German-Israeli Relations

The German-Israeli relationship has been shaped by the memory of the Holocaust and the strong desire

on the part of the German people to help ensure that the suffering endured by the Jewish people between 1933 and 1945 will never recur.

Germany and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1965. [1] Since then, these ties have been characterized by overall friendship between the two nations but also by frequent crises that bring to light the delicate nature of the relations and their emotional fragility.

The main political commitment in Germany to Israel lies with the German establishment - both on the right and on the left, but is not shared by the extreme right and left. For the establishment - relations with Israel were perceived as the entry ticket to the civilized world, following the Holocaust. For the German fringe this acceptance is not a priority.

Konrad Adenauer [2], who signed the historic restitution agreement with David Ben-Gurion, the leader of the Jewish people, referred to the “new Germany”. After Adenauer, the German Chancellor most tuned to the “special relationship” was Willy Brandt who developed the strategy of openness towards the Eastern bloc, so the friendship with Israel was part and parcel of his overall approach.

The gesture of his visit of the Warsaw Ghetto [3] is well remembered. Chancellor Helmut Kohl [4] was also considered to look favorably on the “special relationship.” Chancellor Angela Merkel [5] , who shows strong diplomatic and moral commitment to German-Israel relations, is reputed to have very good personal rapport with Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The relationship has undergone strong strains. During Chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s rule, Prime Minister Menachem Begin blasted Germany for its readiness to sell arms to Saudi-Arabia. [6] Another major fiasco occurred when Israeli athletes were taken hostage during the 1972 Olympics that resulted in the murder [7] of eleven Israeli athletes. “The German incompetence during the hostage crisis was absolute,” Aaron Klein, a former Israeli intelligence officer and a correspondent in Time’s Jerusalem bureau, writes in his book “Striking Back”. [8]

Ankie Spitzer, the widow of one of the 11 Israeli athletes and officials killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics has used a memorial service to criticize the German authorities' handling of the hostage-taking. At a commemoration in Munich, Ankie Spitzer, condemned the "incompetence and arrogance" of the German response to the attack by Palestinian militants. Three helicopters provided by the German authorities took the Israelis and the gunmen to a military airfield outside Munich, supposedly to catch a flight out of Germany.

Then a rescue attempt by the German police went disastrously wrong and ended in a gunfight. [9] Another crisis erupted over the activities of the Bader-Meinhof terror group, which was involved in the Entebbe incident. [10]

In situations like these, as well as when revelations surface about the Nazi past of German politicians and businesses are revealed, Israeli-Jewish sensitivities come to the fore. Particular attention in Israel has been given to the involvement of German companies trading with rogue regimes, like Saddam Hussein’s [11] and current Iran’s [12] ,

and in the more distant past to the activities of German scientists in the service of the Nasser regime in Egypt [13] – activities that were stopped only through vigorous activities of the Mossad. [14]

The year 2005 marked the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel. Together with Israeli partners, numerous events and initiatives in culture, sports, science and business have been organized throughout the whole jubilee year. [15]

The unusually large number of political visits attests to the progress made. In 2006, Federal Chancellor Merkel and Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier visited Israel. Further visits of high-ranking German politicians were following. [16]

Germany, along with the United States, is widely considered one of Israel’s closest allies. Germany ranks as Israel’s second largest trading partner and long-standing defense and scientific cooperation and cultural ties between the two countries continue to grow.

On the other hand, public criticism of Israel in Germany, and particularly of its policies with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, appears to be on the rise. [17]

In 2005 German foreign minister Joschka Fischer declared that further developing the special relationship between the countries must be based on "the memory and the responsibility of history," referring to the murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II. He added that, above all, the younger generation must be reminded of the past.

The Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom responded that Jews "could never forget or forgive" their suffering at the hands of the Nazis, but asserted that today, Germany and Israel share common interests and values. [18]

In June 2005, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav said “Let us transform the trauma of the past into a hope for the future, our special relationship into a bridge of friendship among nations, an anchor against totalitarianism and for human values – a message of humanity against racism and anti-Semitism.” [19]

In March 2007, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated that the firm commitment to Israel’s right to exist is, and will remain, one of the unshakeable pillars of German foreign policy. [20]

In February 2008, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Omert praised the actual status of the German-Israeli relations. He referred to Israel’s relations with Germany as a main pier for Israel’s relations with Europe. Olmert further said that under the leadership of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel the German-Israeli relations developed into an outstanding friendship and a special commitment regarding central issues. [21]

On February 10, 2008, Ehud Olmert traveled to Berlin where he was pushing for further international measures to halt Iran’s nuclear drive. Olmert's visit came at a particularly sensitive moment in German-Israeli relations. Many critics assert that Germany is failing to embrace a confrontational posture with Iran, a regime that has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Germany maintains strong economic ties to Iran, and remains the number one European export partner for the Iranian economy. [22]

To share concerns on a regular basis, Merkel announced her intention to hold regular Israeli-German consultations beginning in March 2008 and to appoint a "coordinator" for German-Israeli relations. [23]

In March 2008 Angela Merkel visited Israel for 3 days, accompanied by 7 of her ministers. As the first German head of government she held a speech at the Knesset. Referring to the Iranian nuclear threat, she said: “Israel’s security is never negotiable for me.” [24]

In August 2009 Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Berlin to meet chancellor Merkel and German foreign minister Frank Steinmeier. As she had done in previous public statements, during the common press conference Merkel called for a stop of Israeli construction in the West Bank in order to advance the peace process.

She said: “We want there to be a State of Israel where the people can live in security.” [25]

On 18 January 2010 the German parliament, the Bundestag, and the Israeli Knesset held a joint session in Berlin, the first event of this kind on German territory. Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke of “a historical moment”. The talks were dominated by the Iranian nuclear program. Netanyahu called for harsh sanctions against the Iranian regime.

Afterwards he visited the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. He said, Germany had not hesitated “for one moment to face the darkest chapter in its history” in order to build a better future. [26]

At the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Israeli President Shimon Peres held a speech at the German parliament on 27 January 2010. He called on Germany to persecute Nazi criminals that are still alive: “In our eyes this is not about revenge. It is about education”. [27]

On 1 July 2010 the German Bundestag approved unanimously a resolution that condemned the Israeli military action to stop the activist flotilla “Free Gaza” as “aggressive”. The resolution also called for the immediate lifting of the blockade which Israel had erected in order to protect its population from terrorist attacks. [28]

On 31 January 2011 Angela Merkel travelled to Israel, accompanied by 8 ministers of her cabinet. The meeting with Israeli government officials was dominated by the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt in particular. Academic cooperation, cooperation in disaster control and a deepening of economic ties were also discussed. Merkel highlighted once more the close ties between both countries, while at the same time calling for progress in the peace process with the Palestinians. [29]

Economic Relations

Germany is one of Israel's largest trading partners. Many important German brands are represented in Israel by Israeli businessmen or through joint ventures. Siemens, DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen and Henkel are among the biggest German companies with offices or industrial plants in Israel. In recent years, cooperation between German and Israeli companies in high tech sectors such as information technology, communication and biotechnology has dramatically increased. [30]

Throughout the years, successive German governments were ready to meet urgent Israeli arms needs. Currently, there are two sophisticated submarines built in Germany for the Israeli navy. There is also German involvement in the international effort to stop arms smuggling to Lebanon.

For years, Germany has been Israel's second-largest trading partner after the US. In 2006, bilateral trade totalled USD 4.9 billion, Germany providing 8.26% of Israeli imports (worth approx. USD 3.2 billion) and taking 5.58% of Israeli exports (worth approx. USD 1.7 billion). Imports from Germany grew by 7.33% and exports to Germany by 31.20% compared with the previous year. [31] Until 2008 bilateral trade grew up to 5,85 USD. After a slight drop in 2009 due to the global crisis, in 2010 bilateral trade again reached 5,38 USD. [32]

Germany’s relatively large share of Israel’s foreign trade is all the more remarkable given the fact that German companies are not involved in important Israeli trade sectors: the import of petroleum and other fuels and the diamond trade. [33]

The principal German exports to Israel are high-quality processed goods, the most important being chemical products, plastic and rubber goods, metal goods, all types of machinery, vehicles, measuring and medical equipment.

As in other markets, quality and innovativeness are particularly valued. Germany’s main imports from Israel are chemical products, especially pharmaceuticals, and electrical and electronic goods. Agricultural products are much less important than in the past. [34]

Bilateral commerce is given further impetus by active cooperation in science and technology. Israel is an important destination for venture capital and modern technologies. [35]

At approx. EUR 100 million, German direct investments in Israel are on the decline.

The principal investors are SAP, Siemens, Volkswagen, Deutsche Telekom and Henkel. At over EUR 1 billion, Israeli investments in Germany are a good deal higher, also due increasingly to investment in the German property sector. [36]

The German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) has a partnership agreement with its Israeli counterpart Histadrut dating from 1975 (the only one of its kind for both organizations). Ten of the thirteen DGB districts have a twinning arrangement with

Histadrut districts. The DGB supports the peace process with various trade union projects, exchange visits and joint seminars. [37]

Cultural and social relations

Motivated by the visit of members of the Knesset in Germany and their conversations with Israeli politicians, Jürgen Wohlrabe (CDU) and Annemarie Renger (SPD), both members of the German Bundestag, created the German-Israeli parliamentary group. This group has 100 delegates. [38]

The Goethe Institut Jerusalem is particularly involved in German-Israeli dialogue on the contemporary art and culture scene. Events are held with German and Israeli artists that highlight the areas of music, film and photography, as well as the new media / VJ art.

Cultural exchange with Germany is as diverse as the cultural landscape in Israel.

After the hiatus in activities during the 2nd Intifada, the number of Germans artists and cultural professionals traveling to Israel has picked up again. The second war with Lebanon in the summer of 2006 only briefly interrupted this trend. [39]

The close ties between Judaism and Christianity, the contributions of the Jews to European and German intellectual history as well as the European roots of Zionism and its influence on the modern Israeli state and, finally, the period during which Jews were persecuted and exterminated are what make up the special quality of German-Israeli cultural relations. [40]

The network of German cultural actors and institutions in Israel covers practically all relevant social groups. The many cultural intermediaries/institutions include:

- Goethe Institutes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

- DAAD German academic teachers and guest lecturers in Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba and Tel Aviv

- Political foundations (which contribute to cultural dialogue through their political education activities)

- Many churches and church institutions

- The German federal states, municipalities (especially through the 100 or so town twinning arrangements)

and numerous private foundations (e.g. Bertelsmann, Bosch, Bucerius, Springer, - Thyssen and Volkswagen) [41]

The priorities of cultural and educational work include:

- Establishing personal contacts through exchange programs for young people, schoolchildren and teachers as well as exchanges for students, scientists and academics (with the help of a large number of scholarship programs)

- Promoting the German language at Israeli schools and universities and through the language sections of the Goethe Institutes (there is no German school)

Promoting Germany as a place to study and pursue scientific research through university marketing

- Building networks to maintain contact with former students, scholarship-holders and artists after completion of their projects and for the descendants of older generations of immigrants and new immigrants from Germany

- Collaboration in the sciences and arts between a large number of universities and institutes. [42]

Scientific Relations

The German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (G.I.F.) was established 1986 by the German Federal Ministry for Research and Technology and the Israel Ministry of Science and Technology to strengthen the bonds of friendship and understanding between the German and Israeli peoples and advance the state of scientific research and development to the benefit of both countries. The distinguishing feature of the G.I.F. approach is the joint participation and equal responsibility of both Ministries in financing, management and decision making. Its annual budget is derived from interest on a EURO 190 million endowment fund contributed in equal parts by the two countries. [43]

The very high international standard of Israeli research provides a solid basis for close and extensive cooperation between Germany and Israel which, in the case of the Max Planck Society and the Weizmann Institute, dates back to the time before diplomatic relations were resumed. This brought forth the Minerva Society with the Minerva-Weizmann project program now running 80 single projects, the 40 Minerva research centers (endowed with capital from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research totaling EUR 70 million) at Israeli institutions of higher education, 5 junior partner project teams, 50 long-term and 25 short-term scholarships for visiting academics as well as the three Minerva Schools and Gentner Symposia on current research topics. In 2003, funding totaled EUR 5.2 million. Other pillars of research cooperation are the collaboration between the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) dating back to 1973, the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF) founded in 1986, which has so far financed 800 projects from its present endowment of EUR 161 million and will receive a further injection of funds as of 2005, the German-Israeli Project Cooperation Program (DIP) set up in 1998 with annual assistance from the BMFB of EUR 4.23 million. [44]

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has provided considerable assistance for cooperation since the mid-sixties with 100 projects ongoing and 35 new projects added as of 2004 worth EUR 3.4 million. Since 1995, the DFG has also promoted trilateral projects (28 so far with 7 ongoing) involving Palestinian universities and researchers. Since 2000, German-Israeli industrial cooperation between the BMBF and the Israeli Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour has been systematically initiated and developed for the joint promotion of applied projects in biotechnology, optoelectronics and nanotechnology. In future, microsystems technology and medical engineering will be added to the list. [45]

There is also cooperation with the 15 major German research institutes of the Herman von Helmholtz Association, which also held a multilateral conference in 2004 to launch cross-border projects including water technology, climate protection and biodiversity. Over the past decades, a close-knit network of cooperation agreements has been forged between institutions of higher education in both countries for joint research projects and academic exchange. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation alone has so far financed more than 200 research scholarships and prizes for Israeli researchers. The German Academic Exchange Service has been engaged in bilateral scientific exchange since 1960 and assists about 140 Israelis a year. [46]

In June 2011 the first German-Israeli forum for research cooperation was held in Aachen. Participants from the fields of science, research, politics and society met to discuss ways to deepen the German-Israeli cooperation in research and technology. Two weeks earlier the German minister for education and research, Annette Schavan, had opened a new German-Israeli Minerva Center in Tel Aviv. [47]

Security Cooperation

For Israel, the strategic partnership with the Federal Republic came second to that with the US. From the German perspective, this cooperation was, in comparison to that with other NATO states, particularly close and comprehensive. The reasons for this “special relationship” consisted in Germany’s historical responsibility, Israel’s status as the only democracy in the region as well as joint interests and comparable aims. [48]

Israel had for many years supplied the Federal Republic of Germany with Soviet arms material, which it had captured from Arab countries, for the purpose of analysis. In 1990, German Reunification and the Gulf crisis changed the conditions of this bilateral cooperation. Since September 1990 Germany supplied Israel with arms material from the NVA, the army of the former East Germany (GDR), for the purpose of analysis. This happened, because a large part of Iraq’s systems were to a large part identical with those of the former GDR. [49]

In the face of the Scud attacks (18.1.1991) on Israel and of previous contributions of German companies to both Iraq’s chemical arsenal and the technical improvement if its missiles, on 30.1.1991 the German government agreed to provide considerable military aid Israel. Israel received a total of 1.362 Billion DM from Germany. This was later complemented by another 240 Million DM for the financing of 50% of the third Dolphin submarine.

On 8 February 1998, Israel asked the German Ministry of Defense to lend it 180,000 gas masks. The deliveries started on February 9. „Germany will do everything to support Israel,“ said Minister of Defense Volker Rühe. [50] Since the late 1990s Germany has provided Israel with submarines. The first two submarines were paid for completely by Germany, the rest partially. Most recently, in 2011, Germany subsidized the sale of a Dolphin submarine to Israel with 135 million Euro, about a third of the total sum. [51]

Holocaust restitution

From the time of its founding in 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany has assumed responsibility for making restitution for the crimes committed during the Nazi era to the extent that restitution is possible. In dealing with the legacy of the Hitler regime, the Federal Republic of Germany has established a precedent for legislating and implementing a comprehensive system of restitution. [52]

Since the conclusion of the Luxembourg Agreement of 1952 (payment of some EUR 1.53 billion), atonement and reparation has been a major political issue in relations between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany. At the end of 2005, German reparations to victims of National Socialist persecution now living in Israel totaled approx. EUR 35 billion. About EUR 367 million is paid out annually in compensation pensions (largely under the Federal Compensation Act) and related payments to recipients in Israel. On top of this are substantial compensatory social security payments and payments for the equalization of burdens. Following the establishment of the foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future in 2000, compensation has also been paid from its funds to former victims of forced labor. [53]

Israeli interests in reparation and restitution are also represented by the Jewish Claims Conference (CC). The CC disburses one-off payments and monthly pensions to hardship cases who are not eligible for compensation under the Federal Compensation Act. [54]

Since 1996, Yad Vashem has been cooperating with Germany in research, in combating anti-Semitism and in further training. A German Friendship Committee chaired by Prof. Dr Rita Süßmuth cooperates in different ways with the Remembrance Authority. [55]

On 15 March 2005, the New Museum, designed by Moshe Safdies, was inaugurated in a ceremony attended by Germany’s Foreign Minister. The law of 1953 also stipulates that Yad Vashem shall honor the Righteous Among the Nations, the gentiles who risked their lives during the Shoah to save Jews. Yad Vashem currently honors over 410 Germans. [56]

In August 2009 the chief editor of the German daily Bild, Kai Diekmann, handed original plans of the Auschwitz concentration camp over to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Since 2010 the plans have been displayed in Yad Vashem. [57]



[1] „Background Papers: Germany and Israel“, German Embassy Washington, DC, December 2000,

[2] Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 31, 2005,

[3] „Person of the Year: Willy Brandt“, Time, January 4, 1971,

[4] „Podium: Helmut Kohl – Germany’s special relationship with Israel“, The Independent, November 3, 1999,

[5] „Germany’s new Chancellor, Angela Merkel: a Friend of Israel“, Interview with Haaretz, September 14, 2005,

[6] „Sounding Off with a Vengeance“, Time, May 18, 1981,,9171,951674,00.html

[7] 1972: Olympic hostages killed in gun battle, BBC News,

[8] Maslin, Janet: "Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel’s Deadly Response," International Herald Tribune, December 21, 2005,

[9] "Munich Olympics victims remembered," BBC News, August 11, 2002,

[10] „Israelis celebrate dramatic rescue“, BBC News, July 4, 2001,

[11] Satterlee, Carrie: „Facts on Who Benefits From Keeping Saddam Hussein In Power“, The Heritage Foundation, February 28, 2003,

[12] Landler, Mark: „Germany struggles to unravel economic ties with Iran,“ International Herald Tribune, September 20, 2007,

[13] Geller, Doron: „Wolfgang Lotz,“ Jewish Virtual Library,

[14] "Israeli spy who snared Eichmann," The Telegraph/The Guardian, April 15, 2003,

[15] Website of the German Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

[16] Ibid.

[17] Belkin, Paul: „Germany’s Relations with Israel: Background and Implications for German Middle East Policy,“ CRS – Report for Congress, January 19, 2007,

[18] „Germany and Israel Call for Closer Ties,“ Deutsche Welle, May 19, 2005,,1564,1588620,00.html.

[19] „Israeli President Katsav: ´Germany is a True Friend of Israel´,“ German Embassy Washington, D.C., June 2, 2005,

[20] „Address delivered by Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany at the Conference on European-Israeli Dialogue,“ March 10, 2007,

[21] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, February 18, 2008

[22] Weinthal, Benjamin: „Analysis: Berlin’s ambiguous relationship with Israel,“ The Jerusalem Post, February 10, 2008,

[23] Ward, Josh: „The World from Berlin: Olmert Needs All the Support He Can Get,“ Der Spiegel, February 13, 2008,,1518,534998,00.html.

[24] “"Sicherheit Israels niemals verhandelbar", Die Zeit, 19.3.2008,

[25] „Merkel fordert Stopp von Siedlungsbau“, FAZ, 27.8.2009,

[26] „Merkel und Netanjahu drohen Iran mit Sanktionen“, Der Spiegel, 18.1.2010,,1518,672553,00.html.

[27] „Die Schoa muss ein ewiges Warnzeichen bleiben", Der Spiegel, 17.1.2010,,1518,674324,00.html.

[28] Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 17/2259,

[29] „Merkel, Netanjahu und die Krise im Nahen Osten“, Die Welt, 31.1.2011,

[30] Ibid.

[31] „Germany and Israel,“ German Embassy Washington, D.C., December 2000,

[32] Website of the German Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

[33] Website of the German Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Weingardt, Markus A., Deutsche Israel- und Nahostpolitik, Campus, 2001, S.217

[39] Website of the German Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] “Deutsch-Israelisches Regierungsabkommen zu Forschung und Entwicklung”, Ministry for Education and Science, 26.6.2011,

[48] Pallade, Yves, "Germany and Israel in the 1990s and Beyond: Still a 'special relationship'?", European University Studies Series XXXI Political Science Vol. 518 (Peter Lang) 2005, Page 151-155.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] “Deutschland subventioniert U-Boot für Israel”, Der Spiegel, 17.7.2011,,1518,774904,00.html.

[52] Website of the German Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] „Merkel fordert Stopp von Siedlungsbau“, FAZ, 27.8.2009,

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