Why Did a Vice Chairman of the German-Israel Association Resign?
Kevin Zdiara is a doctoral candidate in philosophy, writing on the Jewish-American philospher Horace M. Kallen. He is a frequent contributor to the German blog "Die Achse des Guten" (www.achgut.com) and was, until his recent resignation in protest of what he explains below, a vice-chairman of DIG. He writes frequent op-eds for Arutz Sheva on European Jewish issues.
What is the German-Israel Friendship Association all about?
Zdiara: The German-Israel Friendship Association (DIG) is an organization whose focus is on improving the knowledge about Israel in Germany. It was founded in the 1960s, and currently has about 5.500 members, organized in 55 local chapters throughout Germany. Another purpose of the organization is to function as a link between pro-Israeli civilians and lawmakers; therefore the DIG has members from most of the political parties.
Many local chapters are doing great pro-Israel work, but on the national level there is a problem. In recent years there it has become a trend to use membership in the DIG not to support Israel, but to criticize it.
Let me give you some examples: In 2010, the German parliament condemned Israel in a resolution for its raid on the Mavi Marmara [the Gaza flotilla boat where IDF soldiers were violently attacked by those on board, a fracas that ended with nine of the protesters dead, ed.]. Numerous MPs who voted for this resolution were members of the DIG.
This year, the head of the German Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, compared Israel's administration of Hevron with the former South African apartheid regime.. When he was criticized for it, he said that he was a member of the DIG and therefore couldn’t be anti-Israel.
Last month, Jennifer Pyka, a journalist, made public that the head of the foreign affairs committee of the German parliament, Ruprecht Polenz, had been in close contact with one Irena Wachendorff. This woman fabricated her Jewish origin, turning her mother into an Auschwitz survivor and her father into a Jewish scholar, while none of this was actually true. Her father was a member of Hitler’s army! Polenz criticized Israel many times and used his membership in the DIG and Wachendorff as "proof" of his supposedly pro-Israel credentials.
Even the national president of the DIG, Reinhold Robbe, who used to be an MP, criticized Israel publicly for banning the anti-Israel poet and former member of the SS, Günter Grass, from entering Israel, yet Robbe remains mostly silent on the threats against the Jewish state.
What was your position in the DIG?
Zdiara: I have been a member of the DIG since 2005. After I moved to the city of Erfurt, I became the vice-chairman and organized numerous public events. I invested a lot of time and energy in turning it into a more vocal supporter of Israel; I also helped open it up to younger people who are interested in Israel.
I created its Facebook page, updated the homepage, and was responsible for most of the public relations.
Why did you resign?
Zdiara: In June, I told my colleagues on the board of the DIG that the mayor of the neighboring city of Jena was supporting a call for a boycott of Israeli products. At first, the chairman of our chapter agreed with me and we published a statement condemning the call for a boycott and the mayor’s support of it.
A member of the local DIG from the extreme leftwing party Die Linke, Bodo Ramelow, was obviously unhappy with the publicity I created. He is in a powerful position as the party leader in this federal state, and Die Linke is the second-strongest party there.
He made false accusations in public against the people who opposed the boycott and who spoke out against it. In various emails to the board of the DIG in Erfurt, he called me a “crusader” and compared my methods to the secret service of communist East Germany!
He published a lengthy article about how I allegedly conspired against him together with two Jewish journalists.
All this was met with silence from the DIG. The chairman even met with Ramelow and the anti-Israel mayor of Jena and published a joint statement, calling for cooperation with this mayor against anti-Semitism!
For me, there was no possibility other than to resign immediately in protest. I can’t work for an organization that thinks cooperating with Israel-haters is more important than confronting them.
How did they respond to your resignation?
Zdiara: I received some emails from individuals supporting my activities, who voiced their regret, but overall the reaction was silence. Instead of repudiating the false accusations and standing by the condemnation of the boycott, the majority of the board backtracked in order to return to “civil and peaceful” conversation, as they called it.
I have lost my confidence in this organization's will to effectively counter the current wave of anti-Zionism.