A have a copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. It’s a history book detailing life in 14th century Europe. I have owned this book longer than any other and it’s dog-eared and worn. This book has seen 30 years of traveling and half the cover has fallen off but I find I refer to it over and over again. Reading this book wasn’t just an eye-opener on life on the 14th century but my first experience with the idea the more things change; the more they stay the same.
One of the more striking (well in my mind anyways) stories from the book I encountered was reading the response of the good volk of the Rhineland when faced with the Black Death. They perceived it as G-d’s judgment and punishment for allowing the Jews to live unmolested among them. So all across the Rhineland the Jews were rounded up and forced in their synagogues, the windows and doors were nailed shut and the buildings set a fire. Six centuries later and the good volk created the death camps and the ‘showers’ for the Jews. Why this brief walk through memory lane? The Jerusalem Post carries this rather unsurprising report from Germany:
A legal opinion submitted by law professor Jürgen Vahle to the Interior Ministry of North Rhine-Westphalia state in late April upholds the propriety of a police ban on and seizure of two Israeli flags during a violent anti-Israeli demonstration in January. The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Jerusalem Post, asserts that "the entry by force in two apartments" and "the securing of the flags was lawful."
During a protest against Israel's Operation Cast Lead organized by the radical Islamic group Milli Görüs that attracted 10,000 protesters in Duisburg, two police officers stormed the apartment of a 25-year-old student and his 26-year-old girlfriend and seized Israeli flags hanging on the balcony and inside a window. According to Vahle's report, the protesters threw "chunks of ice, pocket knives and cigarette lighters" at the Israeli flags.
North Rhine-Westphalia's domestic intelligence agency (Protection of the Constitution) cited in its 2008 report the anti-Semitic and militant Islamic group Milli Görüs, the organizer of the anti-Israeli protest, as a threat to the democratic structure of the federal republic.
The student, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears for his safety, told the Post that two weeks after the removal of the flags "a couple of young folks" hollered in front of his apartment, "Damn Jew, come outside."
He displayed the Israeli flags in January to "show solidarity with a republic [Israel] in the Middle East that is surrounded by dictators but is viewed as a pariah state. I was in Israel and find the land super." Asked about Vahle's report, the student said, "False questions were poised." Given the background of the radical Islamic group Milli Görüs, he asked, "why was a police unit of 280 officers present at a demonstration where 10,000 protesters" were present?
Vahle's report drew mixed reactions from police union officials. Frank Richter, chairman of the police union (Gdp) in North Rhine-Westphalia, told the Post that the "special relationship between Israel and Germany is good" but the entry into the apartment was "legal according to the police statute." If the police unit had not removed the flags, "it could have come to a big escalation" and "jeopardized life and limb" of those present, Richter said.
“For mankind is ever the same and nothing is lost out of nature, though everything is altered” – John Dryden, A Distant Mirror.