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Germany-Israel After Angela Merkel

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Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel visited Israel earlier this week, for a seventh time as Germany’s leader, for the last time in her official capacity.

The post Germany-Israel After Angela Merkel appeared first on Jewish Journal.

I dislike Germans. There, I said it.

I know it’s wrong to dislike people just because of their nationality, or culture, or ethnicity, whatever it is. And yet, I can’t help it. In my defense, just seventy years ago a third of my people were eliminated by Germans, including numerous members of my own family. And yet I expect, maybe even hope, that at some point, in some not very distant future, a Rosner family member is going to feel no instinctive dislike for Germans as Germans.  

Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel visited Israel earlier this week, for a seventh time as Germany’s leader, for the last time in her official capacity. She is probably the one German who makes it most difficult to defend an instinctive dislike for Germans. She stands head and shoulders above most political leaders of her generation. She ruled Germany with composure and patience. She ruled Germany without ever retorting to populism, an ill from which most other democracies in the world suffer. And she handled Germany’s complicated relations with Israel masterfully. 

These relations, and their highly complex nature, started soon after Israel was born. In one of the country’s most heated debates—a debate that included a threat of violence against the parliament—Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion overcame the objection of opposition leader Menachem Begin and accepted reparations from Germany. Of course, Germany did nothing to harm Israel. It paid Israel because of what it did to the Jewish people. It is keeping special relations because of what it did to the Jewish people. 

These special relations have many manifestations, cultural and political. Germany contributes to Israel’s defense. It is selling it submarines and other defense machinery. It also refrains from leading the chorus of critics, even when it’s clear that Israel’s policies are not to Germany’s liking. 

And there are the symbols. Merkel’s visit, shortly before she leaves office, was one such symbol. Her meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was routine. Her participation in a special Israeli cabinet meeting was an honor reserved for just a few foreign leaders. By coming to Israel as a last act she was making a point, passing a torch to her successor—reminding Germany’s next generation of leaders that the burden of handling these relations is now theirs to carry with a similar sense of responsibility and poise. 

I know that someday no Israelis are going to feel instinctively the way I feel about Germans. I also know that someday no Germans are going to feel instinctively the way Merkel feels about Israel. It might take twenty years, or thirty, or fifty, but this day is coming, with a new generation of younger leaders.

Germany is a powerful country, the most powerful in Europe. And it is not yet unburdened. Its past is still very much a factor in the way it handles its policies at the present. 

Merkel is 67 years old. She was born less than a decade after the Holocaust. She grew up in a Germany traumatized by the events of the Second World War. But as her term ends, she is leaving behind a normalized country. Sure, Germany has its set of problems, having to deal with the complications of immigration and with a fractured Europe and with a revisionist Russia. And yet, she might be the first German leader since the beginning of the twentieth century to serve a long term without having to deal with dramatic crises. There was no airlift, and no big war, and no building of a wall, and no political upheaval, and no tearing down of walls, and no split or unification, no communists threatening stability and no Nazis destroying stability. Germany is a powerful country, the most powerful in Europe. And it is not yet unburdened. Its past is still very much a factor in the way it handles its policies at the present. 

This isn’t going to last forever. But there’s a large range of options between the “forever” (unrealistic) and “now” (much too soon). Merkel is aware of that; she wanted to have her visit by way of postponing an inevitable future. To make it last longer. Bennett might be aware of it. Hosting Merkel at the cabinet meeting, he opened his remarks by quoting her past statement that when it comes to Israel “Germany is not neutral.” He then moved to speak about the danger of a nuclear Iran. His emphasis on what Israel views as existential threat is also a message to Merkel’s successors. They cannot strive to move to neutrality when an enemy threatens a community of, well, it is now more than six million Jews.

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Something I wrote in Hebrew

The new government would like to pass legislation that limits any future Prime Minister to two terms in office. I explained (in Maariv) why such law will be useless: 

The law will not achieve its goal. That is, because a popular prime minister, with a clear majority in the Knesset, will be able to change it without difficulty. The law will not achieve its goal, as happened with previous limitations on the number of ministers has not achieved its goal. Remember those limits? The direct election law of the mid-1990s was supposed to limit the number of ministers to 18. Ehud Barak abolished it and formed a larger government. Why? Because he had to. Yair Lapid came in 2015, and again imposed legislation restricting the number of ministers. This also did not help: In less than five years, Benjamin Netanyahu lifted the restriction. Why? Because he had to.

A Week’s Numbers

The Knesset opened its winter session. The budget is the next big thing (mid November), and polls show that opposition Likud gains, but not enough to form a different coalition if election were held today (polls average: themadad.com).

A Reader’s Response

Stephany Cohen responded to last week’s column on Kamala Harris and Israel:

“If she disagrees with the student, why doesn’t she say exactly what she thinks about Israel? Let us hear her opinion about Iran and the Palestinians. I think that until now she never clarified her exact views in more than general terms.” 


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

The post Germany-Israel After Angela Merkel appeared first on Jewish Journal.

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Source: Jewish Journal https://jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain/341312/germany-israel-after-angela-merkel/

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