German-Israeli Relations: The normality of abnormality

Normal relations between Germany and Israel are unimaginable in light of the Holocaust, but the two countries have managed to develop a friendly partnership.

israel germany flags 88 (photo credit: )
israel germany flags 88
(photo credit: )
German President Horst Koehler said during a speech before the Israeli Knesset that normalcy could not exist between Germany and Israel. That was in 2005, when the two countries had already been fostering diplomatic relations for 40 years. That feeling that nothing could be normal between the two countries was even stronger in the first decade after the Holocaust. From its outset, the young German democratic republic was to bear the moral responsibility of the murder of millions of Jews. The first opportunity for Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to establish relations with Israel was in the form of financial compensation, or Wiedergutmachung. In 1952, it was decided that some 3,45 billion German Marks (1.76 billion euros, or $2.8 billion) would be paid to Israel to help "cleanse souls of infinite suffering," as Adenauer said. Is shaking hands acceptable? The reparations were controversial in Israel because many believed that money was no compensation. Many Israelis could not even imagine shaking hands with a German. That was not the case with David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, who held a friendly meeting with Adenauer in New York in 1960. Ben-Gurion was convinced that Germany had changed and was no longer Nazi-Deutschland. "We should not forget what happened, but we should also not base our actions on what happened," he said. On the domestic front, Ben-Gurion reaped a great deal of criticism for his attitude, while Adenauer was put under pressure by Arab states for seeking relations with Israel. "Relatively early" In 1965, twenty years after the war, the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel took up diplomatic relations. Rolf Pauls, the first ambassador to Israel, found -- as he was greeting with protests in the country -- that it was "relatively early." Israel and Germany then took baby steps toward one another. A network of contacts on the civilian level was also established and helped relations during times of crises. For Israel, it was important that Germany demonstrated its solidarity during difficult times, such as during the wars with neighboring Arab nations. Germany continues to try fulfill this wish for solidarity -- even 60 years after the founding of Israel. "Germany bears a particular responsibility for Israel -- for protecting and defending its right to exist," said Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in describing one of the foundations of Germany's foreign policy toward the Jewish state. This stance, however, also explains why the Federal Republic is inhibited in taking a stand on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Speechlessness is normal A certain speechlessness is also manifest in the calm that has meanwhile developed in the relationship between Israel and Germany. The comment by President Köhler about normalcy not being possible between the two countries also includes that sense of speechlessness. Likewise, not everyone in the Knesset wanted to hear a speech given in German -- not even in 2008 -- when Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke before Israeli parliament members. Most members, however, responded to her words with long and friendly applause as she congratulated them on the 60th anniversary of the founding of their state and assured them that Germany would not leave Israel out in the cold. Courtesy of Deutsche Welle: DW-WORLD.DE