Analysis: Report card on 50 years of German-Israel relations

Despite her overt friendship, many experts point to a more mixed sometimes contradictory policy on Merkel's part toward Israel.

October 8, 2015 00:30
3 minute read.
Netanyahu and Merkel

Netanyahu and Merkel. (photo credit: WOLFGANG RATTAY / REUTERS)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cancellation of Thursday’s sixth joint cabinet consultation between Israel and Germany because of the domestic security situation comes at the end phase of the celebratory period marking 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“To care for good relations with Israel” the German federal government’s website entitled an interview that Chancellor Angela Merkel gave to a mass-circulation newspaper in Israel last week.

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”We are certainly not neutral” when it comes to the security of Israel, Merkel was quoted to have said.

Despite her overt friendship though, many experts point to a more mixed sometimes contradictory policy on her part toward Israel.

Merkel strongly supported the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel strongly opposed, writing in the Washington Post, in a joint column with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, that the “agreement provides the foundation for resolving the conflict on Iran’s nuclear program permanently.”

“Merkel has the right moral positions, but her government’s policies are often out of sync,” Gerald Steinberg, a political studies professor at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post.

“The Chancellor has been outspoken in condemning Iran’s anti-Semitism and genocidal threats, Germany is leading the charge to do business with Tehran,” Steinberg said.

“And while Merkel calls BDS [Boycott, Divestment,Sanctions] unacceptable, German political foundations and church aid NGOs are active in promoting this form of warfare against Israel. These issues are central to the bilateral agenda.”

Richard Landes, an American- Israeli academic, said: “My impression is that Merkel is better than the rest.

Germany has a special obligation and can’t indulge its hostility to Zionism on too public a level, but that’s not great.

“Right now Europe is drowning in its indulgence of anti-Zionism which just feeds Jihadis against it. To be the least hostile to Israel is hardly a mark of street smarts and survival instincts at work, ” added Landes, director and co-founder of the Center of Millennial Studies at Boston University.

Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, measured Merkel’s Israel policies against her political opposition in Germany.

“When it comes to Israel, Merkel has pursued a consistent policy of staunch support for Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state, as well as for her security needs. She has also spoken out against the anti-Semitic rhetoric coming from the Iranian leadership in Tehran.

“ At the same time, she has been consistently critical of the settlements and the policies in this regard of every Netanyahu government,” Zuroff said.

But Zuroff pointed at how other German officials “have been much softer on Iran and German companies have already set their sights on the lucrative contracts which will be up for grabs in the near future.”

Merkel opposes BDS against Israel but seems to endorse the labeling of Israeli products from the West Bank that are exported to European markets.

Israel, of course, rejects product labels.

”We have historical memory of what happened when Europe labeled Jewish products,” Netanyahu has said.

Israel would like Hezbollah’s full organization to be outlawed by the European Union and in Germany in particular.

So far Merkel’s administration agreed to include Hezbollah’s so-called military wing on the EU terrorism list. According to the 2014 German domestic intelligence report, there are 950 active Hezbollah members in the Federal Republic.

Germany’s government has not embraced the modern EU definition of anti-Semitism, formulated by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.

The definition includes anti-Israel hatred as a contemporary expression of anti-Semitism.

Merkel, however, has condemned the modern form of Jew-hatred during her speech against anti-Semitism in September 2014.

She blasted “pretend criticism of Israel” as an “expression of Jew-hatred at pro-Palestinian demonstrations.”

Merkel also consistently cites Israel as being “the only Democracy in the Middle East.”

Israeli defense relations with Germany have also improved greatly from a low point in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when West German Chancellor Willy Brandt refused to let the American military use the Bremerhaven harbor to deliver badly needed military arms to Israel.

Merkel has been a stickler for continued military cooperation with Israel. The Post reported this year that by 2020 the Israel Navy should have six German-manufactured Dolphin submarines; three first-generation vessels and three second generation.

Benjamin Weinthal is fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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