Germany has been one of the most vociferous supporters of Israel’s genocide in Gaza. Maurice Coakley explains the confluence of factors that have led German leaders to proclaim “Never Again” when it comes to the horrors of the Holocaust, even as they cheer on the horrors of the new Nakba happening in Gaza.
While most of the world watches with horror at Israel’s genocidal onslaught on Gaza, Germany’s rulers are cheering it on. To make matters worse, the refusal to acknowledge the humanity of Palestinians enjoys broad support across the political spectrum in Germany. Even the major party of the left, Die Linke, is reluctant to support the democratic rights of Palestinians. Like elsewhere in Europe, the far-right party in Germany, the AfD, has become one of Israel’s most ardent supporters.
It is widely claimed that the population of Germany is hugely contrite over the Holocaust – the murder of six million Jews by the German state in the Second World War. So why can they not see what is happening before their eyes in Gaza?
To make sense of contemporary German political culture one needs to look at the historical context.
At the end of the Second World War, some sections of the American government wanted to see Germany crushed and impoverished, but wiser counsel prevailed. Eastern Germany, including Berlin, had been occupied by the Red Army. If western Germany remained impoverished, there was a very real danger that the population there would embrace Communism or some variety of radical left politics. So the US encouraged the rebuilding of Germany on condition that it remained subservient to the US. The purge of Nazis from government posts ended. In 1949 West Germany was granted formal independence, but it remained under US military occupation. And the US retains a strong military presence until this day.
Something similar happened in Japan. There was widespread agreement in the Truman administration that Japan should remain broken, but the victory of the People’s Liberation Army in the Chinese civil war traumatised the American ruling class and compelled them to permit Japan to rebuild its industry. For both Japan and Germany, a return to prosperity was conditional upon a deep political (and military) dependence on the United States. This in turn was very useful to the US for directing politics in Europe and on the margins of east Asia.
Initially, the US government was very ambivalent about the formation of the state of Israel, but over time they came to see that it could be very useful to have Israel as a close ally in the oil-rich Middle East. The fact that Israel was at loggerheads with its neighbours made the alliance all the more advantageous to the US. In effect, it gave Washington an extra army in the region.
For the German ruling class, the emergence of the state of Israel had many advantages. Not only could they rid Europe of its Jewish population, but by strongly supporting Israel they could prove to the world that they had completely broken with their earlier antisemitism. Through supporting Israel they could also ingratiate themselves with the Americans. Over time, much of the German population came to believe their state’s pro-Israel propaganda with the same gullibility that their grandparents had believed the antisemitic discourse of the Third Reich.
From Anti-semitism to Islamophobia
The fate of the indigenous population of Palestine was rarely, if ever discussed, in Germany. People raising the question of Palestine today are accused of being antisemitic. Compared to the rest of the world, there have been very few protests in Germany against the Israeli genocide in Gaza. Many of those who have protested have been Jewish and even they get arrested and denounced as antisemitic.
In 1919, after the failed revolution in Bavaria, the German army high command called a conference to politically educate their non-commissioned officers. It was explained that it was the Jews who were responsible for Germany’s defeat in the war and for most of Germany’s other problems. One of those present was a corporal, Adolf Hitler, who embraced this creed with enthusiasm and went on to lead the Nazi party.
In the Third Reich, antisemitism was part of a wider philosophy of racial inequality, the basic function of which was to divert attention away from social inequality. The Nazis believed that there was a racial hierarchy at the bottom of which were the lower people, the ‘Untermenschen’, including Jews, Roma and Slavs.
The word ‘Untermenschen’ is not widely used in Germany today, but the basic idea persists. The world is said to be divided between ‘advanced’ people and ‘backward’ people but the divide is no longer considered to be biological, but cultural. This is not unique to Germany – it is widespread across Europe and North America – but it seems particularly engrained in Germany. The hatred goes underground and re-emerges with a new target: Muslims. The fact that the majority of the Palestinian population are Muslim makes it easier for Germany to ignore the genocide being waged, with many of Germany’s rulers not just ignoring the genocide, but applauding it.
Crucial to the German leaders’ support for the genocide in Gaza is their sense of realpolitik, their belief that through subservience to US foreign policy they can best advance the interests of German capital. It was assumed that through blindly following US foreign policy, Washington in turn would go along with the German ‘leadership’ of Europe. This has also led Berlin to undermine its relations with its major trading partner, China.
What the German ruling class has yet to take on board is how much the world has changed.
NATO’s intervention in Ukraine has been a disaster for Germany. The German economy has been hugely damaged by the loss of cheap Russian gas and German industries are fleeing the country. Ukraine has neither the manpower nor the weaponry to win the war against Russia, and the Ukrainian army appears to be facing collapse. If the military and material weakness of the ‘West’ is clearly visible in the Ukraine war, its moral bankruptcy is evident to all the world watching what is happening in Gaza.
Germany is already in recession and this is likely to get much worse in the coming year. During the last global recession, Berlin attempted to impose extreme austerity measures on the European periphery. This time round we can expect something similar, but they are likely to face even greater resistance.