Germany’s political establishment strongly supports Israel’s war in Gaza, sending messages of “solidarity” as well as weapons. Nicole Gohlke, an MP for left-wing party Die Linke, writes for Jacobin on why Germany should instead be calling for a cease-fire.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz (L) and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Tel Aviv on October 17, 2023. (Maya Alleruzzo / Pool /AFP via Getty Images)

We are currently witnessing the bloodiest war in Israel-Palestine in decades. At least 1,200 people, mainly Israeli citizens, were killed by Hamas on October 7, 2023, and at least 30,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli army since. Yet most of my colleagues in the German parliament, the Bundestag, seem capable of expressing empathy and solidarity for only one side.

The Palestinian people’s suffering appears to be of no interest to the political establishment in Germany. There are hardly any words of sympathy, no memorial events for the thousands of children and young people murdered in Gaza, and certainly no call for the Israeli government to end the war. Nor is there any reconsideration of Germany’s political support for the Netanyahu government — a support expressed not only in the language of “unconditional solidarity,” but also with deliveries of weapons and ammunition.

The “values-driven foreign policy” the German Foreign Ministry has talked so much about in recent years is nowhere to seen. The current situation represents a declaration of German politics’ moral bankruptcy — and exposes its double standards.

A Premeditated Humanitarian Disaster

The numbers alone illustrate the agony suffered by the people of Gaza: 30,000 have already lost their lives, more than 70,000 are injured, many of them seriously, and more than 8,000 are still missing under the rubble. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that many of them have survived. At least 85 percent of the people have been displaced, and almost the entire population of the Gaza Strip is suffering from hunger.

Now, the Israeli army is attacking the city of Rafah — the last part of the Gaza Strip that Israel itself had designated as a “safe area” and to which tens of thousands have fled. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who rightly described the maneuver as a “premeditated humanitarian catastrophe,” also knows that the planned invasion of Rafah will exacerbate the suffering.

So far, this statement by the foreign minister is the harshest criticism of Israel’s war conduct the German government has managed to utter. The majority of the governing coalition, consisting of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens, and Free Democrats (FDP), along with the conservative opposition, defends Israel’s actions in Gaza to the hilt. The constantly rising number of victims on the Palestinian side seems to mean nothing to them.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz explained: “Israel is a democratic state guided by very humanitarian principles and so we can be certain that the Israeli army will respect the rules that arise from international law in everything it does. I have no doubt about that.” One cannot help but wonder whether the chancellor simply does not want to see reality — after all, the violations of international law in the Gaza Strip are well-documented. Anyone who wants to inform themselves about the calls for murder, violence, and occupation emerging from the ranks of the Israeli government and parliament can do so.

Even more absurd are the words of Christian Democrat opposition leader, Friedrich Merz, who told the media that, “In my opinion, the Israeli government and the Israeli army are doing everything they can to protect the civilian population there.” His words came at a time when the war in Gaza was already being described as the conflict with the most children killed in years, the highest proportion of displaced persons, and the most journalists killed in decades.

Not only are these statements from Germany’s leading government and opposition politicians easily refuted by the images and figures coming from Gaza — they are also wildly out of touch with reality, as many of their colleagues in governments and parties in other countries have long since begun to correct their course. For instance, Pedro Sánchez, the center-left Spanish prime minister, boosted humanitarian aid to Gaza. A halt to arms exports to Israel is being discussed or has already been implemented in a number of countries. In Latin America, Brazilian president Lula da Silva recalled his ambassador to Israel in protest at the ongoing destruction in Gaza.

No Weapons in War Zones

During the 2021 German parliamentary campaign, the Social Democrats’ election manifesto called for a “restrictive arms export policy,” while the Greens put forward the slogan “no weapons and armaments in war zones.” Yet last year alone, German arms exports to Israel rose from €32 million to €303 million — an almost tenfold increase. In January 2024, the German government announced that it was considering the delivery of 10,000 rounds of 120-millimeter tank ammunition to Israel — ammunition being used to destroy homes and kill people in the Gaza Strip as we speak.

It is not enough for the foreign minister to suggest that current Israeli policy violates human rights — such words must have consequences.

In light of all this, I asked the German federal government, and specifically its foreign minister, what consequences, if any, it has drawn from the Israeli attack on Rafah — a move that it has itself warned against. I asked what specific measures it is taking to prevent this catastrophe and whether it is considering changing Germany’s arms export policy.

Unfortunately, the reply came as expected: there are no plans to change course on arms exports. The Foreign Ministry’s response suggests that the German government will not take a stronger stand in favor of protecting Gaza’s civilian population, contenting itself with its contribution to humanitarian aid.

Speaking up for Humanity

The worst terrorist attack on Jews since the Holocaust on October 7, 2023, the murder of more than 1,200 mainly Israeli citizens by Hamas, the hostage taking of many hundreds of people, including many children — all this must give us pause. It must also serve as a warning to the Left in Germany in particular, as we have a special responsibility, as a consequence of our history, to protect Jewish lives and take decisive action against antisemitism.

Nevertheless, that cannot mean remaining silent or looking the other way in the face of a brutal war against civilians — or even giving carte blanche to the right-wing Israeli government responsible for this. The actions of the Israeli armed forces have long surpassed any legitimate defense, and only serve the purpose of revenge and collective punishment. According to surveys, a majority in Germany also agrees with that assessment. As one of Israel’s closest allies, Germany’s responsibility must be to influence its government to stop this senseless killing.

The failure of German foreign policy in the Middle East is obvious, and the abandonment of the principles the country claims to adhere to in its foreign policy cannot be denied. Left-wing forces and parties must not repeat the mistakes made by the governing parties and the conservatives. For democratic socialists, human rights must always come first. Our opposition to arms deliveries in war zones must be nonnegotiable. The sometimes seemingly utopian ideas of diplomacy, peace, and justice must always remain guiding principles of our foreign policy.

Together with the twenty Social Democratic MPs who also favor a cease-fire, Die Linke should be the voice, in German politics, of all those who are suffering from this war and who long for security and peace.

We owe it not only to those suffering in Gaza to remain steadfast in this stance, but also to the Israeli peace activists, who have been taking to the streets for weeks in the face of severe repression, calling on Germany to show courage for peace. In the words of Maoz Inon, whose parents were killed by Hamas on October 7: “Don’t send us weapons, send us medical support. Don’t support the war, support peace.”

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