Paradoxical allies

Merkel's 2008 Knesset speech was the pinnacle of the gradual normalization process of German-Israeli relations.

Minister Guido Westerwelle meets with Ahmadinejad R 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Minister Guido Westerwelle meets with Ahmadinejad R 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Despite the historically and morally complex foundation of German- Israeli relations, the past decade has seen a process of gradual normalization, culminating in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech in the Knesset in 2008.
Exchange between the governments is as constructive as it is dynamic, fueled by scientific, economical, cultural and military cooperation. The societies too, reflect this trend. Tel Aviv-Berlin air traffic is a gold mine for airlines; Berlin appears to be home to more Israeli artists than Tel Aviv, and dozens of youth exchanges create authentic friendships every year. Add to this the role of German negotiator Gerhard Conrad in freeing Gilad Schalit and the chancellor’s determined position against a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence at the Security Council, and Germany’s label as “Israel’s closest ally in Europe” is substantiated.
Of course this idyllic picture doesn’t reflect the full reality, which is more complex, at times also conflictual. Chancellor Merkel was among the first European leaders to condemn the Israeli government following the announcement of new construction in east Jerusalem right after this year’s UN General Assembly in September; the Bundestag unanimously passed a resolution condemning Israel following the flotilla incident in June, 2010, before investigations were completed, and long before the Palmer Report published its findings that withdrew this resolution’s legal and logical grounds. There are other examples as well.
While enough political warmth and understanding has been stockpiled in the Israel-Germany friendship to endure such tensions and criticisms, there is another dimension to the relationship which requires more than political warmth to be surmounted.There are times that the relationship is strained by paradox. Those “times” are now.
LAST WEEK, a Neo-Nazi terror cell was uncovered in Germany. Since 2000, the core trio of this cell killed at least 10 people – nine dark-skinned immigrants and a German policewoman. The group attacked similar targets (foreigners), used similar weapons and similar modi operandi, but local authorities never drew the obvious conclusion that right-wing extremist motivations and a terror cell might be at work.
The government reacted fiercely. Merkel called it “a disgrace for Germany” and pledged to do everything possible to clarify the issue, including whether local security authorities (the Landeskriminalamt in Thüringen, from where the cell operated) might have been involved in one way or another in covering for the cell. It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand that the outrage in Merkel’s eyes while speaking about this disturbing revelation is authentic.
The paradox? The silent acceptance of a growing trend of cooperation with the EUsanctioned Iranian regime, whose leader proudly denies the Holocaust, proudly preaches about Israel’s extinction, and proudly clings on to a world- and foremost Israel-threatening nuclear program.
Last year, for example, the Bundestag Subcommittee on Foreign Cultural and Educational Policies dispatched a high level delegation to Iran for a meeting with Holocaust denying, Hamas praising and Hizbullah-supporting Majlis Chairman Ali Larijani. Last June the Bundestag hosted an Iranian parliamentary delegation, awkwardly coinciding with a visit by Knesset members in Berlin – to the latters’ outrage. Last week a German-Iranian conference with the title “Economic Congress: Iranian Business Women Power” took place in Berlin, causing fierce criticism among NGOs and exiled Iranians for the cynical use of woman power to embellish a pro-Iranian trade event. That conference was supported by the federal association for small- and medium-sized businesses whose advisory board includes some leading German politicians.
Also last week, a delegation of the German Bishop’s Conference flew to Iran to advance dialogue with high representatives of the Islamic theology, members of which don’t shy away from repressing and chasing away the Christian minority in Iran, already down to 130,000.
At best this can be explained by a not uncommon naïvité and wishful thinking when it comes to the Middle East: Believing Ali Larijani when he says the terrorsupporting regime is peace-loving; embracing the regime’s clerics when they say that Christians and other minorities are cherished in Iran; and hoping that fewer Iranian women will be stoned this year in Tehran if a trade event supposedly empowering Iranian business women takes place in Berlin.
For somewhat understandable historical reasons, the D for Deutschland turned into a D for dialogue – as the universal solution for all conflicts in the world. In this context however, it seems the “D” has turned into an end in itself, even if it harms the very values it stands for.
At worst, the ongoing cooperation is result of political cynicism and hypocrisy: turning a blind eye to the human rights atrocities Iranians suffer every day, a deaf ear to the calls for wiping Israel off the map, a silent tongue to the Holocaust denial, and all of the above towards the Islamic regime’s nuclear ambitions – for the sake of remaining the regime’s number one economic partner in Europe.
It is a paradox, and not only in the context of the German-Israeli friendship.
In either scenario, the time for Germany’s political leadership to put an end to this trend is now. German-Israeli relations do thrive on political warmth, solidarity and understanding. But to preserve the values underlying this special relationship, at times a harder political currency is necessary: action.
The writer is the winner of Israel’s prestigious “The Ambassador” TV competition in 2006.
She is a speaker and consultant for public diplomacy, communication and strategy in Israel and Germany.