Broder says that Germans have not been shy about criticizing Israel since 1967 anyway. “So Mollemann‘s claim that he was being hounded for breaking a taboo is made up. And besides,” he wonders, “is that really a deep need for the Germans -- to be able to criticize Jews? Is that what aches in the German soul? Is that what would make Germany complete?”
Perhaps. Both Walser and Mollemann suggested, in their clumsy ways, that German society can stop tiptoeing around the Jews. Walser went so far as to say that his generation has paid its due, and it will deal with its remorse on its own terms. For many ordinary Germans, the enthusiasm for the reunification was motivated by a desire to put a symbolic end to what is called the “after-war period,” to close out the books, and move on as one Germany with a repaired national consciousness. That relations with Jews are not fully normalized, however, is a constant reminder that there’s still an open entry in the ledger.
Trying to close it by force, of course, has only worsened those unhealed wounds. Jewish political leaders worry that this latest contretemps will open the door for others to stray dangerously close to anti-Semitism; Walser‘s “moral cudgel” phrase of a few years ago, after all, has migrated to others’ mouths. Even when Germans came out on the streets to support Jews this past spring, their signs said, “We love our Jewish co-citizens!” and many Jews asked, “Why not just plain citizens?” or, as Runge phrased it, “Wir sind doch Deutschen!” And many Jews see Mollemann‘s and Walser’s gestures less as clarifying honesty than as crude self-delusions. Some people wonder if support for the Palestinians, and the ever more frequently heard comparison of Israel with the Nazis, isn‘t a way for Germans to deflect guilt over the Holocaust -- if they’re repeating our mistakes, the thought goes, maybe we weren‘t so terrible. “It reminds me,” says Broder, “of the famous comment by an Israeli psychologist: The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.”
As incisive as this is, it also says that Germany has moved beyond traditional anti-Semitism, like the kind that is now popular in the Middle East and still exists in Eastern Europe. Germany has what Benz calls secondary anti-Semitism: “There’s a certain timidity about Jews, a wariness. ‘Do I need to treat them different? I don’t want to feel guilt, or be seen as a Nazi.‘ It exists not despite the Holocaust, but because of the Holocaust. Hovering in the background is always the question: ’How long do we have to pay?‘”
It may be a little while longer. Germany’s normalization process has proceeded credibly and steadily, but it‘s not quite finished. And should Germany reach an “after-after-war period,” it won’t mean an end to all remorse and reflection. This is the real worry with Mollemann, and it was Bubis‘ precise point when he confronted Walser after his Paulskirche speech. Bubis, who was beloved in Germany as the Jewish leader who wanted to set things right again, the one who urged Jews to move to postwar Germany, was also not prepared to forget he had lost his entire family by 1945. Unlike Mollemann, Walser is not an ideological anti-Semite, and for that reason the very public battle with him left Bubis bitter. In his last, most pessimistic interview, Bubis said he “had achieved nothing.” And when he died six months later, German gentiles and German Jews alike were disappointed to learn that Bubis had asked to be buried in Israel.