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(photo credit: AP)
Israelis hold a very favorable view of Germany, trust the country's leadership of the European Union and would like to become members of the EU, according to a new study released by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation on Wednesday.
"Germany is seen in Israel as a reliable friend," commented Dr. Lars H nsel, director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Israel. "Given all the background and history, I'm happy about the clear picture that [emerges] from the numbers," he told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
According to the study, conducted by the Keevoon Research in Jerusalem for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, 67% of Israelis have a favorable view of Germany, and only 28% an unfavorable one, putting Germany behind only the United States (85% favorable) and Britain (80%). While only one-quarter of Israelis are aware that Germany now holds the presidency of the European Union, 67% believe it should play "a greater role" in the affairs of the union.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also seen in a favorable light, though she remains relatively unknown. Her approval was only 50%, but only 9% of Israelis reported any dislike for the chancellor.
The study also found that visiting Germany had a very strong positive influence on Israelisâ€š
perception of the country. Among Israelis who visited Germany, 86% hold a favorable opinion of it (19% higher than the average), and 82% had a favorable impression of Merkel. Even visiting the rest of Europe increased the favorability to 79%.
"I trust people's experience the most," German Ambassador to Israel Dr. Harald Kindermann told the Post on Wednesday, saying the study demonstrated that experiencing Germany "is much more worthwhile than formal declarations or statements."
For this reason, it was "in [Germanyâ€šs] interest to show the Israelis the actual, modern Germany, with its responsibility for the Shoah and its close commitment to Israel."
The favorability rating tilted heavily toward the elderly population. With the average at 67%, the level for Israelis over 51 years old was 80%. Merkel's approval rating, averaging 50%, rose to 77% among Israelis over 61 years of age.
"For me, this was one of the most important points of the study," commented Kindermann. "It's important that we're not attracting the young people." Therefore, he said, his work focused on youth programs and exchanges "for up to 30% of my time."
Throughout the study, an intense Israeli dislike for France and French President Jacques Chirac was a recurring theme. France has the lowest approval rating of countries measured (35%) and the highest disapproval rating (61%). Chirac himself garnered an approval rating of merely 29%, with an unfavorable rating of 63%, surpassing the next in line (EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana) by 30 points.
The dislike of France was not affected by visiting the country, the study found. While the average approval rating stood at 35%, the rating among those who visited rose by just two points to 37%.
Despite the disparate views of the different countries, Israelis were strongly in favor of joining the European Union, according to the study. Fully 75% of Israelis said they supported the move, with 32% expressing "strong support." A mere 18% oppose membership.
According to Prof. Amnon Rubinstein of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a long-time advocate of Israeli membership in the EU, "this [finding] is not surprising, and is compatible with previous polls. The one unifying stand, above all other controversies and divisions, is the wish of most Israelis to belong to Europe."
However, Rubinstein noted, "it takes two to tango," and "Europe's attitudes" make it improbable that Israel will join the EU.
Nevertheless, he believes, "closer links with Europe should be a means both for strengthening Israel and ushering in a new mood in the Middle East."
Asked if Israelis would agree to the open borders membership in the EU would bring, Rubinstein said "Israelis are for open borders, but not to the enemy."
The study also found Israelis themselves to be strongly critical of the direction Israel was going, while indicating strong patriotic feeling. A surprising 77% of Israelis believe the country "is headed in the wrong direction," with only 14% indicating the country was on the right path. At the same time, asked if they would leave Israel were they to receive EU citizenship, 84% would not, while only 11% would leave.
This figure changed for young people. Among those aged 10-19, fully 37% would relocate to Europe if given the opportunity. For young adults aged 18-30, the figure dropped to 19%. For Arabs, the figure stood at 14%, among Orthodox Jews 5% and among haredim at zero.
The study was conducted among 511 respondents, of whom 442 were Jews who were interviewed in Hebrew and 69 were Israeli Arabs interviewed in Arabic. It has a margin of error of 4.5%.