For the Jewish News August 3 2023
It’s instructive, occasionally, to look online and see what else is being said about a story where you might think you had all the facts to hand.
Such a case is that of the owner of Cafe Dodo, an ice-cream shop and cafe in the heart of Berlin. The owner is one Avi Berg, who achieved global notoriety in the last few days by making it clear to the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Ron Prosor, that he was not welcome.
His Excellency — who might be more familiar to JN readers as Israel’s former ambassador to the UK, where he served with some distinction from 2007 to 2011 — is not just one of the Jewish state’s most senior diplomats, but is also one of its best-known faces.
If I know anything about Ron Prosor — and I encountered him on innumerable occasions when he was based in London — it is that he loses no opportunity to make Israel’s case, using every public platform he can. Whatever are his private views, and it is right and proper that I have no idea what they are while he continues to serve as a Foreign Ministry employee (and, importantly, not a political appointee), the ambassador will make the case for Israel — even if he finds that a difficult task at the moment.
I can’t say I envy Israel’s diplomats right now. Who would wish to pretend that all is sweetness and light in Israel’s garden, when the country is quite clearly tearing itself apart over the proposed judicial reforms? Some diplomats found the issue too much for them and resigned. Others, such as Ambassador Prosor, have elected to stay in post. The views of Israel’s present representative to the UK, Ms Hotovely, are sufficiently well-known for the street demonstrations in Israel and London not to be a problem for her, I imagine.
But, back to Ron Prosor and Avi Berg. Berg, it is important to clarify, is one of an estimated 10,000 ex-pat Israelis living in Berlin. He has made no secret of his political views, which are firmly in opposition to that of the current Israeli government. He obviously recognised the ambassador when he and his bodyguards walked in to Cafe Dodo. What an opportunity, Berg might have thought, to do the next best thing to sticking it to Netanyahu — he would stick it to the Israeli ambassador, instead.
In fact, as Berg later made clear, his objection was not to Prosor’s presence as an individual, but to what he represented. Because, Berg claimed, the Foreign Ministry has been ordering its diplomats to pursue a campaign denouncing critics of the judicial reform proposals as antisemitic.
He wrote on social media: “Since he [the ambassador] implements an invalid and manipulative policy, which claims that any criticism of Israel is antisemitic — a policy that claims that I and my peers are antisemitic — he is not welcome in my café. I asked him and his entourage of German bodyguards to leave the place. They did so immediately”.
Berg complained that the ambassador and the embassy “are deeply involved in putting pressure on the Bundestag and on German media and institutions to block any criticism of Israel and to label any such criticism as antisemitism. This diplomacy is implemented all over the world, but is especially effective in Germany. This policy is also very damaging against the fight against genuine antisemitism!”
Several questions occur after reading this. Plainly the antisemitism card is a delicate one to play in Germany and I have no idea whether Berg’s allegation against Prosor holds water — though it may well be that the ambassador’s robust defence of Israel in these troubled times gives those on the left the shivers.
Meanwhile, however, I wonder at the embassy staff, who cannot— and should not have been — ignorant of Avi Berg’s views. What possessed them not to do due diligence on a place where the ambassador might sit down for a relaxing cup of coffee? You don’t send your lead diplomat into the lion’s cage unless you ensure the lion is ready to sit down and play nicely, rather than emit a somewhat self-righteous roar.
And now to the little extra that the internet has to offer on the matter. There are some Tripadvisor reviews online of Cafe Dodo, several from Israel-based Israelis. These are uniformly dreadful. Hannah L, from Jerusalem, advises travellers: “Don’t go…horrible. Awful ambience and service and very bad food. I wouldn’t recommend at all, no redeeming qualities”.
Avi Berg is just as blunt in his response. He tells Tripadvisor: “This review is part of a political smear attack against me and my cafe, which is a typical violent attempt to hurt me because of my political beliefs… None of these reviewers ever visited my café and they won’t deter me from expressing my political opinions”.
On the whole, I think this was a missed opportunity on both sides. I don’t subscribe to the “Jew thrown out of cafe in Germany, where have we heard that before” commentary. What I do think is that Prosor could have tried to talk Berg out of his tree, and Berg could have equally tried to tell the ambassador how passionately he felt about Israel’s political trajectory.
After all, according to Netanyahu, “we are all brothers”, aren’t we?