An interview with journalist and author Eldad Beck
In the era of fake news there still exist journalists principled enough to confront preconceived notions and adjust them to reality. One such journalist is Eldad Beck, the Israeli reporter who made the journey from Oslo supporter to Oslo critic and from Yediot Acharonot to Yisrael Hayom.
Beck has reported on Middle East affairs from both Arab and European countries for various Israeli media outlets and has received the “Ambassadors on the Net” award for his contribution as a journalist to combat anti-Semitism and strengthen Israel’s image.
Based in Berlin since 2002, Beck writes about the State of Israel and the state of world Jewry, specifically within Germany. The author of three books, Beck’s writing reflects his quest for the truth and his penchant for promoting reality rather than an agenda. Hamodia spoke with Beck while he was on a lecture tour in America, fittingly, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Please describe for readers your upbringing in Israel and your background in journalism.
I was born in Haifa. From my mother’s side I am the fifth generation in Eretz Yisrael. My father’s family is from Austria and was largely annihilated by the Nazis. I learned Arabic and Islamic studies in high school and afterward in Paris at the Sorbonne.
I have been a journalist for many years. I started at Galei Tzahal as Middle Eastern affairs correspondent. I then worked as a correspondent for different media outlets in Arabic countries, and in the 1990s I covered the Oslo process from Israel. I then moved to France, and afterwards to Austria, where I worked for an Austrian governmental organization in the field of international cooperation, mainly in Africa, but also in the Palestinian Autonomy areas. In 2002, I moved to Germany as a Yediot Acharonot correspondent, and two years ago I started writing for Yisrael Hayom.
I also wrote three books in the last 10 years. The third book, published two years ago, was The Chancellor: Merkel, Israel and the Jews. This is a political biography of Angela Merkel and her special connection with the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
How do the different environments you report from affect your writing as an Israeli Jew?
This is a very interesting question, because when you are born and grow up in Israel, I don’t think that you can understand what anti-Semitism is. Even though it is taught in school, it’s not something you experience personally — unless you’re a religious Jew in Israel. You might eventually intellectualize it, but as long as you haven’t experienced anti-Semitism yourself, you don’t really know what it is.
Having lived now most of my life in Europe as an Israeli, I was exposed to hatred of Jews, which is nowadays very often translated into hatred of Israelis. That has been a very important shaping experience for me. When you live in Israel, it’s very easy to wrongly judge the world’s views about Jews and Israel. You start looking for logical explanations for anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel. Very often, you can fall into the trap of saying it must be our fault.
But once you’re confronted with the illogical sickness of anti-Semitism, you understand how deeply disturbing, destructive and illogical it is. I used to be extremely critical of certain things regarding Israel and the Jewish religion, but my experiences abroad taught me how wrong I was.
Yediot Acharonot is considered left of center. When you were a journalist there, how would you rank your writing ideologically, and did your views ever conflict with theirs?
I’ll put it this way — the political events and developments in the Middle East in the last 20 years made me understand that many ideas that I believed in were not really connected to reality. I say very bluntly that I supported the Oslo agreement and I was hoping there would be a two-state solution so the Palestinians would live next to us in peace and security.
However, I had the opportunity to confront realities through my work with the Arabs, starting with my experience working in Austria and then in the Palestinian territories before the Second Intifada. Most of the people I came in contact with were unaware that I was Israeli and that I spoke Arabic. I recognized the huge difference between what Arabs tell you when they want you to hear certain things and what they say among themselves.
For the first time I was totally exposed to what was really happening on the Palestinian side, and not to what they want you to see or report or hear. Also, the Arabs welcomed the Austrians as great heroes for what they did to the Jews, and Arabs feel much more comfortable telling them what they really feel about Israel and the Jews. All this, the Second Intifada and the different wars over the last 20 years, affected me.
Now that you write for Yisrael Hayom, do you feel more empowered to write about your true sentiments?
I definitely have much more liberty to express views that are not welcome in certain journalistic circles in Israel. But the moment you express certain ideas, the moment you don’t belong anymore to the left, they don’t even consider you to be a journalist. In their eyes I lost my mind. They think I am brainwashed by Bibi and Sara Netanyahu.
Even though polls show that the Israeli public has moved to the right, your assessment points to the media being entrenched in the left. Why is that?
I think that the media in Israel has lost its senses. It has forgotten what its function is and has become a political actor. This is the reason why the political discussion in Israel has absolutely nothing to with left or right or with peace or war. These ideas have become a non-issue. Instead, there’s this focus on creating a public campaign against Netanyahu, the Likud and the right wing. The media paints them as all corrupt criminals. Even before anything has been proven, they want them sent to the guillotine.
Would you agree that is because they’ve lost the war of public opinion and need to latch onto something else?
Yes. They have lost the ideological war, but they are not capable of standing up and admitting they are wrong. The leftist ideology doesn’t exist in the global political discussion. But certain elements of the Israeli leftist media, academia, and arts and culture have become so blind to reality that each time they are proven wrong they become more radical in attacking Israel and defending the Palestinians. This radicalization process has nothing to do with logic. I would even think it’s some sort of a mental sickness.
Also, the socialist parties in Israel were convinced that they created the State of Israel. While I can’t minimize their contributions to the State’s establishment, they were not alone and they have done some horrible things in order to cast aside their political rivals. In 1977, when the Likud came to power, those socialists lost their power and haven’t managed to reclaim it since.
They tried to mobilize external forces in order to influence Israeli politics, like they did with the Obama administration and the EU. But when they realized that outside help didn’t influence Israelis, certain margins of the Israeli left set out to destroy the country. These are the Israelis supporting BDS, Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, etc. These organizations, which took over the socialist camp in Israel, have nothing to do with legitimate criticism of Israeli policies, but are dedicated to destroying the name of Israel.
Do you consider yourself to be an ideological repentant?
That might be the right term, because I grew up in a right-wing family. I do not regret having supported the possibility to change the reality. However, I now realize that reality is much stronger than our dreams and illusions.
Please tell me about your life in Berlin as an Israeli Jew.
Germany is not a place where I can feel at home. It’s been a challenge to live in Berlin. But to a certain extent I feel like I’m on a mission. Since I’m not being paid by the Germans to say what they want us to hear, I can describe the situation in Germany more truthfully. The Germans have been trying to convince the Israelis that they are our best friends in Europe. My descriptions of German complexities has opened the eyes of Israelis to understand that this is not the case.
My book, Germany at Odds, was terribly criticized by many Germans and German-funded organizations. They said it was painting Germany in black. But a short time afterward, some critics were obliged to admit that I foresaw things that they didn’t want to see.
Are Jews leaving Germany in the same manner that Jews are leaving other European countries, like France and England?
No, not yet. It’s different. First of all, it’s a smaller community than those in the U.K. or France. Officially there are 100,000 Jews in Germany, to which we should add another 100,000-150,000 who are not registered or not halachically Jewish. Most of the ex-Soviet Union Jews who moved to Germany are 45 and older. They receive government aid and, having moved once in their lives, won’t move again.
The situation in Germany is also not as acute and dramatic yet. It’s becoming worse, but I think that Germany still feels more obliged to assure security for German Jews. They need it for their image.
Do you see younger Germans resenting collective guilt, and do you think there will come a time when they feel they have outlived their past?
There’s definitely a huge majority of young Germans who don’t want to deal with the past. But there are young Germans who are very much committed to preserving the memory of the past and keeping history in the German conscience. They are not the majority, but they can’t be ignored.
I think Chancellor Merkel had a very important role in halting German amnesia. Those before her might have said the right things but didn’t really feel it. Merkel understands that if the Germans don’t take responsibility for the past, they will not have any future.
Merkel was asked about anti-Semitism in Germany in a recent interview in Israel and said, “We are doing everything in our power to fight these acts … Nazism and the Holocaust … are part of our history and therefore we are committed to preserving its memory in order to prevent the recurrence of such terrible things in the future.” While Merkel seems to exhibit true sympathy for the Jewish people, Germany’s anti-Israel policies hurt the Jews, as they continue to support the Iran deal, finance the terrorist-inciting PA, and fund BDS organizations. How do you explain this dichotomy?
First of all, you must understand that Germany is not Merkel. We have this tendency to believe that leaders, especially if they’re viewed as strong, control everything. This is not the case. Very often, we have to deal with the traditional hostility of the German people.
In most of Merkel’s governments, she had Social Democrats as partners, some of whom were very problematic regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Foreign Ministry and the Ministry for International Cooperation are responsible for giving money to anti-Israel organizations. The Foreign Ministry has mainly been in the Social Democrats’ hands. And the Ministry for International Cooperation, even when they were right-wing ministers, comprised an ideological block of the German left, which imposed policies separate from Merkel’s.
I would add to that Israel’s responsibility and blame. The Israeli government, Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Embassy knew exactly what was happening regarding German anti-Israel activities but didn’t say anything. They should have protested, but they didn’t.
Why do you think they did not protest?
Because Israel has this idea that Germany is our best friend, that they give us things. This is false. They gave Israel two submarines in the beginning of the 1990s because they felt guilty for supplying Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons. Afterward, Israel bought submarines from them at reduced cost, which actually assisted the German submarine industry.
But Israel is afraid to confront the Germans for fear they’d stop supporting us. This is very typical of the passivity of too many Israeli governments in the last 25 years.
This situation has changed a bit since Netanyahu and Merkel met in October this past year in Yerushalayim. For the first time, Netanyahu told the Germans that Israel is unhappy. But instead of concluding that friends of Israel should not support anti-Israel activities, the Germans blamed Israeli protests against the Jewish Museum of Berlin. And they said those protests were an unthinkable intervention in German internal affairs.
It’s absurd. The Germans have been heavily financing [anti-Israel] organizations within Israel for years — academics, politicians, journalists and artists — in order to influence political views in Israel. And now they are upset that Israelis have criticized the Jewish Museum.
Who funds this museum and what kind of agenda do they push?
It’s funded by the federal government and the city of Berlin. They decide who heads it and what to exhibit. It’s a museum on the Jewish history of Berlin, but in the last 10 years this museum has been initiating BDS and anti-Israel activities. Is this the role of a Jewish museum?
What role does the Holocaust play in the museum?
There are some elements about the Holocaust, but they very clearly don’t want to be a Holocaust museum. Last year they ran an expensive exhibit called “Welcome to Jerusalem.” It actually limited the Jewish character of Yerushalayim, insisted on the Christian and Muslim history, mainly presented the Palestinian narrative, and displayed Israeli aggression toward the Palestinians. There was almost nothing on Palestinian violence. Germans are using the label of a Jewish museum in order to spread anti-Israel propaganda.
What influence do you think the Muslim refugees have on German anti-Semitism?
Muslim anti-Semitism existed in Germany before these refugees came. Ever since Erdogan came to power, there has been a radicalization process among Turks living in Germany. Erdogan did something very clever — he reconnected with Turkish exiles all over the world and enabled them to participate in voting. He actually came to Germany and Austria and told Turks to speak German but send their children to Turkish schools and remember their roots. He essentially made them Turkish again and stopped a possible integration of Turks in Germany. This is not only a political radicalization but a religious radicalization too, because Erdogan belongs to the anti-Semitic Muslim Brotherhood.
I would go even further and say that Muslim anti-Semitism actually proves that they integrated into German society. Had they really felt constrained from expressing anti-Semitism, they wouldn’t have. But they feel very comfortable doing so. And the wave of Muslim immigrants since 2015 made it worse.
Is there an equal amount of anti-Semitism in Germany from the right and from the left, or does one side dominate?
I think the most acute physical danger comes from the Muslim immigrants. Most of the physical attacks against Jews very clearly come from them. I also think that the right wing in Germany is too busy with the Muslims to be bothered with the Jews, but it doesn’t mean that we should neglect the problem.
However, I do not think that we should be hysterical about the new German patriotism. I think Germans have the right to be patriotic, and German patriotism doesn’t necessarily have to end in a new national socialism. Germans are justified in feeling unwelcome in their own home from immigrants trying to dictate traditions that have nothing to do with Germany.
Does the rise of nationalism in Germany and other European countries pose a threat to European Jewish communities and Israel?
Risks exist, but not all nationalism is a threat. I think that many nationalists in European countries look at Israel as an example of a country that is safeguarding its national and religious identity. I don’t know if we should put them all in the “neo-Nazi club” and say they’re all fascists, racists and anti-Semites who we don’t want to deal with.
I don’t know if Israel should act in the spirit of the European ghetto of the past. We are a strong state of our own and we have our own interests — and our own interests include finding allies. I’m not necessarily saying that everyone will come to like us, but we have to look for allies everywhere. Obviously we must have our red lines. Certain things are not to be accepted, like dealing with openly anti-Semitic parties. But we have to deal with parties that are trying to get rid of their own anti-Semitism.
In Germany I had a problem with members of the AfD, Alternative for Germany party. There was a debate about prohibiting shechitah and milah, and the former leader of the party came to me and said, “I have a problem. I want to stand up against this ban but I don’t have enough counterarguments. I’m not Jewish, I don’t know what to say, but every time I try to get in touch with the Jewish community they say they won’t speak with me.” So aren’t we losing an opportunity? It doesn’t have to be hugs and kisses. But by automatically labeling German, Austrian, Italian, and Hungarian or Polish nationalists as Nazis — what are we doing to ourselves?
Do you think that by aligning themselves only with the left, Jews are pushing themselves into a corner with a side that might pose an even greater threat?
Absolutely. The center is disappearing, and the left side is gaining. You see it very clearly in the U.K., France, Spain, Portugal and Scandinavia. It’s everywhere. And it’s not only Corbyn. We really don’t have to even personalize this with Corbyn, because there is so much happening all over the U.K.
Yet we still have a mental problem with standing up and saying the left is anti-Semitic, because there are too many leftists controlling our opinion. The left supported Chavez and look at what is happening now with Venezuela.
You spoke of Israel cultivating allies. How do you regard European involvement in a Middle East peace process?
The Europeans are the worst enemies for peace in the Middle East nowadays. They support every radical Arab and Palestinian claim again and again, and so postpone the achievement of any possible peace. They have violated the Oslo Accords which they are supposedly defending.
Look at UNWRA. Who jumped into filling the gap the Americans left? The Europeans. As long as UNRWA lives, the whole idea of the [Palestinian] right of return exists. It’s the only case ever that you have genetic refugees. But who is the biggest supporter of it? The Europeans. Who is the biggest supporter of the PA despite their incitement to riot? The Europeans.
Are you hopeful that whoever comes to power in the next Israeli government will be strong enough to stand up to the Europeans?
I hope so. I think the current government finally started to address this problematic issue of unbelievable European intervention in Israeli internal affairs. And I do hope that the coming government will not break this policy.
The Europeans are incredibly invested in funding so many leftist civil rights organizations in Israel — opposition organizations, academia, artists, filmmakers, journalists. So many Israelis, and even some of the Israeli press, live off of European money. The Europeans give abundantly. But the moment you start criticizing the EU or Germany or France, you are off their list. This is just one example of how deeply involved the Europeans are in shaping the reality in Israel.
On a personal note, what do you hope to achieve through your writings and what message would you want to convey?
I think that on this special day that we are meeting, on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I have two messages. First of all, with the waning generation of Holocaust survivors, we have a tremendous responsibility to keep and deliver their historical memory. We cannot let it fade away. It is not in the tradition of our people. It is the task of our generation; betraying that would be a crime.
Also, seeing anti-Semitism growing all over the world again, I cannot speak enough about having our own strong and prosperous state that enables each and every one of us to live outside of Israel in relative security, knowing that if things really go wrong, we will have a place to go to. My Austrian family was murdered because the only place they could be sent to was the gas chambers at Sobibor. We have to do everything in our power [B’ezras Hashem] to strengthen the State of Israel and make sure it becomes more prosperous and more secure.