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A unique relationship

Nastassja Shtrauchler / hgNovember 1, 2015

Six million Jews were killed in a genocide during the Nazi regime. Now, more than 70 years after the end of World War II, Germany and Israel have a close and friendly relationship - a small miracle?

Symbolbild deutsch-israelische Beziehungen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Schlesinger

On May 13 this year, Berlin and Jerusalem celebrated the establishment of diplomatic ties between Germany and the then fledgling State of Israel 50 years ago. At that time, in 1965, only two decades had passed since the Second World War and the unspeakable atrocities of the Nazi regime, which killed approximately six million European Jews in concentration and labor camps, mass shootings, human experiments and death marches.

Historians describe these planned and industrially executed murders as the greatest breach of civilization in the history of humanity. In Germany, people are well aware of their great historical guilt and the responsibility they have borne with regard to Israel and the Jews ever since the Shoah – the Hebrew word for catastrophe.

Israel's security as part of Germany's raison d'etat

Relations between the two countries constitute a cornerstone of German foreign policy. The Federal Republic of Germany advocates the right of Israel to exist, not only because of the Holocaust, but also in light of Israel's geographical position as a democracy in a region that has for decades resembled a powder keg on the verge of exploding. Israel's democracy also has its weaknesses and its military actions have not been without controversy; yet it has also made security for the Jewish people possible in an unparalleled manner.

In a speech in to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in 2008, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Israel's security was non-negotiable and part of Germany's raison d'etat. This idea is also put into practice: the German military, the Bundeswehr, carries out military exercises with the Israeli military and supplies Israel with submarines. Armaments cooperations between the two countries aimed at ensuring the existence of Israel date back to the 1950s.

Deutschland Israel U-Boot Lieferung
Germany has delivered several submarines to IsraelImage: picture alliance/Photoshot/A. Cohen

Anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel

First, it must be said that people in Germany are allowed to express their opinions: the country is democratic, which means, for example, that there is no state censorship. Nonetheless, limits to what is permitted do exist, and people must observe them.

Last summer, the line was crossed many times during protests. Hundreds of people in Germany took to the streets to demonstrate against Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip. Some of the protesters shouted "Jews into the gas" or other anti-Semitic slogans.

Protest against Isael
Anti-Israel sentiment grew in Germany during the 2014 Gaza conflictImage: Berry/Getty Images

Making anti-Semitic statements or denying the Holocaust is a criminal offense in Germany and can lead to charges of sedition. Offenders face up to five years in jail and can also be heavily fined. According to experts, criticism of Israel can be deemed as anti-Semitic if it is considered to be an attempt to discredit the Jewish state – for example, if Israel's actions are measured with standards differing from other international players or the "Zionist lobby" is blamed for any kind of negative happenings in the world.

Germany fights against this mindset, along with racism and xenophobia, in many international institutions, as anti-Semitism should have no place in this world, just as Islamophobia should not. The atrocities that took place in Germany under the National Socialists must never be repeated. This applies to all people - no matter where they come from.