Friday, March 14, 2008

From Wagner To The German Language--Some Things Still Rankle (Updated)

Just 16 years ago, the idea of the Israeli Philharmonic playing Wagner caused an uproar:
Breaking a taboo of five decades and in the process causing some Jews considerable pain, Israel's premier orchestra said today that it would perform a program of works by Richard Wagner, who was a virulent anti-Semite and a cultural hero for Hitler and his Nazis.

For many Jews, especially concentration camp survivors, Wagner stands as an enduring and hated symbol of the Nazi Holocaust, even though he died in 1883, 50 years before Hitler rose to power.
Now in the newest controversy, the Israeli Knesset will be addressed in German--by one of her European allies--and some are considering walking out:
Plans for the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to address parliamentarians in Jerusalem in her native language next week have provoked rumbles of opposition from Israeli MPs on the far right – with one promising to walk out before she speaks.

...The opposition is not a new, since there were some opponents when, in 2000, the then President of Germany, Johannes Rau, spoke in German when he became the first German head of state to address the Knesset, delivering an impassioned appeal for "forgiveness for what Germans have done". Several Knesset members boycotted that address and another similar one five years later by the present President Horst Koehler.
This in spite of the fact that Germany has paid something in the neighborhood of $25 billion in reparations.

Apparently though visiting heads of state are allowed to address the Knesset in any language they like, in this case on a technicality a vote was taken and Merkel's speaking in German was approved by a 7-2 vote. One of those apposing claimed:
"They are Amaleks, they are the mother of all Amaleks. The Jews must not return to be doormats," NRP-National Union MK Uri Ariel said.
I don't know. If this is where Israel decides to draw the line at being treated as a doormat, there is a problem.

UPDATE: David Hazony writes:
On this issue, ambivalence is the only reasonable posture. The Jewish state is not terribly good at building and keeping international alliances, probably because for millennia it has had good reason to be suspicious of other peoples. Inviting Merkel is the right move at the right time: under the leadership of Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, the Continent has shifted to its most pro-Israel stance since at least the 1950’s. Yet the Holocaust will forever be there, with all its lessons for the world, and it is right for the Jewish people, and the Jewish state, to make sure it is never forgotten.

...Forgive, but never, ever, forget.
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