Establishing German-Israeli Relations

The first public debate on the relationship of the West German state to Israel took place shortly after the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland). A reparation agreement with Israel was pushed forward by German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who perceived the agreement as a moral means of restitution, but also as a signal to the outside world to rehabilitate Germany.

In 1951-1952, when the first Bundestag (German Parliament) debated the reparation agreement, it became clear that the moral implication of this “reparation agreement”1 with Israel promoted by Adenauer was by no means part of the public political rhetoric, which was dominated by the narrative of an imagined German victim community consisting of bombed-out homes refugees, war widows, and orphans. That’s why some of the political leaders involved in the decision-making process of the cabinet, as evidenced by the cabinet discussion,2 perceived it as an opportunity to justify the rejection of payment obligations toward the Jews because of the duty to care for the German victims.3 Within this lies a public consciousness which had by no means freed itself from the racist prejudices and exclusions of the Nazis, as surveys of the US occupation have shown. At the same time, driven by intellectuals, publicists, and scientists, as well as by the philosopher Karl Jaspers with his controversial book "Die Schuldfrage" (The Question of Guilt), it became apparent as early as 1946 that the democratic post-war Germany also had to deal with the crimes of its recent past publicly. These contemporaries thus prepared the ground for what would determine West Germany's national identity both externally and internally in the decades that followed: the historical-political confrontation with the Nazi past.4  As the Israeli historian Jelinek5 had already stated in the public debate on the Luxembourg Agreement, there are some indications that the linguistic codification of the public dealings with the Nazi past over the course of time and the German guilt were a minority project to be pushed through against the majority.6 Thus, the argument of moral restitution of West Germany was made not only in response to external pressure to face its past; it was also an internal signal, not least in the face of resistance within its own ranks.7

With his speech on September 27, 1951 in the German parliament, Adenauer not only extended his hand, as Der Spiegel reported,8 he also paved the way by acknowledging the guilt, which made it possible for the Israeli side to start talks. Thus, it not only became possible to overcome the seemingly insurmountable inability of the Germans and Jews to engage in dialogue after the Holocaust,9 but it was also the beginning of what was to become a constituent element of West German national identity, a politics of remembrance, at the center of which was an admission of guilt. The relationship to Israel, the appraisal of Israeli politics and society, has become a morally charged indicator in the assessment of West German politics of the past in different political and social contexts and on the part of different groups. The connection, repeated especially by Adenauer during the negotiations, between the restoral of the reputation of the Germans and the reparations to be made to Israel points to the fact that in future West German memory, policy could no longer be separated from the relationship with Israel. It was to be another step forward by the Federal Republic toward "normalization," which included the certainty of being on the ’right side’ in foreign policy as well.

Germany and Israel started diplomatic relations in 1965. In official statements, the concept of "normalization" had inscribed itself in everyday political life, not least through relations with Israel and the rhetoric of coping with guilt. Nevertheless, reservations about Israel and a refusal to deal aggressively with the past continued to be widespread in society. The former changed with the outbreak of the Six-Day War in 1967.

Unconditional Solidarity

Solidarity with Israel was unanimous. Survey results show that Israel also enjoyed unprecedented popularity among the population as a whole. In the June 1967 issue of Der Spiegel, the leading German news magazine, the headline was: "Israel's Blitzkrieg." The other two leading media, FAZ and Die Zeit, took up this term as well. The language does not only refer to unbridled militarism, however ("The Arab deployment drove the Israelis into a corner, forcing them to carry out a pre-emptive strike"10); this conceptual definition of Israel's enthusiasm is reminiscent of the war rhetoric of World War II.11

This unconditional solidarity produced a politics of remembrance, which through identification with the Jewish victims, made it possible to carry out a shift of guilt and an exculpation. "Jews of all people, whom German Nazis considered to be cowardly, lazy and rotten, won the war against superior supremacy for the third time, in contrast to the German “Herrenmenschen” master-race). Of all people, Jews reminded German veterans of their Rommel and proved themselves to be true desert foxes”.12 Opposing voices came above all from the left, which contrasted this newly awakened admiration for Israel with the refusal to deal with one's own past. In a commentary in the magazine Konkret, the author Ulrike Meinhof interweaves her criticism of this type of reporting with a motif that combines the enthusiasm for Israel with the absolution of the German past: "Success and harshness triggered a bloodlust. Blitzkriegtheorien run wild, Bild finally won in the Sinai, 25 years after the battle of Stalingrad.”13

This externalization of one's own past went hand in hand with the awareness of being on the right side of world history. Thus, the panorama of the exculpation of guilt had been extended. At the same time there was talk of the "degenerate descendants of the Prophet."14 The enemy image of a backward and violent Arab culture, hostile to Western civilization, further legitimized their position. This categorization has continued and is frequently evoked.

Influence of the German Right

The expansion of this arsenal of anti-Arab worldviews was accompanied by the growth of the Muslim population in Germany, especially since 2015 with the arrival of Syrian refugees, often described as a "refugee crisis." At the same time, the instrumentalization of relations with Israel reached a new climax with the strengthening of the German right. It led to an unexpected revitalization of a latently existing structure of prejudice. The anti-immigrant sentiment became the central element in the attitude of the AfD toward Israel. The official political line of the party in the parliament represents the attempt to integrate the Israeli right and its settlement policy in the West Bank into the cosmos of an anti-Islamic interpretation of history.

The party leadership is pursuing a strategy of selective perception. On the one hand, they instrumentalize the responsibility for Israel's existence, which is, at the same time, reduced to the function of being the anti-Arab regional power of the Middle East. On the domestic policy level, Israel is portrayed as a counterpoint to the failure of the German "elites’" defensive struggle against the Islamic danger, an argument which is constantly repeated. The "Muslim danger" concept also shapes the party's stands regarding Middle East politics. Beatrix von Storch's policy toward Israel, for example, is primarily aimed at stopping UNRWA aid to the Palestinians and scandalizing EU reconstruction aid in the occupied territory.15 This Israelfriendly attitude within the AfD is also supported by the Christian faction in the party, some of whose members are recruited from the fundamentalist Evangelical community and see their expectations of salvation fulfilled in the party's policy toward Israel, the Holy Land.16

European Parliament Member Joachim Kuhs, chairman of the Christians in the AfD and representative of an Anglican sect, expressed his enthusiasm for the settlement policy in a declaration of faith in the "very hard-working and law-abiding Jews," in whom one recognizes "a spirit of awakening, enthusiasm, and destiny which one can only wish for our self-destructive German present." In the rhetoric of the Israeli right, the Jewish settlements in "Judea and Samaria" are contrasted with the "neglected, unmaintained streets and houses" of Arab cities and villages.17 This perception is used as an illustrative lesson for the situation in German: "The difference could hardly be greater, and it shows us vividly why the mass Muslim immigration in Germany causes such problems."

The instrumental character of the image of Israel among the parliamentary representatives of the party also becomes clear when MP Carsten Hütter praises the (threatened) deportation of refugees by the Israeli Government as a model for German Government policy.18

This pro-Israeli attitude, as most offensively represented by Beatrix von Storch, is by no means a consensus within the party. A motion to strengthen German-Israeli friendship at the party conference in 2017 was defeated by the majority of delegates and set aside.

Anti-Semitic conspiracies largely underpin the image of Israel among the majority in the AfD and other right-wing populist groups. Indeed, the statements made to the public about the "about-turn" and the rejection of the "guilt complex" are regularly negated, relativized, or denied. However, these strategies can be interpreted as a symptom of the dilemma within the party, which abandoned the consensus of German remembrance policy long ago, although its leaders want to maintain the bourgeois image of the party, which includes the culture of German remembrance and friendship with Israel.


The pro-Israeli attitude of parts of the AfD is manifested in an ideological, reductionist, and selective image of Israel. One can conclude that this enthusiasm for Israel is related to the moral impulses that have carried and continue to carry the memory in Germany. On the other hand, the right is witnessing a revitalization of latent prejudices that have always accompanied the culture of remembrance but now lead to a closed ultra-nationalist worldview that shapes the racist discourse on migrants and migration in Germany.

In addition, there is a narrow view of the Israeli reality on the ground: Israeli society is reduced to a force against Arab domination in the Middle East, a military power that holds up a mirror to Europe's decadence.

The radical Christian fantasy of a messianic mission redeeming the Jews fits seamlessly into this interpretation.

Complementary to this, the racist-motivated enemy image of the "Muslim" in the form of the Palestinians is constructed and used in the internal German polemic against migrants. The support for the right-wing settlement policy in Israel amounts to the rejection of a policy oriented toward the standards of international law. This also includes the fundamental rejection of an enlightened society based on universal human rights and equality. The boundaries of belongingness are seen to be based on an imagined ethnic community. In this way, their representatives argue for a radicalized exclusion that is oriented toward the leitmotifs of race and descent known from fascism. In this worldview, there is no room for the "normality" of people of different faiths, origins, and cultures living together.


1 This terminology has been promoted in Germany, while the Israeli side speaks of Shilumim, which corresponds to the neutral term of payment and doesn’t include a dimension of restitution. About the irreconcilable dissents which found expression in this term Dan Diner, Rituelle Distanz. Israels deutsche Frage. München 2015. S. 98. The collective crime of genocide was for the Israeli side principally inexpiable, while on the German side expiation and restitution were the central point. 

2 Kai von Jena, Versöhnung mit Israel? Die deutsch-israelischen Verhandlungen bis zum Wiedergutmachungsabkommen von 1952, in: Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte (1986), H. 4 S.463, 474.

3 About the interrelations of the equalization of burdens act (Lastenausgleichgesetz) and the federal supplementary law to compensate the victims of the NS (BEG) for Jewish victims. Iris Nachum, Reconstructing Life after the Holocaust. The Lastenausgleichsgesetz und the Jewish Struggle for Compensation, in. Leo-Baeck-Institute Year Book 58 (2013), S. 53-68. 

4 Eckart Conze, Nobert Frei, Peter Hayes, Moshe Zimmermann, Das Amt und die Vergangenheit. Deutsche Diplomaten im dritten Reich und in der Bundesrepublik. München 2010². S. 570. 

5 Yeshayahu A. Jelinek, Deutschland und Israel 1945-1965. Ein neurotisches Verhältnis. München 2004. S. 64. 

6 According to a survey by Allensbach, only 11% agreed totally with the agreement. (Access 2.4.2018)

7 With only 238 of the 358 Members present, the Treaty was finally adopted on March 18, 1953. 44 parliamentarians were absent from the session. While the SPD supported the agreement, many CDU/CSU members abstained or even opposed the agreement (Access 2. 4.2018) 

8 SPIEGEL 38/1952 v. 17.09. 1952.

9 (Access 2.4.2018)

10 SPIEGEL 25/1967, vom 12.06. 1967 Blitzfeldzug „Tötet, tötet“. 

11 Annette Vowinckel, Der kurze Weg nach Entebbe oder Die Verlängerung der deutschen Geschichte in den Nahen Osten, in: Zeithistorische Forschungen. Studies in Contemporary History. H.(2/2004), S. 7.

12 SPIEGEL 25/1967 vom 12.06. 1967 "Blitz und Blut" 

13 Ulrike Marie Meinhof, Drei Freunde Israels, in: KONKRET Juni 1967. Later, in her radicalization phase, Meinhof joined the "anti-imperialist struggle," which also referred to Zionism. 

14 SPIEGEL 25/1967 vom 12.06. 1967 "Blitz und Blut"

15 accessed 3. Nov. 2019 

16 accessed 2. Nov. 2019 

17 accessed 4. Nov. 2019 

18 accessed 7. Nov. 2019 
"I can only welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu's 'three-stage policy' - building a border fence, deporting 20,000 'invaders' and 'intensifying deportation'. This is a clear statement which I would also like to see for Germany. 
“Since the beginning of the asylum chaos we have been told that we cannot protect our borders. Billions of euros are needed to supply asylum seekers from other cultures. Hundreds of thousands of economic refugees who are obliged to leave the country are not deported, but receive social benefits every month from well-behaved taxpayers. Existing German law is broken and we are told every day that 'refugees are an enrichment'. More and more citizens do not want this 'enrichment'. 
“The CDU-SPD government should take Israel as an example and remember the oath of office taken."