Merkel meets Netanyahu as Israel and Germany hit rocky patch
Germany's abstention from the UN vote on the status of the Palestinian Authority angered Israel and raised questions about whether Germany's once almost unconditional support is changing.
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Germany is not only one of Israel’s most important trade partners, it also provides arms and military equipment at very generous terms, such as submarines specifically developed for the Israeli Navy and capable of launching missiles with nuclear warheads.Skip to next paragraph
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“Israel has got used to unconditional support from Germany,” says Avi Primor, Israeli ambassador to Germany between 1993 and 1999. “So it was surprised and hurt by the official criticism.”
But the chemistry between Merkel and Netanyahu has deteriorated over the past months, according to Mr. Primor, and Merkel needs to reconsider her support for Israel against a backdrop of critical German public opinion toward Israel’s role in the Middle East.
“I think Germans are losing patience with our settlement policy and our treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. It’s a factor the German government can’t ignore,” says Primor.
This would not translate into an immediate policy change on the German side. But if after the Israeli elections in January the new government continues a confrontational course toward the Palestinians, there is a possibility that Germany might actually join the chorus of rather strong critics within the European Union, Primor believes.
Earlier this year, German pollster Forsa published a study showing that 70 percent of Germans thought Israel was behaving recklessly and without taking the interests of its neighbors into consideration, 59 percent called Israel “aggressive.” Both figures had risen by about 10 percentage points in comparison with a similar study carried out in 2009.
Observers like Martin Kloke, a Berlin-based specialist on German-Israeli relations and author of “Israel and the German Left – The History of a Difficult Relationship,” think the reasons for this development are found not so much in Israel’s policy, but in a German desire to rewrite history.
“On the surface it is often ignorance,” Mr. Kloke says. “People see the pictures of Gaza being turned to rubble by Israeli helicopter gunships, and they side with what they perceive as the underdog in this uneven fight.”
But in Kloke’s eyes the coverage of the conflict already betrays a bias in the German media, which hardly covered the week-long rocket attacks by Hamas on Israeli communities.
And that bias is the reflection of a sentiment in wider German society, says Kloke. “Every Palestinian killed by Israeli shells minimizes German guilt. German protest against the mistreatment of Palestinians is not about the Palestinians really, it is about showing that the Israelis aren’t so different from our Nazi grandfathers,” says Kloke.
The government and the political elites in Germany are well aware of the risk that any criticism of Israel can be misused. This is why such criticism from officials is very rare, says Kloke. “But sometimes the Israelis make it quite difficult for Merkel.”