Closer with Germany

From the January 2003 Trumpet Print Edition

Affairs were beginning to look sticky between Israel and Germany for a while. It began when Germany signaled it would allow Israel to purchase wheeled armored personnel carriers (Fuchs) from German manufacturers. Within a few days, however, Germany reversed its decision, saying there was a miscommunication concerning the order. Israeli President Moshe Katsav spoke of this being “a disappointment.”

A week later, Katsav visited Germany for three days. During his visit, the Fuchs incident became a political football, with the opposition Christian Democratic Union’s leader, Angela Merkel, strongly criticizing the German government’s handling of the deal. In this context she pledged her party’s “lasting support” for Israel. On the government side, many within the Red-Green coalition expressed fears that the Fuchs could be used by Israel against the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, seeking to diffuse the situation and eliminate yet another crisis for his struggling government, indicated that the deal was likely to proceed. In reality it still hangs in the balance.

It turned out to be a bitter-sweet visit for the Israeli president. As one German news source reported, Katsav’s visit “was heavy with symbolism” (Deutsche Welle, Dec. 11, 2002). He broke new ground by becoming the first Israeli president to consecrate a Jewish synagogue on German soil. But he also witnessed neo-Nazi demonstrations in Berlin. This led to confusing signals from the president. On the one hand, “Katsav was full of praise for Germany, a close ally of his country for decades. He thanked the German government for its support for Israel and for its efforts to combat anti-Semitism and extremism” (ibid.; emphasis ours throughout). On the other hand, “Katsav described as ‘terrible’ a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and particularly in Germany, where the Holocaust had destroyed so many Jewish people. Although they were only a small minority, he said, ‘one never knows how many people will allow themselves to be influenced’” (ibid.).

Why praise Germany while at the same time stressing fears of the potential of a resurgence of anti-Semitism? Simply because this is the ace-in-the-hole that the tiny nation of Israel is still able to play when trying to balance its relationship with Germany. And it still produces results, as Germany works at developing its profile as an ostensibly reformed, democratic nation to the international community.

Israel has been fighting a war against terror since its inception as a nation. With the U.S. now preoccupied with its own war on terror, it is significantly distracted from concentrating on the peace process in the Middle East. We continue to point out that Israel will find the European Union, in particular Germany in concert with the Vatican, more than willing to fill the vacuum left by the U.S.

Watch for this relationship to continue to grow as the EU, particularly Germany, sends more support to Israel, while at the same time playing a balancing act with the Palestinians as its chief benefactor.