Germany’s Involvement in Zochrot (NGO): Raising Awareness of the Injustice Against Palestinians

My name is Robert Dye, I am a 19 year old History and International Relations student at the University of St Andrews. My specific interests in 20th century European history and politics inspired me to write this article on German involvement in Zochrot, an NGO aiming to bring awareness to past and present injustices against Palestinian communities. At school I wasn’t taught about the relationship between Israel and Palestine, so I decided to examine the conflict through the lens of German involvement in this influential NGO. In writing this article I set out to learn more about how the pursuit of social justice can often be made more complex, by political relationships and established norms, but also about how the solution to such difficult problems is rarely black and white.

UK | June 27, 2020 | Student Essay

Germany is a global leader in the provision of development aid, devoting over £10 billion to various causes in 2011 alone, the second highest gross figure worldwide, behind only the United States. This is a country that also has the ambition and resources to maintain this position, with the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)  receiving a budget increase of 13.5% in 2016, following the expansion of Germany’s overall foreign development budget to 0.7% of GDP in 2011 (NGO Monitor). These generous budgets run in parallel to a lack of accountability built into a convoluted group network consisting of interest-driven actors such as church, political and economic groups, that sees the nation dominating the funding of many diverse and sometimes competing NGOs. For example, the German government is obligated by law to provide financial support to church-aid organisations, such as Misereor, the official aid network of the Catholic Church in Germany. Therefore, whilst the German government provides the second most developmental aid globally, its control over where this goes is often limited, benefiting some NGOs and not others.

Zochrot is one of the system’s beneficiaries, an NGO active in the Israel – Palestine conflict, harbouring socially uplifting aspirations that don’t come free of politically controversial baggage. The word ‘Zochrot’ derives from the Hebrew ‘to remember’ and couldn’t be more appropriate given the organisation’s overriding mantra of righting the wrongs of the past and delivering justice to those who have historically faced adversity. Zochrot intends to ‘remember’ in this way by bringing the injustices of the Nakba (Palestinian Exodus), the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948 and the reconceptualisation of the ‘return’ to the forefront of Israeli political discourse (Zochrot). To achieve these ambitions, Zochrot aims to further Israel’s historical and ongoing accountability for the Nakba, eventually painting the return of Palestinian refugees as the only route to redemption (“A Different Kind of Memory”) . In 2015 Misereor’s donations to Zochrot totalled 354,000 New Israeli Shekels (NIS), almost 200,000 NIS more than the second highest donor, the Belgian aid agency, Broederlijk Delen (NGO Monitor). As a result the BMZ provides a crucial amount of funding for this organisation, albeit indirectly.

With the vision of Zochrot appealing to shared virtues such as justice, remembrance and equality, it could be expected that Misereor’s financial support would be free from controversy in Germany – a liberal, western country. However, when the more radical aspects of Zochrot’s vision are set in the context of Germany’s relationship with Israel, it is unsurprising that support of this NGO is problematic. Germany and Israel are often said to enjoy a ‘special relationship’, which unlike other similar bonds, has a meaning deeper than simply shared values, beliefs and connections. Consequently Zochrot’s promotion of the Durban demonization rhetoric, accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing, massacres and expulsion of Palestinians” have caused multiple German donors such as the EVZ foundation to discontinue support (NGO Monitor) . Zochrot’s support of a “One – state solution and de – Zionized Palestine” has meant that Misereor’s support now characterises the last embers of German sympathy towards it. The complexity of this situation poses many questions. Should Germany prioritise its interstate relations with Israel by continuing this dissociation with Zochrot, in order to maintain the current levels of trust and cooperation between these countries? Or should Germany take a different path, given the basic integrity of Zochrot’s vision?

It is arguable that Germany’s own history and experiences are relevant here. Reunified Germany is perhaps the quintessential modern example of how nation states can free themselves from their past, with the creation of the state of Israel a major  contributing factor towards this. There is also much to be said about Israel’s success as a nation state, such as its economic prosperity and sophisticated welfare state, not to mention its role in the resettlement of European Jews. However both Germany and Israel’s success in these respects have come at a high price, which Zochrot has made it its mission to expose, namely the silencing and removal of an entire community. It is important then, that pro – Israeli states recognise the injustice of the Nakba and that the Israeli political elite admit to the current suppression and neglect of Palestinian voices on the issue (The Nakba in Palestinian memory in Israel). This does not mean fostering a ‘dezionized Palestine’ but accountability and justice, through admission of guilt. Therefore by limiting funding of Zochrot, German groups can highlight that they do not share the organisation’s aim of dezionisation, but agree with the idea that Israel should take responsibility for its own failings. Through this medium, this country, just as Germany has done previously, can escape the entrapment of past mistakes.

Germany’s role in this specific NGO, Zochrot, is limited mainly to the Church group Misereor, that dominates the BMZ funding being channeled into this organisation. However it is the withholding of funds from other groups that tells us more about German attitudes towards this NGO. The context of German relations and the radical elements of Zochrot’s mission greatly complicate its relationships with its donors, miring the question of German involvement in political controversy. As a result, the answer to how the German state and donor groups should best approach Zochrot is both unclear and subject to large scale division. Unfortunately Germany’s difficult relationship with Zochrot will continue until it can dissasociate its just social aspirations from its polarising political mantras, something that the organisation seemingly has no desire or ability to do. Consequently Germany’s ambitions to continue to build strong international relationships may have negative side effects for Palestinian communities at much more local levels.

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