At a joint press conference in Berlin on April 7, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the atmosphere of mutual trust and friendship in which their just-concluded talks had taken place. Germany, he averred, was “a great friend” of Israel.
Yet any sober assessment of the Germany- Israel relationship would come to a different conclusion. Berlin is, in fact, no longer Jerusalem’s most dependable ally inside the European Union, and Germans have grown increasingly – sometimes, it seems, unreasonably – disenchanted with Israeli policies.
As a German friend working in Israel recently told me: “We just don’t understand Israelis anymore.” That is quite evidently the case, at least to judge by the results of recent surveys registering the unshakeable German trust in a twostate solution and, by implication, in the good faith of Mahmoud Abbas.
Indeed, Germany is Europe’s biggest financial backer of the Palestinian
Authority. And since, for Germans, a solution to the Palestinian issue
is practically a prerequisite for regional stability, they blame Israel,
and definitely not the Palestinians, for the current diplomatic
stalemate. Outrageously, 47.7 percent of Germans believe “Israel is
conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.”
particular, Germans view Israel’s failure to capitulate completely on
the issue of settlements as all but justifying Abbas’s intransigence. In
February, Germany supported an Arabsponsored resolution in the UN
Security Council demanding that Israel cease all “settlement activities
in the occupied Palestinian territory,” including in metropolitan
Jerusalem, and terming “illegal” any Jewish presence whatsoever anywhere
over the Green Line. When Netanyahu telephoned Merkel to protest the
German vote, she turned the tables by complaining that he had not
followed through on a promised new peace overture.
extend to just about every facet of Israeli behavior. In the Mavi
Marmara affair, for example, the Bundestag unanimously blamed Israel and
not Turkey for the violent Islamist radicals on board that ship. Then
there is the matter of the current upheavals in the Arab world. Sitting
next to Merkel at the press conference, Netanyahu said Israel wanted to
see its neighbors move toward democracy.
But, he added, “we can’t
be sure” the transformations under way are indeed a harbinger of the
positive change Europe experienced in 1989 or, rather, the sort of
change that in 1979 left Iran a mullah-run autocracy. It is with this
uncertainty in mind, he explained, that “we have to fashion our
This attitude appears to infuriate many Germans. On
the events in Egypt prior to the ouster of Mubarak, my German friend
said Israelis ought to be cheering the protesters and trying to form
positive relationships with this new generation of potential democratic
Many of his countrymen seem to agree, viewing Israel’s
caution, and its “obsession” with the Islamist menace, as cynical and
To give Merkel her due, she did assure
Netanyahu that Berlin would not agree to any unilateral recognition by
the UN of a Palestinian state – a commitment that takes on added
significance in light of Germany’s recent assumption of a two-year term
on the Security Council. Even so, however, there are persistent reports
that Germany, together with France and Britain, has been egging on the
Quartet (the US, the UN, the EU and Russia – the foursome involved in
mediating the “peace process” – toward imposing a solution on Israel.
And this points to a difference between Merkel herself and others in
Germany, including some within her own inner circle.
On a visit
to Israel in 2008, Merkel told the Knesset that Germany would “never
abandon Israel,” and would “remain a loyal partner and friend.” At the
April 7 press conference with Netanyahu, she also stated forthrightly
that Iran’s nuclear program is “a greater threat now than ever before,”
and that everything must be done to prevent the Islamic Republic from
acquiring nuclear weapons. No less significantly, and alone among
European leaders, she always makes a point of referring to Israel as
“the Jewish state.” Politically, however, none of this wins her points
at home. Sixtyfive years after the Holocaust, notions of Germany’s
historic responsibility toward the Jewish people are mostly balanced by a
combination of realpolitik and Euro-Left political culture.
indeed, may be the context in which to understand Berlin’s four-billion
annual trade with the same Iranian regime about whose intentions Merkel
has warned in no uncertain terms.
True, doing business with Iran
is not illegal anywhere in the EU so long as it does not directly aid
the mullahs’ quest for nuclear weapons.
To Washington, the
Hamburg-based European-Iranian Trade Bank is in fact a financial conduit
for Iran’s nuclear proliferation. But Berlin professes to be
unconvinced. Besides, Germans are big believers in engagement, and are
prone to rationalize their behavior by arguing that punitive sanctions
would mostly hurt innocent Iranians while paving the way for China and
Russia to exploit the business vacuum created by Europe’s departure.
a sense of disillusionment that is increasingly mutual, it would be
reckless to minimize Israel’s need for good relations with Germany – one
of its most important trading partners and its largest in Europe. On
the security front, moreover, Berlin has financed half the costs of
three custom-designed, Dolphin-class submarines for the Israeli navy;
two more are on order, and negotiations continue over the financial
terms for a sixth.
The subs are crucial to Israel’s strategic deterrence against Iran.
upshot? For now, and under this chancellor, the structure of the
Germany- Israel partnership remains fairly solid even if, plainly, both
the façade and some of the underpinnings show signs of crumbling.The
writer is a former Jerusalem Post editorial page editor, and is now
contributing editor to Jewish Ideas Daily (www.jewishideasdaily.com),
where this article was first published and is reprinted with permission.