“The sun does not shine, it radiates.” About Tel Aviv, Philosemitism and Germany’s Redemption

Each year, towards the Jewish New Year, the Berlin-branch of the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) issues a journal, containing schmancy pictures of Bar Mitzvot, Chanukkah-balls, and the organization’s laudable activities and accomplishments. It is not a journal one is actually supposed to read. One just picks it up, wanders through its pages in lack of a better alternative, and takes notice of WIZO’s existence. One surely does not take it home, or stores it in one’s private bookshelves.

The last issue of WIZO’s New Year journal, however, did find its way into my private bookshelf. It deserves this on account of an article written by a young German journalist, Andrea, who describes her annual pilgrimage to Tel Aviv. I quote her report:

“In Israel everything smells like oranges. Israel is the land of our dreams…nothing in Tel Aviv is just like that. The sun does not shine, it radiates. The sky is not cloudless, it is cobalt-blue. One does not just go jogging in Tel Aviv – one runs as if everything was at stake. Without one single mistake, for hours, Ping-Pong players at Tel Aviv’s beaches beat the ball back and fro, dressed only in tiny little bathing-shorts – in Tel Aviv one is not shy, in Tel Aviv one takes it all: If one wears a bikini, one wears it as short as possible. If one has big breasts, one has huge breasts. If one has long, curly hair, it reaches the butt. If one is beautiful, one is breathtaking. If one has children, one has at least three. And if a woman is going out together with her child, then this is no reason at all for Israel men not to whistle after her…the portions in restaurants are never small, the cocktail glasses are always full, the music is always loud, dancing is always wild. Like a stormy lover Tel Aviv holds me in its beautiful fist, flirts with me, beguiles me, sets its dark eyes upon me, courts me. It is here, where everything is possible.”

On one level, this text is about a German tourist having (or imagining) sex with an Israeli Ping-Pong player in tiny shorts at one of Tel Aviv beaches. It is straightforwardly vulgar, employs sexual imagery, exoticizes the mysterious lover, and screens into his bodily features. This text is, however, more than this. It is part of an entire web of texts, an entire German national discourse, which envisions a merging (here: a sexual merging) between Israel (and specifically: Tel Aviv) and Germany. Andrea on her annual pilgrimage to Tel Aviv represents a “female” Germany, with Israel as her very virile, primitively masculine object of desire. This “female” Germany here has a philosemitic voice, and it is that kind of Germany, which comes as a stark contrast to the “other” Germany: the Germany of anti-Semitism, violence and war, the Germany of the male soldier. In numerous movies, newspaper-articles and autobiographical cover-stories this “female Germany meets male Israeli” is re-enacted: For example, in “Hannas Reise” a German social worker (sic!) travels to Israel as a volunteer of “Aktion Friedensdienste” and meets her Israeli lover, who daunts her with jokes about the holocaust. His embrace ultimately delivers her from shame, guilt and constraint, and in the end, he redeems not only her, but the entire German nation: Following his army-service, he moves to Berlin, in order to open a club together with his other Israeli peers.

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When Andrea’s or Hanna’s Israelis arrive in Berlin, they will with some likelihood attract a journalist’s attention: Every Israeli-run bar, every random Israeli art-project, every weirdo Israeli ecological innovation, gets at least its own funky Zitty-recommendation, if not its own full-fledged cover story. This is not so, because Israeli bars are so extraordinarily good – the Israeli bar is of fundamental importance to Germany, because its Israeli owner is no less than an integral, fundamental part of Germany’s post-war, national salvation history: Unlike any other migrant, the Israeli migrant does not need to be “integrated” – his integration is pre-given; he is part and parcel of our “story” long before his feet touch German soil. In German media, the story of the “Israeli in Berlin” is thus never framed as a story of migration, but as a story of return: Germany is decisively not advocating its capital as a recommendable destination for Mediterranean artists, but as a recommendable destination for Jews, who return to where they belong to in the first place. When an Israeli Jew settles in Berlin, he fills in a void, heals a wound, is re-integrated into our national body; a body, which was previously suffering from its missing limb.

Needless to say, that solely a Jewish Israeli can fulfill the role of “returning limb.” A Muslim or Christian Israeli will, of course, not do. Yet this importance of “Jewishness” places the Israeli in Berlin in an awkward position: Whether he regards his Jewishness an integral or accidental part of his identity absolutely doesn’t matter to us – even if he has never ever seen a synagogue’s inside, even if his entire existence is taking place on the plains of secularism, he will be important to Germany as a Jew.

Such as Germany places imaginary kippot on its Israeli heads, so does Andrea, in her travel-report, place a kippah on Tel Aviv’s head: “It is about time to see Israel without politics, but rather as that, which it really is: a country full of hope, full of possibilities, full of passion, full of joy of living, and full of extremes. Tel Aviv places on top of all of this its crown, or more precisely: its kippah.” Tel Aviv represents what Israel “really is,” and what Israel “really is,” is a Ping-Pong playing man on the beach, who has a kippah on his head. It is entirely irrelevant, that the vast majority of Israelis residing in Tel Aviv and Berlin do not wear kippot – for Andrea, they do. She does not envision Judaism via its traditional, old-style icons, such as praying Chassidic Jews at the Western Wall, or children studying in Lithuanian Yeshivot – to her, Judaism is embodied via a secular Zionist, a man, sun-tanned, playing Ping Pong at the beach.

Andrea’s travel-report is thus not only a soft-porn gone awry. Her report represents one type of German philosemitic discourse, which designs Tel Aviv as the quintessential city of the Jews. Jerusalem was “once upon a time,” it is to be preserved and visited as part of a touristic duty, the way one is duty-bound to look at boring ancient excavations. It is witness, yet the truly Jewish city – “what Israel really is” – is Tel Aviv. It is not a city, which is simply different from Jerusalem, but Jerusalem’s legitimate, modern and Jewish heir: it has a kippah on its head – a kippah it did not necessarily place on its head by itself, but by Andrea and German conscience: We travel to Tel Aviv, not to Antwerp or Boston; our entire “special relations” are, in fact, special relations we cultivate with Tel Aviv. When epitomizing the Berlin-Tel Aviv axis as a GermanJewish axis, we thus finally manage to incorporate, to embed and to absorb “that, what Israel really is” into our own national identity and history. We have finally found our own Jew, who is a docile member of us, but whose body, sensuality and undisciplined thirst also testify to his truly Jewish “oriental roots” in the Mediterranean – remember, he hassles even “single women with children.” His kippah is nothing but a metaphor that validates us, and our truth.

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