I must admit I was quite shocked at Berlusconi's vulgar and ugly behavior (even if he could very well be the only friend we have among Western European leaders, whatever Tony Blair says). But Nelson Ascher seems to have been less embarrassed by it. He seems to have been especially incensed by what he refers to as the hypocritical reaction.
...people, or rather, peoples whose mothers were still working in the Red Light District shouldn't be too quick to call other people names. Thus, nothing would be lost were the Germans to shut up for some more time, say, until the first centenary of their defeat in 2045. They could open their mouths, however, to say once in a while "We're sorry", and then to sink back again into the deepest of silences.
I know this was a very rude thing for Nelson to say. But when you think about it, it is far ruder for them to call us Nazis, all things considered, isn't it? Or maybe rude isn't the right word for it.
One day, when I was about eighteen, I was going up the steps that lead from Haifa's "Carmelit" underground station in the Central Carmel up to street level, when I saw a pair of strange looking sandals coming down the steps towards me. I now know that these were Birkenstocks. I have since been the owner of many a pair of the Israeli version of this unsightly but extremely comfortable style of footwear. But at the time I vaguely thought to myself "Must be German" and looked up to see what the rest of the owner of the whitish toes enclosed in the aforementioned sandals looked like. He looked German. Nice, though. I can't remember if he sported a goatee. Did they have goatees back then in the early eighties? Or am I wondering this because if this had happened today he definitely would have been the goatee type? Anyway he smiled, I smiled and we passed each other and continued on our separate ways. Me up, him down. Then I did something I still find hard to believe, as I was far more bashful in those days. I sat down on the bench just at the top of the steps and waited. And lo and behold, two minutes later, he came back up.
We sat and talked. He was nice. He was a pacifist. He had come to Israel as part of his national service, instead of going into the army. He was part of a project aimed at making peace between Jews and Arabs. He had been staying in an Arab village. In the Galilee I think it was. Now he was in Haifa. I don't recall why.
Something grated. I appreciated the sentiment behind his actions. I admired his wish to maybe do something to make amends. But something about it seemed wrong. I felt patronized. A German comes here with the presumption to make peace between Jews and Arabs. A German?
I felt guilty that this was going through my head. He really was nice. He believed in what he was doing. He was a good guy.
I didn't share any of this with him and we sat and chatted for quite a while. We even spoke on the phone later. But I knew I couldn't take it any further. There was too much invisible tension in the air between us. Maybe he didn't see it, or maybe he chose to ignore it, or overcome it, as part of his quest. But I could see it, wouldn't ignore it, and didn't want to overcome it.
And maybe it's just as well, because my parents probably would have killed me.