Human Element

German-Israeli relations are distinctive. Whilst not always sharing the same view of the world, the two countries should listen to each other…


Public Domain / Wikimedia The Worms Prayerbook of 1272 tells a chapter in Jewish-German history

Public Domain / Wikimedia
The Worms Prayerbook of 1272 tells a chapter in Jewish-German history

The State of Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany established official diplomatic relations on May 12, 1965. But the relationship between the two states is rooted in nearly 2000 years of German-Jewish history. This is a unique situation. The Jewish people meanwhile have a longer history on German soil than in any other country, including their biblical homelands of Judea and Israel. And no other country has carried out such a coldly organized genocide, the Shoah, as Germany.
Auschwitz and the Yad Vashem memorial, as well as the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, continue to powerfully shape German-Israeli relations. But history continues its march forward. Israel is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its founding.
This is a good time for a look back – but also for a look forward to the vision that will shape the relations of these two countries in the future.
The first West German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, had been an opponent and victim of the Nazis. He was a democrat. But he appointed Hans Globke, a man who had assisted the Nazis and who wrote a commentary on the Nuremberg racial laws, as head of the Federal Chancellery.
West Germany and Israel initially did not maintain diplomatic relations. Germany did not wish to risk its beneficial economic relations with Arab countries.

Ambivalent politics

At the same time, Adenauer was determined that Germany would assume moral and material responsibility for the Shoah. In 1952, Germany signed the Luxembourg Agreement. This law was the basis for reparations made to Jews and to Israel.
For Israel, Germany’s material reparations played a crucial role during the country’s early years. In addition, from the late 1950s on, Germany began supporting Israel with secret weapons deliveries. Israel is a small country with limited economic capacity. It is in no way comparable to the 22 nations of the Arab League, let alone the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which together are home to more than one billion people.
The balance between responsibility for the genocide of the Jews and Germany’s material interests in the Islamic world explains Germany’s ambivalent policies, and even more so the dithering of the German population, which unlike their government is not prepared to display consideration to
Israel’s sensitivities.
The shipment of German submarines to Israel was and remains an important contribution to the latter’s security. They form the core of Israel’s nuclear deterrent force. One milestone in the willingness of reunified Germany to live up to its responsibilities for Israel was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech on March 18, 2008 before the Knesset, in which she stated: “This historical responsibility [for Israel’s security] is part of my country’s raison d’être … Israel’s security will never be open to negotiation.” But politics depends not only on morality, responsibility and symbol-laden speeches. It is primarily a matter of concrete interests. That is why Germany joined the permanent members of the UN Security Council to negotiate a deal with Iran that made no mention of Israel’s right to exist.
The agreement had only just been signed when German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel flew to Tehran. The aim was to help German businesses secure deals with Iran that would potentially be worth billions. At the same time, Berlin was voicing increasingly sharp criticism of Israel’s settlement policies. Alongside the political consideration it is showing the Islamic world, Berlin once again has put morality on its agenda. Israel would be well advised to lend greater voice to its own political needs.


Different lessons

But Germany and Israel have learned different lessons from history. Germany places a priority on avoiding war, violence and occupation. Israel is determined to ensure that as a people the Jews will never again stand defenseless before their enemies.
Germany and Israel have different interests, and the politicians of the two countries do not share the same view of the world. This in turn explains their political differences. But mutual understanding is key. Berlin should not seek to decide what is good and right for the Jewish state. The two countries should listen to each other, and practice understanding each other’s position.
This is not a task that can remain limited solely to the political sphere. It is also incumbent on all citizens. Especially young people, the many who enjoy international travel, and the worlds of science and business. German-Israeli relations will remain distinctive. With that in mind, we should take care to emphasize the
human element.

Photo Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia

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