German-Israeli Relations Sliding Downward

A reliable friend changes course.

pic8Earlier this month (January 12, and 13, 2014), Israel welcomed the freshly appointed Social Democrat (SPD) German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Considered a close friend of Israel, Steinmeier has returned to the post he held during Christian Democrat (CDU) Chancellor Angela Merkel’s first term that began in 2005. This visit is Steinmeier’s first foray outside Europe, ostensibly to attend former Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon’s funeral. It is the deteriorating relationship between Germany and Israel, particularly as it related to Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria that is in the background of Steinmeier’s visit.

Speaking to journalists in Jerusalem, Steinmeier pointed out that the destination for his first non-European official visit in his second term of office “bore testimony to the close relations between Germany and Israel.” While in Ramallah however, Steinmeier said that he expected the ‘settlements’ to be a focus of discussion at the next EU Foreign Ministers meeting (January 20, 2014). Steinmeier stated that he already issued a public statement following the first announcement of new building in the settlements, describing it as destructive for Secretary of State Kerry’s efforts, and urged that there be no further announcements.

The historical irony is that Germany has been one of the few reliable friends Israel has had in the EU. The former Warsaw Pact nations of Czech Republic and Poland are the others. However for a long time, Germany was Israel’s closest friend in Europe.

Germany and Israel have had a ‘special relationship’ since the Federal Republic of Germany was resurrected from the ashes of Nazi Germany. With the Nazi Holocaust perpetrated by Germans of the Third Reich as a backdrop, and the Murder of Six million European Jews, including a million and one half Jewish children, Germany launched the policy it called "Wiedergutmachung.”  It refers to reparations that the German government agreed to pay in 1953 to the direct survivors of the Holocaust, to those who were made to work as forced labor and those who otherwise became victims of the Nazis.

The moral responsibility Germans have towards Jews and the Jewish State goes beyond reparations. In Israel, throughout the 1950’s, any contact with Germany was a moral outrage, and the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin railed against accepting “blood money” from Germany. Germany’s historic guilt and moral responsibility is not just for the deliberate murder of European Jews, it is also to the “living Jews” in the Jewish State. 

Christoph Heusgen, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s powerful advisor on national security, is one of those German’s who wants, as he calls it, to “normalize relations” with Israel at the expense of the “special relations” Germany has had with the Jewish state. What Heusgen seeks above all else is legitimization to remove Germany’s historical responsibility for its crimes against the Jewish people and treat Israel as all other nations, based on national interests.

According to a cable from the U.S. embassy in Berlin in 2010, revealed by WikiLeaks, Heusgen urged the U.S. to tone down its opposition to the UN’s anti-Israel Goldstone Report, (which Goldstone later recanted) in order to force Israel to freeze settlement construction (which are legal by anyone’s standards). Chancellor Angela Merkel’s often repeated declarations in Israel’s Knesset and to the U.S. Congress that the Jewish State’s security is non-negotiable for Germany, appears somewhat empty in view of her retention of Heusgen on her staff, with his anti-Israel positions.

A more recent row between Israel and Germany occurred in September, 2012, as the Palestinians sought to bring to the UN General Assembly their request to upgrade their status as an Observer State at the UN. Israel mobilized the former German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle to persuade the majority of its EU partners to abstain, but he failed. Germany agreed with Israel that in case it was unable to convince its partners to abstain, it would vote against the Palestinian request. In the moment of truth, Germany broke its promise to Israel and abstained rather than vote against the Palestinian upgraded status application. If it was up to Heusgen, Germany would have voted in support of the Palestinians along with the other EU members.

Germany is eager to throw the Holocaust guilt off its back, and with encouragement from the European media and academia, it has found the excuses in Israel’s alleged “bad” treatment of the Palestinians, and construction in the ‘settlements,’ which are in fact, communities and towns within Area C, legally administered by Israel. Anti-Semitic expressions in Germany are allowed as long as it is directed towards the Jewish State. According to a 2013 BBC World Service Poll, 8% of Germans view Israel’s influence as positive and 67% view it as negative.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been nevertheless, the most pro-Israel leader of Germany. She had arranged for the German and Israeli cabinet meetings in Israel in March, 2008, which was the first time the German cabinet met with another cabinet outside of Europe. During her unprecedented speech at Israel’s Knesset in March, 2008, Merkel spoke of Germany’s “Holocaust shame,” and pledged her support for the Jewish state. She said that “The “Holocaust fills us with shame. I bow my head before the survivors and I bow my head before you in tribute to the fact that you were able to survive.” Referring to Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s threat “to wipe Israel off the map,” Merkel said, “Israel’s right to exist is not open to negotiation. These are not just empty words; Germany would support further sanctions on Iran if it fails to cooperate.” 

Merkel went on to say “what do we do when a majority says the greatest threat to the world comes from Israel and not from Iran? Do we bow our heads? Do we give up our efforts to combat the Iranian threat? However inconvenient and uncomfortable the alternative is, we do not do that. If we were to do that, then we would not have understood our historical responsibility, nor would we be able to properly develop a way to deal with the challenges of our day…” Yet, Payvand Iran News reported on December 2, 2008 that “total German-Iranian trade volume rose 7.8% between January and September (2008) compared to the same corresponding period in 2007. The overall bilateral trade volume stood at 3.233865 billion euros. German exports to Iran increased 8.9% and comprised 84.7% of the total German-Iranian trade volume.”

Germany is moreover a signatory to the six-month interim agreement with Iran, signed by the P5+1 (Iran, and U.S., UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China) on November 24, 2013. The agreement clears the way for the partial suspension of U.S. and EU sanctions, and would see thousands of German companies flocking to Iran to do business deals. Around 50 German firms have their own branch offices in Iran and more than 12,000 firms have their own trade representatives in Iran.

Merkel’s words about Iran in her 2008 speech in Israel’s Knesset, and her statements about Germany’s responsibility and support for the Jewish State’s security are negated by Germany’s recent actions. Germany’s continued trade with Iran is a betrayal of Israel and the Jewish people, especially since the Islamic Republic of Iran is committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.

Germany’s position on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is skewed as well. Berlin has chosen to overlook the Palestinians quest to replace the Jewish state with an Arab-Muslim one. Germany has preferred to ignore Ramallah’s incitement against Israel by official actions and pronouncements in the Palestinian media, schools, and mosques. Steinmeier’s visit cannot change the fact that Germany seeks to end its “special relations” with the Jewish state, and join the EU anti-Israel chorus.

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