Time for a New Chapter in German-Israeli Relations
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has taken office, becoming the first Social Democrat born after the end of World War II to head the federal government.
His rise to power comes during a year when thousands of protesters, many of them on the political left, demonstrated against Israel’s defensive operations in Gaza. Cities across Germany erupted in violence, as rioters burned Israeli flags, while flying Hamas banners.
Last year, Jusos, the Social Democratic Party’s youth wing, passed a resolution declaring its PLO-Fatah counterpart, which has called for Israel’s destruction, its “sister organization.”
Germany’s outgoing Chancellor, Christian Democrat Angela Merkel, repeatedly spoke about the crucial nature of Israel’s existence. But her statements were belied by Germany’s frequent votes in favor of one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations. In 2019, German UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen equated Hamas rockets with Israeli bulldozers at a time when Hamas was firing projectiles at Israeli civilians.
The growing normalization of anti-Israel activity in Germany tends to confirm the fears of Jews, who have long worried that the generational shift taking place in Germany works against the long-term German-Israeli relationship. With new leaders in power who neither lived through World War II nor its immediate aftermath, the lessons of the Holocaust might fade more easily — their resonance with a younger generation diminished or lost altogether.
The false perception of Israel as a colonial occupier in the Middle East, nurtured on the European left since the 1967 Six-Day War, has made German support for the Palestinian cause, and even open hostility toward Israel, increasingly palatable. Gone for some is the once bedrock assumption in German politics that Germany owned a special responsibility for maintaining Israel’s security.
The rise in Muslim immigration to Germany has helped shape this dynamic. Refugees and migrants from the Middle East often bring with them a viewpoint that is decidedly anti-Israel. They consequently resist the sense that they are integrating into a country with a historic responsibility to protect Israel.
Chancellor Scholz has said some encouraging things about the German-Israeli relationship. At an Israel solidarity rally near the Berlin Holocaust memorial in May, he affirmed Merkel’s famous pledge that Israel’s security is Germany’s “reason of state.”
But a look at the coalition agreement the Social Democrats have formed with their governing partners, the Free Democrats and the Greens, reveals some disturbing departures from former pacts. Israel is not referred to as a Jewish state in the document, while language critical of settlements and calling for a return to 1967 borders suggests the West Bank will be a sticking point in bilateral relations. Also, the agreement insists on negotiations with Iran, but does not decry the Iranian nuclear program.
The passage of time and the increasingly casual embrace of anti-Israel public attitudes in the country that gave rise to the Holocaust has hastened the need for the new left-of-center government to reassert Germany’s position as Israel’s leading defender in Europe. The German government should vote against anti-Israel resolutions at the UN, and persuade other European Union countries to follow suit. In a country that refuses nuclear weapons of its own, the government should insist that Iran be barred from acquiring nukes. And Germany should focus its attention on terror, incitement, and the Palestinian Authority’s consistent refusal to negotiate as the biggest obstacles to peace — not Israeli settlements.
Germany’s “reason of state” ethos demands that it take these proactive measures and embrace its historic role as Israel’s principal ally in Europe. With anti-Israel sentiment increasingly morphing into antisemitism, the urgency in rebuking anti-Israel activity — at the UN, within the EU, and among the German public — is greater than ever. Germany’s new government should infuse the German-Israeli relationship with new purpose and vitality. Seventy-six years after the Holocaust, history, and the future, demand it.
The author is B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs, and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy