Israeli PM Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Germany comes at a politically turbulent time. Israel expert Peter Lintl sums up the divide between Europe and Israel: "Europeans have a hard time understanding Israelis."
DW: Mr. Lintl, Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting Germany at a particularly troubled political period. The Middle East is changing dramatically — the advances being made by Iran are possibly the most serious issue for Israel at the moment. How has Germany positioned itself on this question with regards to Israel?
Peter Lintl: Iran's presence in Syria poses a direct threat to Israel. Germany supports Israel on this issue and fully recognizes the country's right to self-defense against Iranian threats from Syria. But Germany also places emphasis on peaceful conflict resolution and advocates de-escalation.
The situation is different with regards to the nuclear agreement.
There are indeed significant differences. Germany believes that the nuclear agreement with Iran was a step in the right direction. Israel, on the other hand, says that the agreement offers Iran the opportunity to develop a nuclear bomb — even under the guise of alleged legitimacy — thanks to the deal.
The recent events in Gaza are also likely to be a topic for discussion. Dozens were killed there.
In Germany, the question has been whether it was really necessary to use snipers. However, there were not only demonstrators at the border, but also people who wanted to cross the border fence. At any rate, according to the Israeli military, the deployment prevented several assassination attempts. In any case, this is very difficult to judge from the outside.
Ultimately, the recent incidents are only a continuation of the fundamental problems caused by placing the Palestinians in Gaza's isolation and difficult living conditions. But we must also recognize that the Palestinians, as desperate as they are in this situation, are playing a part in the conflict. When they send swastika-painted kites with Molotov cocktails to Israel, for example, it does little to give the Israelis the impression that this is a peaceful protest march.
Germany and Israel are at odds in the debate over recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Germany has rejected any suggestion of relocating embassies to Jerusalem based on the historical background that Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 declaring it the unified capital. There were two UN resolutions calling on states that had embassies in Jerusalem at the time to remove them. That was intended to send a signal that the two-state solution or rather, the 1967 border, would continue to apply to the international community. The German position must be seen against this background. Transferring an embassy to Jerusalem implies, of course, that the annexation should be recognized.
In Israel, for example in the Jerusalem Post, it is sometimes said that Europe, with its comparatively safe situation, is not adequately able to imagine the threats facing Israel. What do you think of this argument?
On the one hand, it is true. I believe that many Europeans do indeed find it difficult to put themselves in the Israelis' position. This does not even concern immediate developments, such as the rocket attacks from Gaza or the bloody war in neighboring Syria. Instead, it's mainly about the concept of being in a conflict with the Palestinians for over a hundred years. Moreover, the issue of Israel's legitimacy is still being discussed. This question still haunts the media. Combined with the security situation, many Europeans certainly cannot imagine the resulting uncertainty.
However, the other side's argument is sometimes used by Israelis to silence Europeans. Then it is said that Europeans should refrain from criticism because they don't know what they are talking about. From a European or German perspective, of course, things have to be given appropriate weight. On the one hand, you have to be able to express yourself. On the other hand, an attempt must be made to understand Israel's position.
As well as the usual right-wing extremists in Germany and Europe, there now also seems to be Islamic anti-Semitism. How is this being discussed in Israel?
Israelis are concerned, of course. However, they are obviously concerned about all forms of anti-Semitism. It is irrelevant to them whether it is Islamic, right-wing or left-wing. However, Islamic anti-Semitism is often linked to the Middle East conflict. From the outset, it has led to Islamic or Arab states having a rather negative view of Israel.
Another interesting development is that many conservative governments, for example in Poland or Hungary, as well as the Trump administration in the US, view the Arab world with skepticism. The respective governments have justified their rejection of migration, among other things, by the fact that immigrants do not share Western values. Moreover, there is the accusation that they bring a certain anti-Semitism.
However, two studies now show that the decidedly pro-Zionist course pursued by some conservative governments overshadows a latent anti-Semitism that is inherent, at least in part, in many right-wing governments in Eastern Europe. Paradoxically, this has led to a pro-Zionist standpoint mixed with anti-Semitic motives.
Benjamin Netanyahu is a controversial politician. His critics accuse him of placing too much emphasis on external threats in order to make a name for himself on the domestic political front. What do you think about this accusation?
On one side, this criticism is true. Netanyahu can certainly win over voters with the argument that he is Israel's "Mr. Security." This could clearly be seen during the last election campaign. When threatened with defeat, he played the security card. But in order to play this card, you need an enemy. These enemies were partly Israeli Palestinians, partly Iran. Netanyahu relies on playing this card.
On the other side, Netanyahu is convinced of his position. This is not just pure cynicism. His criticism of the nuclear agreement with Iran stems from a serious conviction that the agreement is bad for Israel. Even if Europeans see things differently. An Israeli colleague of mine always sums up the different assessments by Israelis and Europeans regarding the dangers facing Israelis in a somewhat exaggerated manner: "Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you." That is why Netanyahu wins votes with his choice of words. On the other hand, however, he takes the situation very seriously.
Political scientist Peter Lintl heads the project "Israel in a conflictual regional and global environment: Internal developments, security policy and foreign relations" at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs.