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German Ambassador to Israel Steffen Seibert. Does the open approach of Seibert mark a new era of friendship between Germany and Israel, or do his kind words belie a “business as usual” approach? (Photo: Re: Publica via Wikimedia Commons)

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(JNS) It’s hard for an Israeli not to be charmed by Germany’s new Ambassador to Israel Steffen Seibert. In a Twitter post announcing his appointment, the telegenic 62-year-old opened up about his excitement at his new position in a Hebrew he’s picking up at ulpan (Hebrew-language school). He comes across as open, accessible, sincere and confident.

“Shalom, I greet you from the bottom of my heart from the German embassy in Tel Aviv,” he said via video on July 11, showing the ease in front of the camera that comes from two decades as a television journalist. “I’ve only been here for several days, and I already feel it will be a great pleasure and honor to work on behalf of the special friendship between Germany and Israel.”

Since commandeering the @GerAmbTLV Twitter handle from his predecessor, Susanne Wasum-Rainer, the German embassy’s Twitter account has become a multilingual celebration of the surprising Israeli-German friendship that has developed since Israel and Germany established diplomatic relations in 1965.

“Fun word I learnt today,” Seibert tweeted on Aug. 11. “Press conference in Hebrew is mesiba itonayim = press party. Doesn’t always feel like one. (But I enjoyed today’s).”

At that “press party,” he engaged a range of Israeli reporters with the finesse of a man who has fielded questions from the media for decades. Seibert is Germany’s longest-serving spokesperson, having served former Chancellor and head of the Christian Democrats Angela Merkel from 2010-2021.

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With Merkel’s departure in 2021 and the formation of a new government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats in December of last year, Seibert is now transitioning to foreign service and he makes it look easy. Indeed, with calm and balance, he offered the same defense of Merkel’s positions—still valid under Scholz, who had been Merkel’s Vice Chancellor—that he might have offered plucky Israeli reporters during the Merkel era.

These include his statements on Germany’s domestic anti-Semitism problem (Germany is dedicated to fighting it); Germany’s support for the “two-state solution” (the conflict must be resolved through negotiations); and the Iran nuclear deal (currently the best way to keep Iran from a nuclear bomb).

“When we criticize each other, we do it as friends, and we will always listen attentively to what Israel may have to say about our policies,” Seibert told reporters. After addressing some hot-button issues, he said, “I already felt the Israeli way is to be direct and open, and I appreciate that a lot and I will try to be like that also.”

This accessibility is unique for a German ambassador to Israel. By contrast, his predecessor’s Twitter feed is boring and impersonal, punctuated by statements of support for the “two-state solution” and criticism of Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem.

It was his successor, Steffen Hebestreit, who had to handle the Berlin press conference with Mahmoud Abbas that was certainly no party and more like a horror show. But Seibert was on it right away on Twitter, condemning Abbas for saying that Israel committed “50 Holocausts.”

“What President #Abbas said in Berlin about ’50 holocausts’ is wrong and unacceptable,” he tweeted. “Germany will never stand for any attempt to deny the singular dimension of the crimes of the Holocaust.”

Seibert fired another shot in his “Operation Charm Israel” when he asked his audience to recommend places in Israel to visit so that he could “get to know the country—the entire country, not just political places.”

“Maybe you can help me?” he said in solid Hebrew. “Send me warm recommendations of places I should see—those that don’t appear in guidebooks.”

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‘I will not meet with people who condone violence’

But among the first Israelis Seibert met in his official capacity were the heads of the far-left NGO Physicians for Human Rights in Israel. Posing with them, he wrote: “Germany is proud to support your project on mental #healthcare in the [Israeli flag] prison system.”

The NGO’s Twitter account dubbed Israel’s brief “Operation Breaking Dawn” against Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) earlier this month “another lethal, disproportionate attack against a besieged population.” This radical position attacking Israel’s defensive measures seems to contradict Seibert’s support for Israel during the skirmish, when he tweeted: “Germany strongly condemns the PIJ’s attacks and calls for them to stop. Israel, like any other state, has the right to self-defense.”

The watchdog group NGO Monitor has described Physicians for Human Rights in Israel as an essentially anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian NGO masquerading as a human rights organization concerned with medical access for all. Germany is one of its primary international donors.

Germany and the European Union’s funding and apparent friendship with NGOs deemed hostile to Israel at best or terror-supporting at worst has been a sore point in the relationship between Germany and Israel. Germany has also come under fire for voting against Israel at the United Nations. In July, Germany was among nine European countries that rejected Israel’s designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations.

An “anti-Occupation” demonstration at the Qalandia checkpint in East Jerusalem, involving Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. After PHR-I gave a first aid course to protesters of a security fence in the West Bank village Bil’in, Yoram Blachar the president of the World Medical Association (WMA) and the Israel Medical Association (IMA) told Haaretz that PHR-I “are a radical political group disguised as a medical organization.” (Caption and Photo: Wikipedia)

The reporters at the “press party” didn’t seem to be bothered by Seibert’s engagement with a far-left NGO, but a reporter for the conservative Makor Rishon asked if he’d meet with “settlers” and the Yesha Council (the umbrella organization representing Jews who live in Judea and Samaria).

“I will try to meet with every element of Israeli society,” he said. “I will not meet with people who condone violence, and I will not meet with people who condone racism. But other than that, I’m very happy to meet … because I think it’s my job to know what sectors of society think, what their views are, what they propose for the future of Israel and report it back to my cabinet. Yes, it is something I want to do.”

Was his meeting with Physicians for Human Rights in Israel just an example of his openness to all elements of Israeli society, including the radical left? A request for comment from the Germany embassy has gone unanswered.

On Aug. 1, Seibert warmly welcomed his new Israeli counterpart in Germany, Ron Prosor, who launched his own introductory video in German, already showing a sharp contrast to his predecessor Jeremy Isaacharoff, who was criticized for not speaking German.

Seibert congratulated Prosor and thanked him for sharing “tips” at a café. Prosor is a veteran diplomat, having represented Israel at the United Nations and as Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. Apparently, the two men have yet to discuss Germany’s flirtation with and funding of NGOs hostile to Israel.

With the arrival of these two fresh-eyed, enthusiastic diplomats, Israeli-German diplomatic relations could be poised for a renewal, especially as Germany may become more reliant on Israeli defense weaponry and natural gas in the face of Russian aggression. Time will tell how Seibert will match words and deeds. Nitra’eh. We will see.

Orit Arfa is an author and journalist based in Berlin. She holds a BA and MA in Jewish studies. Check out her work at www.oritarfa.net.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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