Israelis positive about Germany

By Nathan Jeffay, September 18, 2009
Israeli officers visit a Nazi concentration camp near Berlin last month

Israeli officers visit a Nazi concentration camp near Berlin last month

A new poll indicates that the majority of Israelis have a firmly positive attitude towards Germany and German culture.

In March 2008, some Israeli politicians voiced outrage when German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the Knesset in German.

But according to the new research, just published by the Hebrew University, three in five Israeli Jews think that Germany has handled the memory of the Holocaust well.

Boycotting German goods is a rarity — only six per cent of Israeli citizens do so. Four in five think that Germany today is a “different Germany” to the one which carried out the Holocaust; the same proportion think that Israel today has a “normal” relationship with Germany.

The poll revealed openness to German culture. A third of Israelis have watched a German film recently.
Focussing on Jewish Israelis only, pollsters found that one in four considers Germany more strongly supportive of Israel than other European countries.

Jewish Israelis were asked to consider the role particular countries play in the Middle East. Some 54 per cent of Israeli Jews have confidence in Germany, compared to 45 per cent who have confidence in France. The UK scored 63 per cent.

Only 27 per cent of Israeli Arabs professed confidence in Germany.

Israeli Jews “look at the Germany of the past differently to the Germany of the present, which supports Israel and plays football well”, said the academic behind the poll, Moshe Zimmerman, head of Hebrew University’s Richard Koebner Minerva Centre for German History.

German involvement in efforts to free Hamas-held Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit also helps the country’s image in Israel, he added.

“At least in part, the current positive Israeli attitude towards Germany expresses an acknowledgment of the fact that Germany has undertaken serious efforts to work through and reflect upon its terrible crimes of the past,” agreed Professor Jose Brunner, head of Tel Aviv University’s Minerva Institute for German History.

The figures show a marked shift in attitudes. When Prof Zimmerman started researching the subject in the 1980s, only five to six out of every 10 Israelis thought that Germany was a “different Germany” and that Israel’s relationship with Germany was “normal”.

He believes that one factor in this recent shift has been a growing trend of Israelis visiting death camps in Poland. As a result, he said, Israelis place a large part of the blame for the Holocaust on Poles instead of Germans.

In a poll he ran last year, a quarter of Israelis said they thought that Poles were as responsible as Germans for the Holocaust.

But the main reason, Prof Zimmerman has concluded, is that as enmity towards the Palestinians and the Islamic world becomes more entrenched, Israelis feel that enmity towards Germany is outdated.

This feeling started to become widespread with the breakdown of the Oslo process and the start of the Second Intifada, and grew after 9/11 when Israelis increasingly saw themselves on the same side as Germany, pitted against contemporary enemies.

“As Israelis take sides with the Christian world against Islamic fanaticism, past dislike towards Germany is seen as less relevant,” said Professor Zimmerman.

Last updated: 10:52am, October 14 2010