Manfred Gerstenfeld on Germany and Israel in the 1990s and Beyond: Still a“Special Relationship”?

, October 1, 2006

Jewish Political Studies Review 18:3-4 (Fall 2006)

 

German-Israeli Relations since the 1990s

Germany and Israel in the 1990s and Beyond: Still a”Special Relationship”? by Yves Pallade, Peter Lang, 2005, 598 pp.

Reviewed by Manfred Gerstenfeld

This book gives a broad overview of German-Israeli relations since the former’s reunification in 1990. The first half of the study addresses cooperation in the intelligence, police, and military fields. The second half discusses contacts in the political, economic and financial, scientific, social, professional, tourism, and cultural domains.

Although it is not explicitly stated, the book appears to be the author’s PhD thesis in political science at the University of Düsseldorf. Pallade conducted more than a hundred interviews for the study, about a quarter of these with unnamed counterparts who are experts on intelligence and military matters in Israel and Germany.

In his Foreword, Pallade mentions that there have been significant developments in the months between the book’s completion in mid-2004 and its publication. Among these, he briefly refers to the further increase in German anti-Semitism as revealed in the 2004 GMF (group-targeted misanthropy) survey carried out under the supervision of Prof. Wilhelm Heitmeyer of Bielefeld University.[1] This study found that more than half of Germans view Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians as parallel to that of the Nazis toward the Jews.

Among the positive developments after mid-2004, the author notes the replacement of Yasser Arafat by Mahmoud Abbas in the Palestinian leadership. Since then, however, many more problems have transpired.

 

A Wealth of Information

This thoroughly researched book provides plentiful information in many fields. The multiple interviews enable the author to compare comments on the facts he cites and to interpret them. This is particularly helpful in opaque areas such as intelligence and military cooperation.

Among the many interesting insights in the political sphere is another confirmation of France’s role as the spearhead of anti-Israeli activity in the European Union over the past decades (291). On 15 July 1999, the High Contracting Parties of the Geneva Convention were convened at the initiative of the Arab states to examine Israeli violations of the treaty. Never before or since has such a meeting taken place to discuss any other of the world’s problems.[2]

The United States, Canada, and Australia boycotted the event. Germany led the European effort to adjourn it immediately after it opened, whereas France, Sweden, and Ireland resisted this. Afterward only France asked for a specific date to reconvene the conference.

 

The Decline of European Taboos

European taboos against public anti-Semitism have fallen rapidly over the past few years. Although in Germany this has occurred at a somewhat slower pace, the phenomenon exists there as well.[3] Pallade shows that it is not the Second Intifada that has caused anti-Semitism with its anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli variations. A 1989 survey already found that 63 percent of West Germans disliked Israelis (343). A 1993 poll showed that 22 percent of West Germans and 19 percent of East Germans believed that Israeli people were “cursed” (344).

Pallade also focuses on the biased media reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Germany. One of several studies he quotes showed that Palestinian terrorism has succeeded in turning Israel’s image from victim to aggressor (352).

The author asks in the book’s subtitle to what extent the special relationship between Germany and Israel will continue. This question mainly concerns the two countries’ close collaboration in the fields Pallade surveys. The real question, however, goes far beyond this and addresses the “normalcy” of German-Israeli relations.

 

The Quest for Normalcy

This book and others have shown that most of the German public would like to rid themselves of the consequences of the Holocaust, including the guilt. The more, however, that Germans try to portray the present as normal by downplaying or embellishing their past, the more normalcy will be delayed since the efforts to rewrite history are themselves abnormal.

Germany’s quest for normalcy is further hampered by the country’s considerable xenophobia. Before the world soccer championships in June 2006, there were a number of extremely violent attacks on colored people. These prompted debates on whether colored visitors should be warned to avoid some particularly problematic areas of former East Germany.

There is another question as well. The German political system has understood that its attitude toward Israel and Jews is a litmus test for all those who regard reunited Germany, the largest nation in Europe, with suspicion. How long, however, can the German political system ignore, besides the right-wing racism against colored foreigners, the neo-anti-Semitic feelings stoked by the mainly left-wing elite-especially when these sentiments have now permeated the German mainstream?

Pallade’s book can become a model for analysis of Israel’s bilateral relations with other European countries. Although the incomprehensible absence of a name index is a real hindrance, the book can also, to some extent, become a reference work on the state of German-Israeli relations in many areas.

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Notes

 

[1] See Manfred Gerstenfeld, review of Wilhelm Heitmeyer, Deutsche Zustände, Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 18, Nos. 1-2 (Spring 2006): 173.

[2] See also Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Dore Gold, in Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss? (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Adenauer Foundation, 2005), 52ff.

[3] Andre Markovits, “A New (or Perhaps Revived) ‘Uninhibitedness’ toward Jews in Germany,”  Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 18, Nos. 1-2 (Spring 2006): 57-70.