Angela Merkel is traveling to Israel for the last time as Chancellor – and is warmly welcomed there. She assures the country of Germany’s support. However, different points of view also become clear.
During her farewell visit to Israel, Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized the responsibility of future German governments for Israel’s security and a determined fight against anti-Semitism. “Every visit to Yad Vashem touches me anew,” wrote Merkel in the guest book of the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. “The crimes against the Jewish people documented here are an everlasting responsibility and warning to us Germans.”
It is the CDU politician’s seventh bilateral visit to Israel: first Merkel was there in 2006, and most recently three years ago. Israel then plunged into a deep domestic political crisis with four elections within two years. With the new, very diverse government under Naftali Bennett from the ultra-right Jamina party, a little more calm has returned – at least for the time being. The Israeli cabinet held a special meeting in honor of Merkel – she was the first German head of government to attend one.
“This is a very special mixture, and I think I have never seen such a level of diversity,” said Merkel about the broad alliance, which includes eight parties from the right to the left and, for the first time, an Arab party. The “most powerful woman in the world” is held in high regard in Israel. Her landmark speech in 2008 in Israel’s parliament will not be forgotten. In the Knesset she was the first to speak in German. In the same year the German-Israeli government consultations were launched, an expression of the particularly close relations between the two countries.
Germany “not neutral” towards Israel
During her last visit as Chancellor, Merkel reaffirmed the concept of Israel’s security, which was coined at the time, as “part of the German raison d’etre”. “And we have to act accordingly, even if we have different opinions on various individual issues,” said Merkel. Germany was “not neutral” on this issue, she said at a joint press conference with Bennett. Merkel praised Merkel as a “moral compass” for all of Europe. Relations between the two countries have “never been stronger” than they are now, according to Bennett.
Merkel appeared in Israel in her well-known factual manner. Nevertheless, it became clear that her last visit as Chancellor was an affair of the heart for her. The 67-year-old has always made her support for the Jewish state clear – even if the relationship with Bennett’s predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu was considered cold. These topics were the focus of Merkel’s working visit:
Nuclear deal with Iran
In contrast to Germany, Israel had so far strictly refused to return to a nuclear deal with Iran. Bennett says Iran has made a “giant leap” in uranium enrichment in the past three years. Israel has a responsibility to prevent Tehran “with deeds, not just words” from developing an atomic bomb. The nuclear program had reached a “critical point”, and Germany’s position on the issue was particularly important. Merkel stressed that Iranian threats against the existence of Israel must be taken very seriously. “When we look at how uranium enrichment is progressing, that is a matter of great urgency.” They never thought the nuclear deal was ideal, but better than nothing.
The peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian leadership have been idle since 2014. With a view to the Middle East conflict, Merkel again pleaded for a two-state solution, i.e. the formation of a democratic and independent Palestinian state that exists peacefully on the side of Israel. “I want the democratic Jewish state of Israel to be safe. That means that a solution must also be found for the people in the neighborhood,” said the Chancellor.
In 1967 Israel conquered the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, among others. The Palestinians, on the other hand, want these areas for their own state with East Jerusalem as the capital. In an interview with the New York Times at the end of August, however, Bennett clearly stated that there would be no Palestinian state with his government – nor would there be any annexation of areas in the West Bank. A Palestinian state would “very likely become a terrorist state just seven minutes from my house,” he said during Merkel’s visit.
Israel is considered a pioneer in many respects in the global fight against the corona pandemic. The 9.4 million-inhabitant country had already caused a sensation in winter with a very successful vaccination campaign. Around 61 percent of the population are currently vaccinated. Israel became the first country in the world to start a third vaccination at the end of July. So far, around 39 percent of Israelis have received a booster vaccination. Nevertheless, the country registered more new infections than ever before at the beginning of September: more than 11,000. The numbers are now falling again, but Merkel’s visit was marked by strict corona restrictions.
Anti-Semitism in Germany
Israel looks with concern at the significant increase in anti-Semitic attacks in Germany. In 2018, in an interview with an Israeli television station, Merkel complained about new forms of anti-Semitism in Germany. “We now also have new phenomena in that we have refugees or people of Arab origin who bring another form of anti-Semitism into the country,” said Merkel at the time. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism also existed before the arrival of the many refugees in Germany. Merkel now promised in Jerusalem that anti-Semitism would continue to be fought resolutely. “That will only succeed if we keep the responsibility for the story alive, even if there will be no more contemporary witnesses.”
The motto of Israel’s security as a reason of state has also taken up the cause of the SPD Chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz. Nevertheless, many in Israel are wondering with a certain degree of uncertainty how things will go after Merkel. Merkel assured in Jerusalem that Israel’s security would remain a “central point” for any future German government. With a view to the Shoah in particular, the relationship with Israel remains a “stroke of luck,” said Merkel. “A treasure that has to be protected again and again.”
The regional director of the human rights organization Human Rights Watch for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Omar Shakir, criticized Merkel for viewing the Israeli occupation policy as “temporary”. This is a “fiction”. “The new German government should put human rights at the center of its policy towards Israel and Palestine,” he demanded. More than 600,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The UN criticizes the settlements as violating international law.