BERLIN – The Social Democratic Party of Germany has stepped up the rhetoric against Israel. Rainer Arnold, a defense expert and deputy for the SPD, told the SPD party newspaper Forward in September that “radical forces in both camps” – meaning Israel and Hamas – were fueling the ongoing conflict in Gaza.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor and political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that Arnold “has displayed a disturbing inability to distinguish between the aggression of Hamas and the defense by Israel.”
The SPD is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partner in government. Dr. Elvira Grözinger, a member of the German branch of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told the Post that “some people in the SPD like Arnold seem to be totally ignorant of the fact that Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by the EU, the US and Israel. Israel has not only the right but a duty to defend itself and its citizens.”
She added, “Whoever denies Israel this right [self-defense] is an anti-Semite willing to eventually approve the destruction of the Jewish state. It is high time for this party [SPD] to repudiate such opinions and take measures against its members who belittle terror.”
SPD is the major left-wing bloc party in Germany, of which Arnold is a prominent voice. Reinhold Robbe, president of the German-Israeli Society and former military officer of the Bundestag, fiercely protested Arnold’s comparison of the Israeli government with Hamas in a three-page letter to parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann.
“Rainer Arnold equates the democratically elected government of Israel with Hamas terrorists, without even one word of historical background on the conflict in Gaza, or any note of the escalation of violence in recent months,” Robbe wrote. “This is taboo, and I’ve never seen this from any Social Democrats in the government before.”
Robbe, who is a member of the SPD, also condemned several statements that Arnold made which charged Israel with breaking international law, and asserted that Hamas would never be a substantial threat to Israel, simply because Israel’s military resources were far superior to those of Hamas.
“This is the type of language you never heard even from states that were not sympathetic to Israel,” Robbe wrote. “And especially there has never been such a statement from Germany, which is a known ally of Israel.”
Robbe wrote that it was “unprofessional and shameful” that a security policy spokesman for the SPD would approach the situation in such a “simplistic and downright populist manner.”
Arnold said he will not apologize for his comments, telling Die Welt, “I have received a lot of approval for that interview from the SPD.”
The SPD has yet to respond to Robbe’s letter. Arnold’s statements mark a new round of internal party struggle as the SPD tries to show united and unwavering support for the Jewish state, and uphold the idea of preserving Israel as part of the German raison d’état.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and head of its Jerusalem office, told the Post, “A comment like that clearly shows the depth of Rainer Arnold’s ignorance of Middle East affairs and the contemporary reality on the ground. To compare Hamas and the Israeli government is a total distortion of current reality and gives legitimacy to a terror organization recognized as a terror organization by the German government.”
Zuroff added, “If this is the expert who is giving advice to SPD’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, I would be deeply concerned.” Arnold was embroiled in a 2010 controversy involving a conference sympathetic to Hamas and Fatah which was sponsored by Evangelical academy – an educational center known for its criticism of Israel – in the southern German city of Bad Boll.
The Bad Boll academy invited Dr. Basem Naim, the Hamas health minister in Gaza, to deliver a talk at the “Partner for Peace: Talking with Hamas and Fatah” event. Naim argues that there is an “exploitation of the Holocaust by the Zionists to justify their crimes and harness international acceptance of the campaign of ethnic cleansing and subjection they have been waging against us.” Germany denied Naim a visa because Hamas is included in the EU’s terrorist organization list.
Arnold wrote the Post at the time that Bad Boll “is a good place for dialogue. But hot discussions or political arguments don’t mean taking the position of the person with whom one is discussing. Therefore, I would debate fiercely at this event. But in my opinion, it is better to hold the political debate than only to talk to each other about the important issues….”
Steinberg said that the Merkel government, the SPD and several other German parties “have failed to enact long-overdue guidelines to end these abuses that contribute to the demonization of Israel. Such immoral failures are common in the highly distorted European discourse on Israel, and increasingly found in Germany as well.” He added that the German government has given “tens of millions of euros” to “radical political” NGOs and foundations.
Three weeks ago, deputy SPD leader Ralf Stegner sparked outrage when he called in Die Welt for a ban on German arms shipments to Israel. Stegner said at the time that he “did not get the impression that the weapons would contribute to Middle East problem solving,” Die Welt wrote. His comments earned him harsh criticism, both from within his party and from the outside.
Two years ago, prior to being vice chancellor, SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel posted on Facebook during a tour of the Middle East that Israel’s policies in the West Bank qualified as “apartheid.” He later retracted his comment.