Summer 2001

Bucerius Center Inaugurated for Research of Contemporary Germany

Zeit Foundation Helps Finance Center; Die Zeit Editor Draws an Unusual Triangle

The formal inauguration at the Board of Governors Meeting of the Bucerius Center for Research of Contemporary German History and Society at the University brought with it the description of an interesting triangular configuration. Josef Joffe, editor of the prestigious German weekly Die Zeit, who was guest speaker at the event, drew this "curious," as he put it, triangle: Israel, Germany, America.

"America and Germany are Israel's two best friends—for different reasons," he said of the configuration, explaining that the triangle was forged at the height of the Cold War. He defined Germany's present attitude as "remembrance as reason of state."

 Joffe quoted a 1964 editorial in the Frankfurter Rundschau that, he felt, "nicely captured the drama" of the triangulation : "The Federal Government [of Germany], facing Israel and the Arabs, has [tried] to land all the fish with a net of semi-formal and semi-secret relationships. The strategy was to good friends with the Arabs, the arch-enemies of Israel, to fashion closer ties with the Jewish state than met the eye, and finally to please the United States."

 The German journalist went on to explain why he considers the United States and Germany to be Israel's two best friends. In the case of the former, he said, "it is self-evident." He listed three factors accounting for the special relationship: kinship (six million Jews in America), governance (both Israel and the U.S. are democracies), and strategy ("Israel offered itself willy-nilly as a 'continental sword' to the United States…the tacit protector of Jordan").

 He called Germany's present role "realpolitik-plus, with the 'plus' signifying an endurking element of moralpolitik toward Israel." Berlin, in his view, "acts as a discrete advocate of Israeli concerns in European councils, blunting the edge of anti-Israel resolutions and actions. Usually it is Germany's conciliatory formulas that win out over the harsh language introduced by the French or the British." He sees the latter two countries, along with Italy and Spain as being "far more prone to conduct a hard-headed realpolitik—meaning a policy tilted toward the Arab world—vis-a-vis the Middle East than Berlin."

 "Remembrance," Joffe continued, is what prevents Germany's tilt away from Israel even after "the moral rehabilitation and political reunification of Germany and the country's waning strategic dependence on the U.S. following the demise of the Soviet Union." He was not, he said, talking about "cheap moral gestures or ritual invocations of goodness." For him, remembrance is a political narrative in which "Israel is the chapter where the heirs of the perpetrators accept a special responsibility for the heirs of the victims."

 Joffe concluded: "It is my contention that this chapter is not just a fleeting episode but part and parcel of the New Germany's reason of state."

 The Bucerius Center, named for a crusading German editor, "will work to foster greater familiarity with and to deepen understanding of modern German society among the academic community," according to its head, Dr. Yfaat Weiss. The Center places contemporary issues of German society at the heart of its activities and plays an important part in stimulating and facilitating academic exchange between Germany and Israel. Its main research emphasis for the near future will be on questions of identity formation, with center/periphery dynamics traced against the backdrop of multiculturalism in today's Germany, and on aspects of contemporary German-Jewish history and Germany's coming-to-terms with its past. The establishment of the Center was enabled by a gift of the Zeit Foundation and the German Friends of the University.


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