The red BMW slid into the quiet street at the appointed hour; Luxembourgers are punctual. This was this Sunday in a suburb of Luxembourg City. He got out of the car. We embraced. It was 40 years since we’d seen each other and it showed in our appearance. In the late 1970s, we were up-and-coming young men – at least so they thought in the U.S. State Department, which invited each one of us to take a month-long private tour of America, to plan as we wished. Yossi Sarid, who took part in the program before me, helped me plan the trip. I was too embarrassed to ask for Las Vegas and instead, like Sarid, I flew to a United States Strategic Command Airbase in Omaha, Nebraska, where I heard an American fighter pilot call my name from the skies.
Robert Goebbels then and today
Somewhere in the southern U.S., our paths crossed, and we spent a few days touring together. I recall sailing with him on the deck of steamship on the Mississippi River, and he claimed this week that I tried to flirt with a waitress in New Orleans. Of course, I remembered his name – Goebbels. Robert Goebbels. And how he had told me that sometimes people called him Goering by mistake.
At the time, he was the secretary-general of Luxembourg’s Socialist Party, I was a journalist with Army Radio. Goebbels met all the Americans’ expectations and justified the investment in him.
Since then he has served in various positions in his country, including Economics Minister, Energy Minister and Minister of Public Works, and then, for 15 years – he was a member of the European Parliament. He was among the founding fathers of the euro and played a significant role in shaping the Schengen Agreement, the pact on immigration and European borders, which was signed in a village in his country where today there is a street that bears his name.
In an old picture from those days, which he sent me this week after our meeting, he is attending a conference of the Socialist International, seated between Francois Mitterand and Golda Meir, and translating for the two of them, to facilitate their conversation.
Goebbels retired from politics five years ago, but he still holds a number of public roles. During our dinner, it was impossible not to think back over the 40 years that had passed, about the dreams we both had back then, on the banks of the Mississippi – those that were realized, and especially those that will never be realized. And also about choices – in journalism or politics. For he had started out as a journalist. Tiny Luxembourg is one of the five founding countries of the European Union. Its wealth is hidden, not flashy. About half of the capital’s residents are Portuguese and other foreigners, and another 150,000 workers come in every day from neighboring Germany, Belgium and France. It has a 1,000-member army. Perhaps this explains why Luxembourg showed some courage this week. While an aggressive and unbelievable silencing campaign – in which any criticism of Israel and opposition to the occupation is labeled anti-Semitism – sweeps Europe, Luxembourg took an independent position. In Germany, and elsewhere, it’s already nearly impossible to hold solidarity events with the Palestinians.
A few weeks ago, for instance, members of a small organization had to travel 200 kilometers from Berlin, to hold their annual conference in a Coptic monastery headed by an elderly Egyptian monk, who was the only person who would rent them a hall. Minister Gilad Erdan and the Ministry of Strategic Affairs’ efforts to silence Europe, to hold over it the horrors of the past to stir guilt feelings, are Israeli propaganda’s biggest success.
And then, in tiny Luxembourg of all places, The Committee for a Just Peace in the Middle East hosted a conference this week with Israel and Palestinian panelists in a central site in the city. The event opened with a speech by the bold and courageous Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, members of the royal family – the Grand Duke’s brother Prince Guillaume and his wife and children – in attendance. There is no other country in Europe where this could happen – for fear of Israeli accusations of anti-Semitism. Goebbels was sitting in the audience.