Barack Obama was in Berlin this week, and he was a different Barack Obama than the one who visited the German capital as a candidate in 2008. He was in a different Berlin, too. The welcome was warm, but the crowds were smaller and the adoration -- and that's exactly what it was -- has dissolved. The thrill is definitely gone.
Germany has clearly transformed itself. American Jews in particular appreciate the transformation of the dregs of the Third Reich into the redeemed engine of Europe. More than any other country that once constituted the Axis, Germany has tried to make amends for the Holocaust. They have paid reparations. Five and a half acres of the heart of Berlin is a memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. A stroller in the city observes small bronze plaques at her feet, frequently imbedded in the sidewalk, inscribed with names of Jewish families who lived there before they were taken out of their homes and sent to death in concentration camps. Germany has welcomed with generous welfare benefits thousands of Jewish families from Russia who couldn't practice their religion there, and now they can in Germany.
The Germans have understood the lessons of history and their role in making that history. Germany has become a "special friend" of Israel and has cultivated that steadfast alliance when it wasn't always easy to do as a member of the European Union. But now that seems about to change. This probably isn't part of the conversations Mr. Obama will have with Angela Merkel (but should have been).
Capitulating to pressure, especially from the left-wing and anti-Zionist Green Party, Germany has joined 13 other EU members to put labels on products made in Jewish-owned factories on the West Bank, or in what Israelis call Judea and Samaria. This sends a chill and a shudder along the spines of those who know the history of Kristallnacht, "the night of the broken glass," when Nazi thugs broke the windows of Jewish merchants across Germany, singling out shops with windows splashed with the word "Juden," or painted with the slogan "Kauft nicht bei Juden!" Don't Buy from Jews!
"Whatever one may think of the peace process and the two-state solution," observes Michael Freund in the New York Sun, "it should be obvious that treating merchandise differently simply because the person who owns the factory where it was made is a follower of Moses rather than Muhammad is an act of pure bigotry."
Such pure bigotry not only hurts Jews, though that is its aim, but will hurt Palestinians too -- the same people the self-righteous Europeans say they want to help by labeling targets for boycott. More than 23,000 Palestinians work in Judea and Samaria. Almost half of these workers are between the ages of 18 and 29, and their average daily pay is 88 percent higher than what they would be paid in Palestinian-controlled areas. These Palestinians who work for Jews have health benefits and pensions, which are not easily obtained in Palestinian factories and shops.
They can work in Judea and Samaria because they can be employed at 17, unlike the Palestinians who, for security reasons, must be at least 26. These fine points are lost on the liberal Europeans who feel oh-so-good about themselves when they can read a label and look for a Jew to target for "occupying" what they consider to be Palestinian territory. Jimmy Carter, the former president, knows better but pretends to be acting nobly as a defender of the labels.
"This is not an anti-Israel move," he insists, but merely a suggestion in behalf of a two-state solution.
Israel rightly identifies the labeling of Jews as the result of a double standard. Similar labels have not been imposed against others in other territories in dispute. The EU counters that they're not aiming for a boycott, only to offer a "service to the consumer."
That's what someone else said about splashing "Juden" on a Berlin storefront on a cold November night in 1938.
The Europeans don't post a similar "service to the consumer" on Spanish items from Catalonia or Russian goods from Chechnya, where the land is under dispute. The Jerusalem Post identifies other exceptions: No labels on products from northern Cyprus, Gibraltar, the Falklands, Western Sahara, Tibet, Kashmir, Armenian-held regions of Azerbaijan and Kosovo.
"If the only country you want to single out is Israel, that's anti-Semitism," says Abraham Foxman of the anti-Defamation League.
By adding her support to the labeling of Jews, Angela Merkel hurt her's and Germany's special relationship with Israel and casts a dark and ominous shadow over the good works of Germans since the end of World War II.
As they say in Yiddish, it's a shandeh, a shame.