Not Taking It for Granted – Speaking off the Record About German-Israeli Relations

Nadav Eyal, an Israeli journalist by profession and experienced foreign correspondent on Europe, takes a closer look at the shifts in mutual perceptions of and perspectives on Germany and Israel respectively – what challenges are both societies and their relations confronted with today?

Nadav Eyal, Journalist, © Ruthe Zuntz

Nadav Eyal, Journalist, © Ruthe Zuntz

The Holocaust left behind generations traumatized with unimaginable pain and loss suffered. It needed courage, visions and the effort of dozens of people for being able to establish mutual relations between Germany and the newly founded State of Israel. Thousands of its inhabitants only saved themselves by fleeing from Germany. The beginning of these relations was that of a refusal of any contact: A stamp in Israeli passports in the 1950s excluded Germany from the list of countries Israelis could travel to, said Nadav Eyal in his lecture at the opening of the 2nd part of the German-Israeli Youth Congress in Israel. Following their development until the present day, one has the impression that a seemingly unbridgeable chasm of open rejection has altered into a stable and diverse connection between several realms of society and beyond the governmental level.

But “we should not take the German-Israeli relations for granted”, Nadav Eyal calls upon the young bilateral mixed audience. An Israeli journalist by profession and experienced foreign correspondent on Europe, Nadav Eyal took a closer look at the shifts in mutual perceptions of and perspectives on each other as well as on challenges which both societies and their relations are confronted with today. According to a recent study of the Bertelsmann Foundation Germans increasingly show an interest in Israel, while Israelis pay less attention to Germany. The quality of the interest in each other diffesr distinctively. The shared history, on which the relations are built upon, are conceived by young Germans more and more as a matter of fact responsibility rather than as an emotional commitment. A rising number of Israelis in general have a positive view of Germany and regard it as one of the strongest European supporters of their state.

It is interesting to consider the opposing and at some points even clashing directions the German and Israeli societies are heading toward, while they are confronted with ascendingly similar challenges like the rise of a “triangle” of extremism, i.e. radical Islam, extremism of the right-wing and the radical left-wing. Israel was founded originally (remember, mostly by refugees and Holocaust survivors who fled the lands of the nowadays close German partners) as a socialist country and was not altered into one. Even ideas and the reality of a progressive society had found their way much earlier to Israel than to Europe. Today one can observe a more progressive shift in German society, while its democratic values are threatened by radicalized parts of the society. Israel on the other hand is undergoing a process towards more traditional and conservative values, which is often regarded as negative.

The societies are obviously growing apart, one may discern a crisis in the relations, which for example the view on and coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Western Europe does show. It is not covered according to a journalistic credo “all news is local” but rather extensively. Anti-Semitism makes living in Europe communities more and more uncomfortable for Jews, but Germany still takes a different stance on the growing right- and left-wing extremism and populist parties than other European countries. Germans feel insecure as an immediate result of the growing security issues in the last years and are realizing that a complex and complicated situation like in Israel is not that far away from Europe anymore. This results in an increasingly empathic way of referring to Israel. A network of young people from both countries who share goals and interests are a chance for overcoming the crisis and continuing the tightly entwined and grown relationship. They form the base for future relations between the German and Israeli societies and are one of the most important aspects on normalizing the relations.

Ambassador Dr. Clemens von Goetze on German-Israeli relations and youth exchange

On May 12, 1965 West Germany and Israel established diplomatic relations. Down to the present day 14 German representatives have been sent to Israel to serve the state of Germany as ambassadors. Since July 2015 Dr. Clemens von Goetze is new to the office. We spoke with him about the past, present and future of German-Israeli relations and youth exchange.

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Ambassador Dr. von Goetze, you have been the ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in Tel Aviv since July 2015, from your diplomatic perspective: what is special about German-Israeli relations? What makes them different from those between other countries?

First of all it is the history that makes it special. Germany is the country of perpetrators and Israel of victims of the Shoa. And it is very amazing that 70 years after the end of the Shoa and 50 years after establishing diplomatic relations we have reached these excellent relations between the countries. I think it is mainly due to the fact that the Israelis had the strength and generosity to stretch out their hand to us.

We are celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations and even 60 years of youth exchange. How are these very different forms of interaction related?

It is not by chance that the youth exchange came before the diplomatic relations. The young people were the ones who wanted to bring future to our relations despite the very, very difficult past. And the past will never be forgotten, it will always be an essential part of our relations. But it is again the youngsters who will have to revive the relations for the next 50 years of diplomatic relations between our countries.

What can politics, can politicians learn from youth exchange?

Young people have a very good sense for the actual problems that are moving a society and it is always good when we know exactly what moves our societies and what young people – the future of our societies – are interested in, what their expectations for the future are.

Coming from the past, to the present to the future: where do you see the chances and challenges in German-Israeli relations today and tomorrow?

When we always remember the past and continue with our common efforts, for sure we will be able to develop our relations in the same positive way they have been moving forward up to now. Our relations have enormous potential for the young generation, not only in politics and business, but also in education, science and culture. Together, Germans and Israelis can achieve a lot and overcome challenges. Your youth conference with so many participants from both countries offers the chance to build a long lasting network for this endeavor.