Which Lessons Did Germany Adopt?


Amos Gvirtz – TRANSCEND Media Service

28 May 2019 – The German Bundestag’s decision to brand the activities of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) as anti-Semitic is in my opinion misguided, for two main reasons: One relating to the lessons of World War II and the other to the question of nonviolent versus violent struggle.

I distinguish between two kinds of lessons that were learned from the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime – the universal and the particular.  The universal lesson repudiates racism, including anti-Semitism, and fights to protect human rights everywhere and to place them outside the jurisdiction of the state.

Israel, however, has officially drawn two particular (non-universal) lessons from the Holocaust: “Never again”, and “We are allowed to do anything and no one is permitted to criticize our actions.”  To this purpose a powerful military force was developed to prevent any recurrence of the Holocaust.  The problem is that Israel has used this immense military power to subjugate another people, denying them human rights and the right to self-determination.  When Israel is criticized on the grounds of racism and human rights violations, it whips out the anti-Semitic argument: “You must not judge us by our actions”, by which is actually meant: “If previously your racism was directed against us, it should now be used in our support”.

In the 1980’s I was one of the founders of a Palestinian-Israeli organization advocating nonviolent protest.  We tried to introduce the idea of nonviolence into the conflict hoping to prevent more casualties of the war between our peoples before it reached its end.  Dr. Mubarak Awad, a prominent member of the group, had established the Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence in East Jerusalem during this same period.  He tried to persuade his fellow Palestinians to choose the path of nonviolence in their struggle for independence and human rights.   Dr. Awad was deported from Israel in 1988…

I would like to point to two occasions when the Palestinians’ attempts at nonviolent action were forcibly prevented by the IDF (Israel Defence Forces).  In 1988 the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Return Ship prepared to set sail from Cyprus to Haifa, carrying Palestinian refugees and some international public figures, as a nonviolent expression of the PLO’s demand for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.   The ship was sunk by the IDF at the port of Limmasol.  In 2014 the IDF installed metal detectors at a crossing where Palestinian children passed through on their way to elementary school in Hebron.  The children and their teachers refused to pass the metal detectors and began holding their classes in the road leading to the crossing.   After three days IDF soldiers put an end to their nonviolent protest by throwing gas grenades into their midst.

The BDS is a nonviolent movement opposed to the Israeli occupation.  It is a broad-based coalition of organizations and people holding varying points of view, some of which might be considered anti-Semitic, but the movement at its core is anti-racist and opposed to the violation of human rights, which represent precisely the universal lessons learned from World War II.  Israel is unable to send the IDF to annihilate this movement, so, summoning the particular and non-universal lessons from World War II, it claims that any criticism of its crimes is anti-Semitic.  Israel’s efforts to block all attempts at nonviolent protest against the occupation leave open the option of violence, and are in effect contrary to the security interests of its own citizens.

To my dismay, the Israeli government is at war with those who have chosen the universal lessons of the Holocaust, and charges those who demand that it respect Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism.  The painful question remains – which lessons has Germany chosen to adopt from the crimes of its past?


Amos Gvirtz is founder of Israelis and Palestinians for Nonviolence, was chairperson of the Committee against House Demolitions, and a peace and human rights activist. He is a former Israeli representative to the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) and wrote the book, Don’t Say We Did Not Know (working on the translation to English).

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Join the BDS-BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT, SANCTIONS campaign to protest the Israeli barbaric siege of Gaza, illegal occupation of the Palestine nation’s territory, the apartheid wall, its inhuman and degrading treatment of the Palestinian people, and the more than 7,000 Palestinian men, women, elderly and children arbitrarily locked up in Israeli prisons.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Jun 2019.

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