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Diplomacy

German-Israeli relations: a miracle

It's hard to imagine that Germany and Israel can maintain normal relations after the Holocaust. It is normal and yet abnormal, writes Deutsche Welle Editor-in-Chief Alexander Kudascheff.

Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany established diplomatic relations 50 years ago, less than 20 years after the end of WWII and less than 20 years after the Allied Forces had triumphed over the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler. Less than 20 years after the end the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of 6 million European Jews in an industrial murdering machine: selection, deportation, concentration camps, abuse and gassing. It was a monstrous breach of civilization.

Although the Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany was signed in 1952, it was still barely conceivable that Germans and Israelis would and could try to establish and maintain diplomatic relations. Masses protested angrily against diplomatic ties in Israel, which is understandable on a human and political level.

Familiarity and trust despite the Holocaust

Fifty years on, the following is viewed as a political miracle: Germany and Israel maintain close relations. Thousands of young Israelis visit Germany: they spend their vacation there or even move to Germany. About 200,000 Israelis have dual citizenship, Israeli and German. Germany, land of the Holocaust, is the most popular country in Israel apart from the USA.

Alexander Kudascheff

DW Editor in Chief, Alexander Kudascheff

On the other hand, working on kibbutzim was popular with Germans in the 1960s and 1970s. Now they travel to Israel to see the Holy Land. Most importantly, the governments in Berlin and Tel Aviv work together closely and trust each other.

Germany is the country in Europe that Israel can count on the most. Regardless of disputes over Israeli occupation policy or Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's stand against a Palestinian State, Israel's security belongs to the German state's raison d'état, as Angela Merkel declared to the Knesset in 2008 –without resistance at home.

Germans are often the only EU member that stands by Israel, which is quite unfortunate for a country surrounded by enemies. Nonetheless, it is quite unusual that Germany, responsible for the Shoah, is Israel's closest ally today. It's a development no one would have imagined 50 years ago.

Normality within abnormality

The normality of relations is unbelievable but the normality lies in the abnormal. The historical trauma still weighs heavily on both countries. The Third Reich's annihilation of European Jews is enmeshed in the countries' identities and their perception of each other. It defines the mentality of the two nations.

Surprises also come up in day to day social and political activities: Israelis hold Germans in high regard, but Germans cannot say the same for the Israelis, especially because of the Middle East conflict. An unexpectedly high number of Germans sympathize with Palestinians, who see themselves as victims of Israel. And that's when relations between the two countries get tricky.

Still, while Jews are leaving France, for instance, because they no longer feel safe there, no Jews are emigrating from Germany to Israel. As a matter of fact, the opposite holds true: Jews are moving to Germany. Jewish communities have double in sized in the past 20 years.

That is the second miracle. Jews want to live in Germany again. Unfortunately, German reality requires police surveillance for daycare centers and synagogues; Jewish cemeteries are often desecrated. That is the ugly face of the anti-Semitism that is still alive. But 70 years after the million-fold murders, relations between Germans and Israelis are miraculously good.

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