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  • The New Jewish and German Questions and the Transatlantic Alliance
  • Yossi Shain (bio) and Tanja Flanagan (bio)

In understanding the current state of international affairs, including transatlantic relations, one needs to look at the role the continued existence of the "Jewish question" plays in relations between Germany, Europe, the United States, and Israel. In the larger international debates on civilizational conflict, terrorism, and cultural/religious rifts, the "Jewish question" seemed once again to be on the forefront of international focus and analysis. In the context of inter-European, European-American relations, as well as Europe's anticipated role in international affairs, one must recognize that the "Jewish question" is intrinsically tied to the "German question."

The two questions constantly interact, impose on, and feed each other because of the strong currency of the Holocaust for world affairs. The nuances of this larger context have indeed captured the attention of many commentaries. Yet many overlook the strong ties between the Jewish and German questions and their consequences for a number of issues: the European role in the Middle East; European internal relations with its minorities and, in particular, its Islamic communities; transatlantic relations; the tie between anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism; and, the critical role of diasporas in world affairs, especially in terms of American Jewry as a guardian of and voice for Jewish kinship.

The symbolism and historical memory attached to the reality of the existence of the Jewish community inside Germany today constitutes both a sixth dimension and a common link between the issues. It is our contention that the importance, stature, and meaning assigned to Jewish life in Germany by a variety of international actors has consequences for the conduct of international politics exemplified by the five dimensions mentioned above. [End Page 188]

For all practical purposes the Jewish community in Germany is marginal to international affairs in numbers, political influence, and societal position; yet, through its continued existence in the "land of the perpetrators" alone, it has gained a symbolic worth that allows for its instrumentalization and involvement far beyond its actual relevance. Its symbolic value is not only limited to the German context, but extents to the European realm, relations between the West and the Islamic world, and the transatlantic alliance. Indeed, the Jewish community in Germany is important on a domestic (and, by extension, international) level precisely because of its vulnerability, because it is perceived as an abnormality attempting to normalize its place in German society and, by extension, impacting on Germany's and Europe's role in world affairs, in particular vis-à-vis the United States.


The last few years have thrown into sharp relief the fact that the "Jewish question" is still alive and relevant. Indeed, in many world conflicts and dilemmas, Israel and the Jews have been inserted and have become a focal point of controversy in civilizational issues and discord. The eruption of the "Jewish question" into the international arena is even more dramatic after a decade during which there was a growing sense that Jews had achieved a certain degree of normalization in both Israel and the Diaspora.

In the 1990s, the years of the Oslo peace process and the concomitant Israeli drive for normalization, the premier question among Jews, inside and outside Israel, became the content of Jewish identity. Israeli Jews confronted mainly cleavages over growing trends of fundamentalist Jewish religious identity vs. the universal pressures of globalization. Internal debates over religious values and definitions, the challenges of peace, post-Zionism, relations between the homeland and the Diaspora, and so on, prevailed over traditional questions of security vis-à-vis the world at large. During the Oslo years, many Israelis and Diaspora Jews believed that comprehensive Middle East peace would alter fundamentally both Israel's Jewish character and the relations between the sovereign Jewish state and Jewish communities in the West. Peace would have enabled Israel to achieve a level of normalization that would have loosened the bonds of involvement with and responsibility for the Diaspora, while releasing the Diaspora from burdensome entanglements with Israeli security issues that had overshadowed their lives in their countries of domicile for over a generation. [End Page 189]

Until very recently many observers...


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pp. 188-209
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