorance and bris

This is a post I wrote in German about the recent German court ruling equating ritual circumcision to bodily harm, thus making it illegal. That decision has been followed by similar decisions in Austria and Switzerland. An English translation of the post can be found below. Continue reading Was der Deutsche nicht kennt / Ignorance and bris

[Videos] Invisible Learning and a Sudbury Jerusalem promo

1

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of serving as interpreter to John Moravec, in his talk about the Invisible Learning project, in Halle (a town near Leipzig.) I had never done this before, but once I got into it it went pretty well.

You can judge for yourself – you can watch the talk (mainly English with my attempt at German translation) online:

Continue reading [Videos] Invisible Learning and a Sudbury Jerusalem promo

Parents swap roles with kids, discover humiliation of parental attitude

I came across this piece on English-language Germany news site TheLocal.de:

Family puts kids in charge for a month

A German author and his wife put themselves to the biggest test of their lives last year by handing over the family power to their two children for a month. The biggest challenge? Managing the budget. Continue reading Parents swap roles with kids, discover humiliation of parental attitude

Three-quarters two

Flag of the Free State of Saxony (Federal state of the German Federal Republic)
Flag of the Free State of Saxony

I got some odd looks today for using the local dialect’s way of phrasing the time.  But I don’t care for Standard German and don’t think I should be expected to use it.

I have to go back a few years first.  I started learning German in 2004.  Most of it I learned at the Goethe Institute in Jerusalem and on my visits to Germany.  I learned very quickly, and by the time I moved here in 2007, I spoke fluently, but with a bunch of mistakes. Continue reading Three-quarters two

What has to be said – and who has to say it

Germans are entitled to opinions and to the choice of whether or not to voice them. We should welcome it when they do – even regarding Israel.

Günter Grass

This post is about the Günter Grass poem “What must be said”. If you haven’t read the poem yet, please do so before reading the rest of this post (German/English/Hebrew).

Lisa Goldman shared a NYT piece about how the poem has made more Germans speak up about Israel, sometimes even in ways that make Israeli lefties feel uncomfortable.1

One commenter on Lisa’s post responded: “the creators of Holocaust should keep their mouth shut for the sake of decency”. This would, in and of itself, be a reasonable comment, except that at this point in history, the people actually behind the Holocaust are for the most part dead – a fate far more pleasant than they deserve, as it were – and this kind of comment aims simply to silence all German criticism of Israel. Oddly enough, you don’t hear it when Germans voice opinions supportive of Israeli policy. Continue reading What has to be said – and who has to say it

Footnotes

  1. This is not to say that Israeli lefties are used to offensive comments about Israel – but that some of the comments Germans are making may be beyond what we accept as honest criticism. []

Anti-Germans as anti-Semites

United for global change!

I just got back from Leipzig’s #globalchange festival/demonstration. At one point, I noticed two guys holding up an Israeli flag, and went over to ask what that’s about. It was the only national flag present and I wasn’t sure what it was doing there. “We’re here to provoke,” said one of the guys. “This demonstration is structurally anti-Semitic.” The idea, of course, is that a demonstration with anti-elite, anti-banker sentiment is anti-Semitic, whether the demonstrators know it or not. I tried to argue against this odd rhetoric, but he quickly said he doesn’t want to discuss it.

These counter-demonstrators are, I gather, anti-Germans. This is a movement considered to be left-wing and anti-fascistic, with a commitment to unconditional solidarity with Israel. The paradox of the “provocation” I witnessed is that this was the only mention of the “banking=Jews” stereotype I could detect in today’s demonstration, or indeed in all of the Real Democracy Now activities that led up to it in the past half year. It seems to me like the anti-Germans were the only ones bringing anti-Semitism into the demonstration. It annoys me to no end that they weren’t open to discussion, and this post is my attempt to say what I would have told them if they were willing to listen.

I recently read a pamphlet titled “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere”, a fascinating guide to understanding and combatting anti-Semitism targeted at social change activists. It can be found online [PDF] and I highly recommend reading it, especially if you are involved in any kind of movement for social change. It makes the crucial point that anti-Semitism is:

“a divide-and-rule strategy that has served to maintain ruling classes, conceal who actually has power, and confuse us about the real systems of oppression that pit us against one another.”
(Chris Crass, Quoted on a now-defunct website hosting the pamphlet.)

Historically, rulers and ruling elites have used anti-Jewish sentiments to deflect the anger of the oppressed masses towards a relatively powerless group (Jews). In a way, it comes down to rulers explicitly or implicitly fostering the belief that the Jews, not the rulers themselves, are the problem.

What those anti-Germans were trying to do today was the same in reverse – delegitimizing an expression of legitimate grievance against the ruling class by claiming it’s an illegitimate expression of intolerance against Jews. This makes me pretty angry, I have to say. If I had detected any anti-Semitic sentiment or rhetoric from the demonstrators, I would go berserk. But I felt very comfortable at the demonstration, felt it was a matter of global solidarity, explicitly inclusive to me (with my irrelevant Jewish background) and to anyone else. The first thing that made me uncomfortable there was the anti-Germans with that big Israeli flag. How dare they insinuate that the German banking system is controlled by Jews? Where the heck did they get that idea?

You know what, I don’t actually know the names and backgrounds of any major German bankers. And I don’t need to. We were demonstrating against the absurd situation in which Europe and the world are in crisis yet the number of millionaires in Germany has only increased. We were demonstrating because we’re told things are going to get hard and we have to live in fear of economic collapse while those who were involved in creating this mess have nothing to fear and they continue to control much more wealth than the rest of us. Even if it so happened that 99% of German bank owners are Jewish, this wouldn’t have been an anti-Semitic demonstration.

Speaking out against someone who happens to be a Jew is not anti-Semitism. Speaking out against “the Jews” or attacking someone because they’re a Jew is anti-Semitism. Is those anti-Germans’ approach supposed to somehow protect Germany from a resurgence of anti-Semitism? Seems to me like at the very least, it muddies the waters and creates confusion about what is or isn’t anti-Semitic, making it easier for real intolerance to fly in under the radar. Even worse, it can actually re-enforce anti-Semitism by suggesting that speaking out against the powers that be is speaking out against Jews – supporting the false equation that “(the) Jews” are responsible for the power structures we live within.

There. I think I got it out of my system now. Has anyone else encountered similar situations, where people meaning to fight intolerance end up implicitly encouraging it?

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Guest post: Our immoral economies (Bjarne Braunschweig)

For our second guest post in this discussion about economics, here’s my dear buddy Bjarne Braunschweig. He cites Klaus Werner-Lobo and Jesus of Nazareth as the main influences on his economic thinking, and everyone who knows him knows he cares a lot about Fair Trade. As always, comments below are open for your questions and comments.

Mattan and Michael both talked about the downside of planned economics and I agree with both of them. As Michael wrote, it would need an extremely smart, quick and moral observer standing above everything, but as history has shown, dictators who saw themselves as just that have failed to live up to their own ideologies.

Michael stated that systemic problems within existing systems ought to be recognized, and then we should try to figure out how these can be overcome. Mattan wrote something quite similar: “We should see how permissive we can get, how much we can let people run their own life – and then see where and if it fails and how can we fix it in the least disruptive way.” They described the “system” in different words: Mattan called it freedom for oneself, and Michael simply called it the system of the society we – at least in Germany – live in right now.

My problem is: We already have seen our system fail again and again and again.
If you’re looking at 2008 and the devastating “minus” on the stock-markets or if you look at how Greece is crumbling into little pieces of foreign policy-intruders, you can see it, feel it, sense it.

And what are we doing? Nothing but to curl up in our own little nests of comfort – built of money – which we want to keep as comfortable as possible, by any means necessary. We fail to look at the system itself or the big picture. When I am talking about “this system” or “our system” I am talking about the free market, which is run by enormous companies and governments cooperating with each other. This may not be true for all the markets and economics of every country, but we have infiltrated even the smallest and poorest countries with our “Diet Coke and Snickers” ideology and we are thereby undermining the free and less stable markets in a lot of African and South American states.

Our system is failing. Right now.
Freedom for us and the free market? How about freedom for everybody.

The situation in Germany is grand! We have public schools, for which we do not have to pay. We have a lot of universities at which we can study for free. We have a welfare system, which is failing in some cases to provide personal freedom and dignity, but provides money in exchange for sending a few letters of application per month. There is a serious problem, though. A so called “new lower class” is rising in Germany. What they lack most is not money, but education and perspective. But that is a topic, as Michael also said, that should be addressed in a different post. And seriously, we talk and cry, while we are standing above most of the worlds population in almost every way possible. Health care, schools, money, we have it.

And as much as I see the need of people in this country who try to get a job which does not leave them empty inside, perhaps even heartbroken, I also see people suffering on a much greater scale in so many parts of the world, such as east Africa or China.

We have freedom of speech. We have freedom of religion. We have the right to speak up against injustice.
An estimated 70 to 75% of the world’s population does not.

As Michael stated, we as the wealthy people – living among, beside or away from the poor – have certain responsibilities. We have power, in one of the few currencies power can come in: money. And with great power comes great responsibility. “We are all capitalists: we all agree that where the market works, it should remain, because we realize that free enterprise is a necessity for our freedom and that the free market, where it works, is the only moral way for people to interact in their skills, abilities, time, needs and wants”, said Mattan so passionately (emphasis mine).

The problem is: morality and economics often do not go together. Stephen J. Levitt, economist and co-author of Freakonomics, says: “Morality, it could be argued, represents the way people would like the world to work – whereas economics represents how it actually does work.”

And that is, from my point of view, the problem which makes me so angry and lets our system fail so often in so many different ways. We fail to bring together decent moral standards we use in everyday life in our own (wealthy, democratic) countries – like equality – when we are exploiting workers in so many other countries. We fail on such an enormous scale to apply decent standards of morality to our economic system: Speculation on food prices, modern colonialism in the form of land-grabbing (where people from all over the world buy huge pieces of land in Africa and South America), and not enough money and no sign of ethically right treatment for the people who make our clothes and raise our food. That is exploitation and a new form of slavery. We made those people dependent on our money but we fail to pay them enough.

Our economics system itself is indeed corrupt and the only reason it still exists is because we do not want to see the evil we are doing. The longer we deny that, the longer we live a lie in our wealthy, comfortable homes.

Why are we responsible for children dying in Africa, while we are living in Germany? There are a lot of reasons, but sticking to economics, it’s because we exploit the farmers and manufacturers there and pay them hardly enough to survive on their own, let alone to support a family. Because we export our left-over food and milk and sell it for only a small fraction of what the food costs if it is produced in Senegal itself, for instance. Because we only look at our own well-being, our own freedom and our own human rights.

We don’t need thoroughly planned economics, because that would not work and is an insult to freedom itself. But maybe we should finally see where the system and the free market itself fails and that people should always matter more than money.

Tales of sun and cloud cover

Leipzig in summer.

Whew. Over a month without a post. And what a month it has been!

Summer is finally here. Summer in Germany is something altogether different from summer in Israel, as I learn anew every year. Winter in Germany is something altogether different from Israel’s so-called “winters”, too. And it all comes down to sunlight, for me.

In Israel, the sun is omnipresent and a real health hazard. It is just too fracking hot most of the year. Here, on the other hand, I desperately miss the sun all winter, and as soon as it’s out I feel like I have to jump on the opportunity and expose my skin to its incredible warmth, the warmth that reminds me that it’s not so bad, the light that reminds me that the world isn’t all that grey after all.

Now, summer here isn’t as reliable as it is in Israel. In Israel, summer is summer. Sunlight, nonstop, every day, all day. Here we get summer rains (an oxymoron to me) and even full cloud cover – in June!! Very strange. But this makes me appreciate the sunlight even more. After waiting for it all winter, summer can be coy, making me wait again. I get suspicious. Has global climate change hit us so hard already? Did the BP oil spill knock out the jet stream like I read it might? I watch the skies. Like a Stark, I know winter will come again, sooner or later. I dread it. Then the sun comes out again and everything looks different.

I have an Egyptian friend and (language-learning) tandem partner – he wants to know Hebrew and I want to know Arabic. He always says he doesn’t want to talk about the conflict, but we end up on that topic every time we meet. Last time we had lunch, the sun was shining bright, and I noted that when the sun shines, I think the Middle East is headed towards peace and prosperity like never before; when the sky is grey, I’m sure Israel is on the brink of fascism or civil war and dread what might become of all the people I love.

Well, we had grey skies and rain for the past few days, and I’m still getting over the accompanying sense of impending doom, but today the sun is shining. The StuTS is behind me, but busy times are still ahead. This weekend two very good friends of mine are getting married (congrats, F&B!); I’m trying to finish an old term paper, practice for Spanish class, and get preliminary reading done for my degree thesis; and, of course, I have to prepare the EUDEC Assembly for this summer.

Time flies when you’re too busy to check what time it is. I might try to write more this month, but maybe not such heavy long posts, and likely little or nothing about Israel/Palestine. The situation there is getting more complicated by the hour and I haven’t been following closely enough to make informed comments lately. Fortunately, there are plenty of other, less despair-inducing topics out there…

Addicted to insecurity

I handwrote the following post on the train to Dresden on December 24th. I had to edit it less than I thought I would. I apologize for the very sparse sources. If any particular fact seems dubious to you, please leave me a comment and I’ll try to track down some links.

Many people have pointed out how society is addicted to the concept of security — in the US, in Israel, in the UK,  really everywhere in the developed world. This can lead to some paradoxical situations. For example, as Roi Maor points out, the wave of xenophobia in Israel is far more dangerous to the African refugees than they are to the Israeli public. The primal fear of the Other plays a central role here, as does the government’s utter failure to address the needs of the poor neighborhoods and of the foreigners that gravitate towards them.1

I think another factor is the Israeli addiction to insecurity — the inseparable flipside of our addiction to security, as well as a bit of residue from Diaspora. You could call it chronic societal paranoia. Continue reading Addicted to insecurity