Germany is a ′true friend′ for Israel | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 12.05.2015
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Germany is a 'true friend' for Israel

Israel and Germany have a good relationship today, with close cooperation among artists, students and politicians as well. But there are more and more incidents castings shadows on this friendship.

The first German ambassador in Israel, Rolf Pauls was welcomed by protesters and had tomoatoes thrown at him when he arrived in 1965. Today, former Israeli ambassadors to Germany Avi Primor and Shimon Stein are welcome guests on German talkshows.

The two former ambassadors agree with the majority of German politicians: the relationship between Germany and Israel could hardly be any better. "That's mostly because of the good interpersonal relationships, Primor emphasized.

Even before the beginning of diplomatic relations and against what politicians back then said, Germans and Israelis forged personal relationships that later became the basis for the political relations, Primor said.

The active cooperation in the field of research and science between the countries goes all the way back to contacts between the Max-Planck-Societies and the Weizmann-Institute in the Israeli city of Rehovot from the 1959s. Today there's even a joint institute, the Max Planck Weizmann Center for Archaeology and Anthropology, which was founded in 2012.

Israelis love Berlin, Berlin loves Israeli culture

There are also close relations in the field of cultural exchange. In each country there's great interest in the other's art, literature, films and music. There are regular writers' meet-ups, joint film festivals and exhibitions. Berlin has become home to many Israeli artists and designers who have become an integral part of the city's cultural scene.

"The German capital has become a magnet for Israelis," former German ambassador to Israel Rudolf Dressler said.

More than 20,000 Israelis live in Berlin, according to current estimates. Among them is 27-year-old Hadar Braun. She volunteers at the Wannsee Villa, where a permanent exhibition stands as a reminder of the "final solution" - the deportation and murder of Europe's Jews that was planned and decided on in the mansion.

Anti-Israeli protesters in front of the Bundestag. (Photo: Erbil Basay - Anadolu Agency)

People all over Germany protested against Israeli air strikes in Gaza

"When I say I'm from Israel, Germans tell me that Tel Aviv is the most interesting city in the world," Braun said. "And when I say in Israel that I live in Berlin, I get to hear that Berlin is the world's greatest city."

Esther Buck has a similar story to tell. The young woman traveled to Israel with the organization "Action Reconciliation Service for Peace" and cared for Holocaust survivors. The fact that she was from Germany presented no problem whatsoever. "My heritage wasn't interesting because I'm not from Berlin," Buck said with a smile.

Like Esther, thousands of German youth and young adults visit Israel each year, whether as volunteers, tourists or exchange students. Ever since 1969, the youth exchange between Israel and Germany has been growing stronger. More than 9,000 young people from both nations participate each year, according to the German Embassy in Israel.

'Germany is our last true friend'

On the political level, the cooperation between Jerusalem and Berlin is close and full of trust. Both governments meet once a year for consultations.

"We sit at a large table and plan projects together. We laugh and we argue, just like good friends," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in the Bundestag. "The brave political seed sown by Ben Gurion and later Konrad Adenauer has bloomed and carries fruits far beyond our own borders, for example when we fight together on the international stage against anti-semitism and racism."

Steinmeier's party, the Social Democrats (SPD), has been in close contact with its Israeli pendant via the Socialist International Society for years. That's how young Michal Biran, who sits in the Knesset for the Israeli Labor Party, made German friends.

"Germany is a true friend of Israel," she said while on a visit to Berlin last week. Thirty years ago, Israel had friends and supporters all over the Western world, but now it's mostly isolated, according to Biran.

The government and its supporting parties have mostly cultivated relationships with Europe's rightwing extremists, Biran said: "They hate the Arabs even more than they hate us." Only Germany remained as a reliable friend, according to the Knesset representative: "Our friendship with Germany is based on common values of equality and peace."

Germany more popular in Israel than Israel is in Germany

But there are also missteps that cast a shadow on the good relationship again and again. The foreign policy spokesman of the conservative CDU, Philipp Mißfelder, talked about an incident at a Berlin soccer game, when police prohibited the waving of an Israeli flag. Mißfelder said this represented tendencies that society needed to fight.

The Bertelsmann-Foundation found a growing distance toward Israel among Germans in a recent study. Results said that two thirds of Israelis had a positive attitude concerning Germany, but that the negative attitude from the other side was growing. 62 percent of Germans think of Israel in negative terms and 65 percent say they want to leave the past behind them and are asking for a fresh start.

"We have to contradict these people," Green Party chief Katrin Görin-Eckardt said in the Bundestag. "It's not a burden to never forget. It's the most important thing we have to pass on to the next generations."

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