Ahead of the German elections in less than a week, what do the parties vying for political power say about Israel?
Over the many years that I have now lived in the Holy Land, I have been repeatedly surprised to find that generally speaking, Israelis have a better opinion of Germany than Germans have of Israel. To me, this paradox is both a testament to the incredible progress that Germany and Israel have made diplomatically and socially, but also a warning that there is a need for continued pro-Israel advocacy in Germany. This need is only growing considering the digital revolution we are currently experiencing and the new opportunities for anti-Israel groups to lie and defame on social media. In recent years, public opinion polls have shown the State of Israel becoming increasingly unpopular and there is a real danger that this trend will continue to accelerate in the future.
With this in mind, Israelis and the Jewish community worldwide are looking with much anticipation at the upcoming German elections. After 16 years of Merkel at the helm of German politics, it will be a paradigm shift for Germany. Although we understand that Israel and the fight against anti-Semitism are not the key issues in this election, it is nonetheless worthwhile to take a look at where the different political parties stand on these topics. So, in order to find out the positions of Germany’s political parties towards Israel, I examined the election programs of the six biggest parties that are most likely to form a coalition government in Germany. Here’s what I found:
CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic/Social Union):
In its 140 pages long program, Israel is mentioned eleven times. The Union party acknowledges Germany’s special responsibility towards Israel, describes Israel’s security and right to exist as part of Germany’s raison d’etre and affirms Israel’s right to self-defense. It advocates adherence to the JCPOA Nuclear Agreement and raises the importance of peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, with the ultimate goal of a two-state solution. Furthermore, cooperation with Israeli youth programs and technology are to be promoted. The Union party laments the growing anti-Semitism in Germany and vows to take decisive action against it, whether from far-right, far-left or from migrant-dominated milieus. Islamism is cited as an extremist ideology that rejects Israel’s right to exist.
SPD (Social Democratic Party):
In 66 pages, Israel is mentioned twice, almost on the very last pages of the document. According to it, Israel’s security and right to exist are part of Germany’s raison d’être. Together with European and American partners, the SPD wants to support new initiatives to revive the Middle East peace process on the basis of the Oslo agreements, with the declared goal of peaceful coexistence between two sovereign states. The normalization of relations between Israel and Arab states in the region is seen positively but the party warns of unilateral steps from both sides, specifically mentioning Palestinian terror and the need for further democratic progress in the Palestinian Territories, while also categorically rejecting illegal settlement construction and plans for annexations.
Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen (Alliance 90 / The Greens):
In 272 pages, Israel is mentioned eight times, particularly in the context of Jewish life in Germany and foreign policy initiatives. The Greens emphasize that Jews in Germany must be able to feel safe and that the security and protection of Jewish institutions and communities must be comprehensive. Anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic hate speech should be countered through decisive punishment and documentation of anti-Semitic incidents. Anti-Semitic narratives, Israel-related anti-Semitism and conspiracy/ideological narratives are to be addressed preventively, such as dealing with them in school curricula.
The Greens advocate sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians, affirming that the security of the State of Israel is part of the German raison d’être. The existence and security of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people with equal rights for all its citizens are non-negotiable. The Greens support the continuation of close German-Israeli relations and condemn the ongoing threat to the State of Israel and its sovereignty from its neighbors and the terrorism against its people. They also condemn both the escalation of violence and measures that violate international law, such as the annexation of occupied territories or the ongoing construction of settlements. Together with the United States, Europe should coordinate to bring about a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with two sovereign, viable and democratic states for both Israelis and Palestinians.
FDP (Liberal Democratic Party):
In 68 pages, the Liberals mention Israel nine times, being the only party to recognize Israel’s remarkable health-care achievements during the Corona crisis. Regarding Jewish life in Germany, politicians and security authorities should take threats to Jewish life, especially Jewish institutions, seriously and take a resolute stand against it. Security concerns of the communities should be addressed. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism should be a point of reference to deal with anti-Semitic threats and actions. Prevention of anti-Semitic prejudice and hatred should be done in schools through exposure to relevant learning materials.
Regarding business, there should be no place in German markets for anti-Semitic and anti-Israel business practices. The Liberal party clearly opposes the activities of BDS (Boycott, Disinventions, Sanctions) and demands an examination of the ban on the Al-Quds March in Berlin as well as tougher criminal sanctions for burning Israel flags. The day of commemoration of the victims of Nazis on January 27th should be upgraded by introducing a nationwide minute of silence based on the model of the Israeli Yom HaScho’a.
Relating to the Middle Eastern issues, the Liberals are committed to continuing German and European engagement in the region and reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Israel’s security and right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state remain a raison d’être and cornerstone for foreign and security policy. Israel’s right to defend its people and its territory against Islamic terrorism is affirmed. The Liberals also advocate for a two-state solution and therefore warn of possible steps to annex parts of the West Bank that would jeopardize future negotiations. As for the Palestinians, the goal should be to build a future Palestinian state based on democracy and the rule of law, but the lack of democratic legitimation of the current Palestinian leadership and its human rights violations are seen as an obstacle to this. Regular checks and appropriate measures are suggested to ensure that aid payments from Germany and the EU to the Palestinian Authority will not be used to finance terrorism directly or indirectly.
Die Linke (The Left Party):
In its 168 pages program, Israel is mentioned only once towards the end of the paper. Here, the Left party advocates for a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict on the basis of the 1967 borders and two independent states, Israel and Palestine.
AfD (Alternative for Germany):
In 210 pages, Israel is mentioned twice throughout the program. The AfD claims that Jewish life in Germany is not only threatened by right-wing extremists but increasingly also by Muslims who are hostile towards Jews and Israel. Attacks on Jews as well as anti-Semitic insults must be punished under criminal law. Moreover, the Al-Quds-Days in Berlin in which demonstrators demand the destruction of Israel should be banned permanently.
As we can see, while there is somewhat of an overlap in many areas especially regarding security and historic responsibility towards Israel and Jewish life in Germany, there certainly are nuances that differentiate the parties and their outlooks.
As the party that traditionally provided the Chancellor, the Union party presents itself as a steadfast supporter of Israel, willing to continue to deepen social and economic relations and ensuring security for the Jewish community in Germany. However, this tradition is everything but set in stone, following the historic collapse of the Union party in the German polls during 2021 and the unpopular Merkel-successor Armin Laschet. The adherence to JCPOA Nuclear Agreement might worry some Israeli observers but should be seen as paying lip service to the new American administration that would like to revive the deal, an unrealistic prospect at the moment.
The Social Democrats did not dedicate much space to Israel in their program, a fact that is somewhat surprising considering that Heiko Maas, a Social Democrat, is Germany’s Foreign Minister since 2018 and could have included some of his insights and plans for the region. Seeing as Olaf Scholz, the Chancellor candidate of the Social Democrats is currently leading in the polls, it would have been reassuring to know more about his and his parties’ positions regarding Israel and the Middle East. At least judging from experience, we can infer more of the same in terms of foreign policy towards Israel should the Social Democrats be a key part of the next coalition.
The Green party focuses on social issues related to rising anti-Semitism while adhering to the foreign policy status quo of Germany. Here especially we can see the predominance of the “Realo-faction” of the Green Party (from which both Chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock and potential Foreign Minister Cem Özdemir hail from) that approaches foreign policy in a more pragmatic way compared to other factions of the party. Israelis fondly remember Green party Mister Joschka Fischer, the only German Foreign Mister to extract a condemnation of Palestinian terror from Yasser Arafat in relation to the Dolphinarium massacre in 2001, so there should be room to find common ground between the Greens and Israel’s current government.
The Liberals are the only ones to raise Israel in relation to business, healthcare and remembrance, and even though having one of the shortest programs, are quite extensive on issues relating to Israel and the Jewish community. The program affirms the Liberal’s strong stance and support for Israel in a positive way, which is crucial considering the position of the party as “kingmaker” in the coming election.
The Left party has historically been divided between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian positions and thus the vague statement at the end of the paper fits this picture. Although talks of a “red-red-green” (SPD, Left Party, the Greens) coalition are floating through the German media, the Left party continues to torpedo their own chances by their controversial stances on Germany’s NATO commitments and tolerance of the radical Left, and thus are unlikely to be a part of the new coalition government.
Similarly, despite an extensive program, the AfD mentions Israel only briefly, a fact that is understandable considering the AfD’s varying (and at times openly anti-Semitic) opinions on Israel. While the party is on par with the Liberals in the polls, there still is a cross-party consensus that nobody is going to work with the AfD on a federal level. Watching this consensus remain intact will be a litmus test for Israeli-German relations in the future.
As the election is entering its critical phase, a multitude of potential coalition arrangements are being discussed. Overall, as long as the parties of the political center are able to come together and find a compromise, Israel will find reliable German partners that are willing to continue the historic progress that has already been accomplished and preserve the special relationship between Israel and Germany.