“Even in the name of my parents and my grandparents, I refuse to accept eternal responsibility of Germany towards Israel.” This is one of many reader comments posted below German media reports about Angela Merkel’s visit in Israel. One of many, reflecting the same self-confident tone of emancipation from that historical burden.
The sentiment is worlds apart from the historical responsibility expressed in words and deed by Angela Merkel during her visit. It exemplifies a pattern of paradoxes that characterize German-Israeli relations today, starting with the discrepancy between Germany’s political establishment and the German street, when it comes to Israel – and to Jews.
While Merkel’s government took the trend towards normalization and warm ties with Israel to the next level, studies show growing resentment against Israel and its people among Germans. The animosity is fed by a polished propaganda machine of Palestinian and leftist organizations active for decades and fueled by often distorted media coverage depicting Israel as aggressor, mixing up cause and effect. When Hamas rockets rain on Israel’s south, Israel’s reaction will make the headlines, the rockets will make the footnotes.
Where it gets complicated is where anti-Israel resentment meets anti-Semitism. As per an anti-Semitism study commissioned by the German Bundestag in 2016, 40% of Germans justify resentment against Jews when looking at Israel’s policies, the same percentage of people who believe that what Israel does to the Palestinians is no different from what the Nazis did to the Jews. In academic jargon this is called secondary anti-Semitism. In reality-check jargon, this is called a perversion of moral and intellectual standards in society.
Angela Merkel, morally driven pragmatist that she is, does all in her power to fight such phenomena, including the special appointment of Felix Klein, tasked with tackling Germany’s growing anti-Semitism problem in all its facets: from classical Jew-hatred, to anti-Semitism among Germany’s Muslim communities and immigrants. The street on the other hand is increasingly hopping onto the right-wing populist wagon of the AFD party or the Pegida movement, mobilizing masses towards anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and anti-democratic thought and action.
Tough on Israeli security, soft on Iranian Nukes
Another paradox in German-Israeli friendship can be found in Germany’s inconsistency on the Iran Nuclear deal. In 2008, Angela Merkel declared Israel’s security as a raison d’etre for her country. Ever since, she repeatedly expressed support for Israel in its quest to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. And yet, Germany was among the first signatories of JCPOA to condemn Donald Trump’s exit from the deal. And among the first to call for alternative financial mechanisms for European businesses to continue trade with the Ayatollah regime without facing US sanctions.
With or without Netanyahu’s recent intelligence revelations about Iran’s nuclear intentions, Angela Merkel is well aware of the toxic cocktail the Ayatollah regime is cooking: the development of ballistic missiles equipped to carry nuclear warheads; the instrumentalization of the Houthis in Yemen in their proxy-war against Saudi-Arabia; the financial support for Hamas’ terror against Israel; the implanting of the Revolutionary Guards and of Hezbollah in military positions in Syria along Israel’s northern border; the Holocaust denial. Angela Merkel also knows that the millions of dollars pumped into the Iranian regime by Germany and the other signatories were used to boost this threat-cocktail, rather than to empower the people of Iran with a better economy and infrastructure.
And yet, Netanyahu’s support of Trump’s move and his demand for the EU to follow suit is one of the points of “disagreement between Israel and Germany,” mentioned in every single report about the current visit in German media alongside the friendly words about the relationship.
Regardless of the moral, historical dimension motivating Angela Merkel’s statement in 2008, even Realpolitik does not explain the prevalence of this paradox.
As Israel’s most important strategic ally in the EU, as a leading benefactor of Israel’s innovations through decades of close cooperation in technology and science, but more than anything out of strategic national interest, Germany should quit this stance and recognize that – notwithstanding the historic diplomatic success of signing a deal – it is a bad deal. Bad enough to silence the economic lobby trying to preserve it, to stifle Europe’s instinctive need for appeasement. Bad enough to demand a renegotiation towards a deal that doesn’t trample values Europe so bitterly and impressively fought for with its feet. The danger of Chamberlainism is historically well known. The power of economic greed is politically underestimated.
This demand has little to do with historical guilt. In fact, the consistent reference to the Holocaust as the glue for German-Israeli relations today is one-sided and destructive. Germany and Israel share an immense amount of strategic interests and values. It is worthwhile for Germany to work hard on clearing their relationship with Israel from these paradoxes. And it is worthwhile for Israel to keep relying on its own strengths as an innovation powerhouse; as an inevitable strategic ally for anyone interested in a stable Middle East; and as an attractive partner for anyone interested in a future dominated by scientific progress and creative energy.