Reading Mirrors: Reception of the Israeli Wall in the German Media, 2003-2004

in German Politics and Society
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In what way does national history shape the interpretation of international events in that country's media? Germany has always had a particularly sensitive and complex relationship with Israel. The Holocaust left such a scar on German identity that the country cannot consider Israel without confronting its own history. In Israel, Germany sees a “reflection“ of its own historical and symbolic space. In this article, I draw together a close reading of major German newspapers with more interdisciplinary theoretical perspectives in order to illuminate the mechanism of what I call “mirror reading,“ and especially to reveal its workings during what I consider a key shift in the discourse on German identity. The German print media, which I treat as the activating agent in German narration of national identity, plays a central role in this reflection by projecting national symbols onto Israel. In particular, I identify the initial reception of the Israeli wall (2003-2004) as a turning point in the debate on German self-understanding after the Holocaust. I establish that there are two extremes in a continuum of how German national history can frame the Israeli wall, one making Germany an active agent and the other a passive one. Employing national symbols in the media distorts the domestic perception of foreign events. My study casts a first light on this little understood—but nonetheless crucial—phenomenon.

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