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Interview with Evelyn Hecht-Galinski


The Eleventh Amendment Cartes Blanches for Israel


How come your father (her father, Heinz Galinski, was the head of the Jewish Community in Germany 1949-1992) stood so close to Israel when you yourself are one of its most vocal critics? How did this happen? Was there a sudden turning point?

My father was a man shaped by the experiences of his past. Yet after his liberation in 1945, he was always guided by a principle which I have also made my own: “I haven’t survived Auschwitz to keep my mouth shut about fresh injustice”. I had an easy childhood, was taught the value of tolerance and attended a progressive Waldorfschule in Berlin, the city where I was born, and I was totally integrated in the non-Jewish world. Fortunately, my upbringing was free of any traumatic incidents. I am convinced that today my father – in spite of being so “close to Israel” - would know very well how to differentiate between shades of opinion. I had a clear view of things at a very tender age; I saw the exaggerated “love for Israel” that many people had, particularly those with a “brown” past, and I found such people repugnant – just as I was revolted by the propaganda of the Springer press and the inflammatory smear campaign against the protesting students of the 68 generation, the Shah’s visit and the cult of reverence for Israel which made me cringe. Obviously all of this influenced me at a very early age.


One key event was when I visited Israel in 1967 after the Six-Day War where I was really shocked by the arrogant way Israelis behaved to Arabs. It wasn’t just Israeli arrogance and chutzpah, but the snide, disparaging way they talked about the Arabs (Palestinians). But not only that: I had huge problems with the Israelis’ mentality in general, and even the way they behaved at the airport or the hotel in Israel disgusted me. I have never let myself be restricted by my father’s roles as Chairman of the Jewish Community in Berlin and President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and I went my own way from a very early age – and my own way, influenced through my parents teaching, was to be open and tolerant in my dealings with the non-Jewish world. Yet in 1972 when I married and moved with my (Jewish) husband to Düsseldorf, I was suddenly confronted with a situation that was the exact reverse of what I’d been used to in Berlin. Here was a Jewish Community that not only lived in complete isolation but even practiced censorship. This was my second key experience when I protested against the then Chairman of the Community Scheinmann who wanted to prevent the performance of the play “Palestinian Girl” by the Israeli playwright Sobol at the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus. I very much admired the theater’s director Volker Canaris and tried to offer him support. I wrote to the papers and appeared on a discussion program on WDR regional television. Sadly, all to no avail! We were finally granted “asylum” at the Bonner Schauspielhaus. Later on, under the next chairman, Paul Spiegel, we were discouraged from bringing non-Jewish friends and acquaintances to the festivities of the Jewish Community – which was another reason for me to think long and hard about what Jewish tolerance really means.


I was always very interested in politics and I began to read much more deeply in the literature about Israel and Palestine. Suddenly it was as though the scales had fallen from my eyes and I began to see everything from a fresh perspective. But my real sense of anger and grief was born in the wake of the invasion of Lebanon. After the Second Lebanon War I lambasted Israeli policymaking in a series of readers letters and took up the cause of the oppressed Palestinian people. Since 1992, after the death of my father, I have redoubled my efforts against Israel’s criminal occupation policies. And now I also work in line with the guiding principle of his life I mentioned at the beginning because in spite of all his commitment to the state of Israel, he remained a man of justice who also had his own issues with Israeli policymaking. One of them, for instance, was Israel’s insistence in wanting to prescribe to Russian emigrants where they had to go – namely to Israel. He was unequivocal in his opposition to this, and with his own particular past he felt deeply that each and every person has the right to self-determination. I see Israel‘s refusal to grant the Palestinians this same right of self-determination as such a gross act of injustice that I must stand up and oppose it. In particular, reading the book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” by Professor Ilan Pappe – the son of German emigrants – showed me that I was on the right track and had arrived in the sadness of reality, freeing myself of the last vestiges of all kinds of myths.


Why is Israel such a “sacred cow, and what can be done to change this?

Because Israel knows perfectly well how to exploit the feelings of guilt of the international community, and Germany in particular, which arise from the horrors of history and which allow Israel to continue with its policies that trample human rights underfoot. In my opinion, this already bad tendency has become much much worse over the past 20 years. Neither the USA – which is Israel’s strongest ally and major sponsor – nor Europe bring pressure to bear on policymaking in Israel. It seems to me that the tendency is to regard Israel as a beacon of light and bulwark of the Christian/Jewish community of values against the Muslim world. And the treaties, the cooperation work, the arms shipments and the billions of dollars in aid only serve to exacerbate this – because all they do is consolidate the oppression and Nakba (1948 marked the NAKBA of the Palestinian people: the state of Israel was established over the disposession of hundreds of thousands of their life, land and home.) for the Palestinian people. We could change this situation on the spot by canceling all cooperation agreements with Israel, and stopping all financial aid to the rich and heavily armed state of Israel until such times as it complies with human rights, respects international law and stops its settlement policy. For how much longer will Israel be allowed to continue with its illegal occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip, with its attempts to take over East Jerusalem, its relentless land grabs, its wall of apartheid, and its streets and busses for Israeli Jews only? In my opinion this is completely intolerable. And it’s terrible that no one is bringing the state of Israel to its senses. Just because the instrumentalization of the Holocaust by the pro-Israeli lobby is so patiently tolerated.


What kind of influence does the huge theatre of conflict in the Arab world have on Israel?

In my view, none whatsoever. Yet Israel is always smart enough to spin a tale which makes it look like its own security is in danger. Yet isn’t the reality that it’s Israel which is posing a threat to its own neighbors and Iran? The Arab world is struggling with huge problems – caused by a variety of influences, including outside intervention and radical upheavals – and the people are trying to protest and rise up against them. Why does the western world offer such massive support to the Gulf States? Aren’t these the very countries that want to return to the Middle Ages? Aren’t the people living in these oh so terribly modern Gulf States even further trodden down by the assistance we offer? Doesn’t all our cooperation and energy interests only encourage such states to continue even further on the path of oppression? Israel oppresses the Palestinians and the Arab world looks on and does nothing – no, I can’t see a threat of any kind for Israel. We’re continually fed the story of how weak Israel is, how it’s only fighting for its own survival and how it’s the only democracy in the Middle East. Yes, Israel is a democracy for its Jewish residents, but not for its second and third class citizens. Israel is an ethnocracy – where one ethic group holds power and systematically discriminates against other minority groups – and it’s also an apartheid state that is much worse than the old South Africa. Like I say, Israel is not threatened but it is a threat to other countries.


If you could give young Israelis one piece of advice about how they should “deal” with the Arabs, what would you say to them?

I’d tell them to rouse themselves at long last and reflect on what their forebears have lived through. I’d say put an end to the way the Holocaust is continually exploited just so that Israel can continue to push through its political interests so shamelessly. Start making fair-minded policies that show empathy – not autism – to the oppressed people of Palestine. Take an example from Nelson Mandela and stop allowing the election of fascist politicians in Israel so they can push forward with their Zionist expansion plans. Think of the disenfranchised Palestinians and remember your own past which has long since been researched and illuminated, and remember the Nakba. It is high time to be living side by side and on an equal footing with a democratic Palestine with the same rights for all. Only then can Israel be an accepted member of what is known as the community of shared values and be a democracy for all the people. But instead of this, what we have is a repeated insistence on its being recognize as a Jewish state! What a bitter comedy that is! A state can neither be Jewish or Evangelical or Catholic or whatever else, if it wants to be democratic. I’d also tell Israelis to take a leaf or two from our – German – Basic Law. This is why I find what chancellor Merkel said about Israel’s security being part of Germany’s raison d’état so abysmal. Yet unfortunately the actual situation looks anything but encouraging, because the Israelis – and particularly Israeli youth – continue to vote in these racist, fascist and Zionist politicians. This “sun and fun society” thinks only of itself and not of those living under occupation. As long as you allow this state without borders to continue to expand settlements and oppress people, I will be in favor of a boycott of Israel and will support the Boycott, Disvestment and Sanctions campaign.


What would you say to young Palestinians?

Rise up against your "Vichy regime" which rules you without mandate and elections, which practically functions as the lengthened arm of Israel and the USA and is dependent on them, and has arranged itself nicely with the occupation. Where are the millions of Palestinians living in the Diaspora? Snap out of your lethargy and fight for your rights, even if that’s difficult after 65 years of eviction. Don’t leave the field alone to the strong pro-Israel lobby, mobilize across the whole world as a tsunami of justice. Because we do not forget – and I say this in all solemnity as a German citizen – that Palestinians too are victims of the Holocaust. Let us remember this, and see the struggle for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel as our common cause.


The interview was conducted by Ulrike Reinhard




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