WITHthey all agree on at least one point. “For historical reasons”, relations with Israel have “special significance” for Germany. 99 percent of the elected representatives in Germany agree with this statement, a simple historical finding. You still have to say maybe. Because a survey by the European association Elnet among members of the Bundestag and all state parliaments (available exclusively to WELT) shows that the intensity of German-Israeli relations lags far behind this general commitment.
Even more: According to the survey, relationships have even gotten worse recently. Although cooperation, especially in the areas of economy and security, is very popular with the politicians surveyed.
First of all, there does not seem to be any particular interest among the representatives of the people in the Jewish state. According to the survey, almost half of the federal and state MPs (47.5 percent) have never traveled to Israel. Even fewer have boarded a plane to Tel Aviv for private reasons; only every third member of the Bundestag (38.2 percent), in the state parliaments only every fourth (25.4 percent). For professional reasons, however, every second member of the Bundestag (49.2 percent) was in Israel. In the state parliaments it is one in three.
But: These are statements from MPs who at least found it necessary to comment on German-Israeli relations at all. They were interviewed on the occasion of the 55th year of diplomatic relations between Berlin and Jerusalem, from October to November 2020. Elnet, a non-governmental organization promoting cooperation between European countries and the Jewish state, had 580 members of the Bundestag and 1,580 members of the Landtag questioned in writing.
But only ten percent gave an answer. Members of the AfD were not asked. “We consider the cooperation problematic because this party allows racism and anti-Semitism in its ranks,” says Carsten Ovens, Executive Director of Elnet. The Israeli government also officially rejects cooperation with the largest opposition party in the Bundestag.
Nonetheless, the MPs make a clear demand on the federal government. A large majority would like more engagement in the Middle East. A total of 77 percent of parliamentarians in the federal and state governments are calling for Berlin to do more to “normalize” relations between Israel and the Arab world. Among members of the Bundestag who have already visited Israel, the figure is significantly more at 94 percent.
“For German politics, this is both knowledge and a mandate,” says Ovens. Precisely because the Federal Foreign Office has so far welcomed the peace agreements between Israel and the Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco “rather cautiously”. “Israel’s security is a German reason of state. This includes bilateral relations on the one hand, but also support from Israel in the crisis and conflict-ridden region, ‘says Ovens. Especially since the Federal Republic is “well networked” both in Israel and in Arab countries.
The assessment of the current state of German-Israeli relations is contradictory. A large majority of those surveyed (81 percent) consider the collaboration to be good to very good. At the same time, almost every second member of the Bundestag (44 percent) says that relations have worsened in the past five years.
The biggest point of contention between Berlin and Jerusalem is currently the peace plan presented by US President Donald Trump, which also provides for the annexation of areas of the West Bank by Israel. The German government had criticized the plans as a violation of international law and, for its part, adhered to positions such as those from the Oslo Agreement, which provides for Palestinian autonomy there. However, many politicians in Israel consider these positions for a solution to the Middle East conflict, some of which are decades old, to be outdated or even failed.
Israel is constantly campaigning
“It becomes clear in the survey that the friendly relations have deteriorated rather than improved over the past few years,” says Elnet director Ovens. But he suspects other reasons than the major political lines of the governments in Berlin and Jerusalem. “Israel has been campaigning almost non-stop for two years,” says Ovens. It was only in December that the coalition between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz broke up.
For the fourth time within two years, there are new elections. One consequence: “MPs have less time for bilateral meetings and projects,” said Ovens. The government consultations, for which ministries and members of parliament traditionally meet alternately in Germany and Israel, last took place in 2018. The break is now also being extended by Corona. Ovens calls on all German MPs to become active themselves in order to launch projects.
A visit to Israel is motivating
With this appeal, Elnet can rely on a large majority of MPs (75 percent) who want “more cooperation” with Israel. Here, too, a visit to Israel is evidently motivating. While 82 percent of members of the state parliament who have already been to Israel want stronger cooperation, only 65 percent of those who do not know the country share this. Most recently, several federal states have opened a representation in Israel, this year North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg alone.
A closer look shows that mutual interests shape relationships anyway. While Germany describes Israel’s security as a “reason of state”, Israel also seems to be actively committed to protecting Germany. 48 percent of MPs attach great importance to cooperation with the Jewish state on security issues.
The first joint exercise by the Bundeswehr and the Israeli army in Germany last summer was a visible expression of these mutual security interests. Israel is also supplying the German Armed Forces with “Heron TP” drones, the possible arming of which has sparked a major dispute in the black-red coalition. What is less talked about, however: Israel’s secret services often give Berlin information about Islamist threats and possible attack plans.
Business and innovation are also very popular (69 percent). Israeli technology, for example in agriculture, cyber and security technology, is in great demand in Germany. Elnet promotes the digitization of German companies in the Ginsum project, which brings together start-ups from Israel and German medium-sized companies. Science and education are also very popular with 63 percent. For Elnet this was a positive finding: “It shows that all in all forward-looking topics are ahead. That gives confidence that the relationship will continue to grow, ”says Ovens.