Fifty Years after the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations

This conference was a joint event of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies and Action Reconciliation Service for Peace. Please view the full agenda here.

How is the German-Israeli relationship faring after fifty years of diplomatic ties? Once heralded as a “special relationship,” is this the case still today? If so, to what extent? These questions provided the central theme around which this conference centered. Panelists from the U.S., Israel, and Germany brought unique perspectives on this relationship and its status given today’s political situation in a lively set of panel discussions.

Many presenters discussed the multifaceted and multi-tiered relationship that Israel and Germany share today and have cultivated over the past half-century. The two countries engage each other on a variety of levels: diplomatic dialogue over Middle East challenges; professional exchange between the bureaucracies; intellectual and cultural exchange between civil society actors; and the everyday interactions between Israelis and Germans. Speakers suggested that coordination and cooperation, coupled with mutual respect for shared historical events like the Holocaust, have helped shape the relationship to what it is today. Shared values like freedom, human dignity, and free markets are but a few commonalities that bring Germany and Israel together on the global, organizational, and personal stage.

Panel I: The Political, Security, and Societal Relationships between Germany and Israel

Germany is highly concerned with Israel’s security, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has made this a clear priority. However, Israel’s issues have recently moved out of central focus due to more pressing issues within the European Union, like the Greek crisis and immigration. Still, Germany’s commitment to its ally remains steadfast, and Germany will continue to cooperate with Israel in order to ensure the stability of the Middle East and to shore up this region against the expansion of the Islamic State (IS). Israel has welcomed Germany’s support, as recent polls show. The tragedy of the Holocaust still looms large in the minds of Israelis and Germans when speaking about one another, and it seems that the immediate emotional reaction to this horrific event still accompanies dialogue about the contemporary German-Israeli relationship.

Despite this, the two nations have maintained a robust friendship. Merkel, a strong leader, is supported by the Israelis; the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and Bundeswehr conduct training exercises together; and Germany helps Israel maintain its defense system via information exchange and the provision of submarines. The relationship is not an equal one, but it is one with which both sides are fairly satisfied. Recent events like the Syrian civil war have put stress on this relationship, but this special friendship remains intact and close. As new questions arise, for example dealing with Turkey, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the role of Germany in the aforementioned Syrian refugee crisis, each nation will have to reexamine its place and policy toward the other.

Panel II: The Domestic, Regional, and International Contexts and Challenges

Germany has been able to enjoy peace since World War II. Israel, on the other hand, has faced near-constant threats to its existence as a state in a highly turbulent region. Therefore, the shared memory of the Holocaust has produced two very different reactions. For Germany, the mantra has become “never war again.” For Israel, the motto is “never unarmed again.” The fact that a shared event and still all-too painful memory has produced diametrically opposite ideologies is fascinating, but it allows both nations to learn from the other as they confront different challenges in peace and war-time. Though both have embarked on a different trajectory, the two have been inextricably bonded together. Germany is Israel’s most important ally within the EU—a union to which Israel is heavily tied for trade, technical programs and diplomacy. Large German companies have invested and opened branches in Israel, and vice versa—only serving to deepen these ties. Israel is increasingly reliant upon the EU, as the U.S.’ willingness to confront the issue of Palestine and Iran’s nuclear program more directly has increased under President Barack Obama, portraying the U.S. as a weaker supporter of Israel than before in the eyes of Israelis.

Therefore, many Israelis have turned to Germany for help and guidance with the issues of Palestine and Iran. The aforementioned “never again war” mentality does not serve Germany well in this situation, and many Israelis posit that Germans cannot fully understand the reality of the Iranian nuclear threat and its existential nature. However, Germany is still seen a trustworthy ally and potentially important broker in negotiations and peace talks. Favor for Germany is increasing in Israel, but dialogue and engagement must continue into the future so that the two members of this special relationship may continue to learn from and support one another. Events like the Iranian nuclear deal are putting particular pressure on these ties, and it remains to be seen whether the two nations will maintain this special relationship into the future.

Panel III: Civil Society, Youth, and the Future of the German-Israeli “Special Relationship”

The last discussion of the day brought together representatives who were able to voice their opinions on the delicate status of German-Israeli relations. Among the topics were the role of civil society organizations in maintaining and supporting these bonds. These organizations helped solidify relations between the two nations in the past, and will continue to lay the groundwork for positive relations into the future.

Furthermore, the role of individuals in maintaining and fostering this relationship into the future cannot be understated. Cultural exchange and dialogue are critical to keeping good relations, and continued visits by youth and adults alike will be extremely beneficial. The exchange of ideas on both the individual and national levels will provide the means by which Israel and Germany stay together through turbulent times ahead.

This conference dealt with a wide range of issues, breaching topics that span history and provide moments of contention and agreement. The wide range of opinions and perspectives that the panelists presented were indicative of the diverse and multifaceted––but strong and special–– fifty year relationship.

This summary was written by AICGS Intern Gray Barrett. 

Download Dr. Lily Gardner Feldman’s Notes

Please contact Ms. Kimberly Hauge at with any questions.

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