Welcome to German Anti-Israel Realpolitik

Germany's attitude towards Israel shows a sharp deterioration in every aspect compared to three years ago, a new poll shows. Merkel is at the forefront.

Kevin Zdiara, Germany,

OpEds Kevin Zdiara
Kevin Zdiara

Over the last three years the Arab-Israel has been a low-intensity conflict, with no major military action involving Israel and improving economic conditions for Palestinians. Precisely at that time German-Israeli relations have grown worse.

The final proof came in May with a poll conducted by the German magazine Der Stern. The survey about German’s attitude towards Israel shows sharp deterioration in every aspect compared to the numbers three years ago.German’s attitude towards Israel shows sharp deterioration in every aspect compared to the numbers three years ago.

70 percent of Germans think that Israel pursues its interests recklessly, 11 points more than in 2009; 59 percent consider Israel aggressive, an increase of 10 percent; only 36 percent find it a likeable country 9 points less than 2009; and whereas in 2009 one third said that Israel respects human rights this number is now only at 21 percent. 13 percent of the participants even deny Israel its right to exist.

But the German public has always been overly critical of Israel’s action and, therefore, those numbers are only one part of the problem. The more fundamental problem is that the political elites in Germany seem to have abandoned, what they like to call, the “special relationship” between Germany and Israel.

Ironically, this comes during the term of a chancellor who is widely considered to be one the most pro-Israeli German leaders in history. Prime Minister Netanyahu called chancellor Angela Merkel “a great friend of Israel, a great champion of Israel’s security”. A closer look at her chancellorship reveals, however “a radical change of foreign policy” regarding Israel, as the German newspaper Die WELT noted last December.

True, Germany was among the 14 countries that opposed the admission of “Palestine” to the UNESCO. Also Merkel’s Germany did not participate in the anti-Israel Durban III conference, the German chancellor has been one of the most vocal critics in Europe of Mahmoud Abbas’ unilateral bid for statehood, and Germany subsidized the sale of German submarines to Israel. Still, the signs for a dangerous realignment of Germany are there.

One example is the ongoing trade and diplomatic relation with the Iranian regime. In 2008, before the Knesset, Merkel promised tougher handling of this issue, yet, in 2010 German-Iranian trade still amounted to more than 5.3 billion dollars. Germany remains the biggest European exporter to Iran and is market leader in most of the mechanical engineering sectors in Iran.

Germany, therefore, plays a key role in bringing the Iranian economy to a standstill and, hence, in undermining the Mullah’s regime, as the German Iran expert Matthias Küntzel recently noted.

The ongoing relations with a Holocaust denying regime are morally reprehensible, but Merkel’s treatment of the Jewish state is scandalous. Let me give you some examples:

A cable from November 2009, published by wikileaks, revealed that only a few days in Merkel’s second term, her national security advisor Christoph Heusgen proposed to American diplomats that Israel should be pressured into agreeing to a settlement freeze by linking a favorable treatment of the Goldstone Report in the UN Security Council to Israel’s commitment to a freeze of all settlement activities. Therefore, Heusgen wanted to use a blatantly anti-Israel document to blackmail Israel into compliance.

A few months later, on July 1, 2010, the German Bundestag passed unanimously a resolution questioning the proportionality during Israel’s interception of the Gaza-bound Mavi Maramara and criticized the blockade of Gaza as “counterproductive and not helping Israel’s political and security interests”. Merkel, together with all 622 members of parliament voted in favor of that resolution.

No other Western parliament did something similar. The German parliament thought it necessary to tell Israel how to defend itself.

But it is Israel’s policy of building beyond the Green line and in East Jerusalem which has become a constant point of criticism during Merkel’s administration. Her obsession with this minor aspect of the Middle East conflict has led her to give consent to a completely biased UN Security Council resolution in February 2011. The document condemned only Israel for the stalled peace process. Instead of using Germany’s temporary membership in that panel to veto the one-sided resolution or at least to abstain from voting, Germany sided with China, Lebanon and others in denouncing Israel.

Certainly, the most troubling incident came in December 2011 when the German newspaper Die WELT reported that Merkel tried to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for a German submarine. As Die WELT reported, the German chancellor made it clear that the deal would only pass under the condition that Israel dramatically changes its settlement policies (including in East Jerusalem). Germany threatened to limit Israel’s abilities to defend itself over a disagreement on a few houses.

Although eventually the deal was finalized without an Israeli concession on the settlement issue, Merkel okayed it only after Netanyahu had agreed to transfer almost 75 million dollars of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority.

And even in her opposition to Mahmoud Abbas’s bid for statehood, she has been ambiguous.

Last June the German magazine Der Spiegel wrote that Merkel had advised the Palestinians to introduce a resolution into the UN Security Council demanding a two-state resolution based on the Green Line, instead of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. The German chancellor’s solution, therefore, was not, as it has been portrayed, outright rejection of the irresponsible Palestinian move but rather appeasement.

So it is no surprise that this February German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle rewarded Palestinian rejectionism with upgrading the Palestinian diplomatic representation in Berlin from a delegation to a mission headed by an ambassador. A clear signal to Mahmoud Abbas that Germany was willing to ignore his refusal to talk to Israel.

What has happened in Germany is the interplay of a lack of moral leadership and a staunchly anti-Israel public.

In the last three years Merkel has betrayed the main ideas of the political platform on which she ran in 2009. Initially, she was against ending nuclear energy, against ending the military draft, against a minimum wage, against a financial transaction tax only to reverse her opinion on each of those topics by 2012. In the same manner, she was a strong proponent of close German-Israel relations until 2009 and now has distanced herself from the Jewish state.

What binds all those about-faces together is that the initial positions weren’t very popular and as soon as they were threatening Merkel’s popularity she was willing to throw them overboard.

With the Der Stern polls the results of Merkel’s leadership are in: she has failed in making the case for Israel, and instead anti-Israel sentiments are at an all-time high. Threats and blackmailing have become the German way of dealing with the Jewish state today.

The “special relationship” is over, welcome to German Realpolitik!