Let Germany buy arms for the sake of world peace, says Israeli ambassador

Jeremy Issacharoff: “You need to be militarily capable of defending peace and deterring war”


The office belonging to Israel’s ambassador to Germany is looking both spare and chaotic.

After four years in the role, which Jeremy Issacharoff considers “one of the most incredibly interesting jobs any diplomat can have, period”, he is packing up and moving back to Israel.

Mr Issacharoff, 67, is leaving at a deeply symbolic moment for Jews in Germany.

In a historic break with the country’s post-war strategy, Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently announced that it would double its defence spending to €100billion (£85billion) in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

How should Jews feel? Mr Issacharoff will not be tied down by Germany’s horrific past. As an Israeli and a Jew, he says, he knows that “you can want peace and you can want stability but you need to be militarily capable [of defending] that peace and deterring war and instability”.

There even is speculation that Germany is looking into procuring the Iron Dome from Israel.

None of this was “an easy step for the Germans themselves”, Mr Issacharoff observed.

Mr Scholz and his administration are “part of that generation that wanted to distance itself” from Germany’s bellicose past, he says, adding: “But I don’t necessarily see this as Germany becoming militarised again.”

As well as leaving Berlin, the London-born diplomat is also concluding more than 40 years in Israel’s foreign service, which started in 1981 with his involvement as a legal adviser to Israel’s negotiations over normalisation with Egypt.

Much of his most important diplomacy has been done behind the scenes, says Mr Issacharoff, who has three adult children with his wife, Laura Kam.

To his successor, Ron Prosor — former ambassador to the United Nations and the UK — he says: “Always look to have a very strong, open and, if necessary, discreet dialogue with your German counterparts. You can get a lot done quietly.”

Mr Issacharoff was born in London to Israeli parents with roots in Syria and Bulgaria. He attended the Orthodox Hasmonean High School for Boys and later earned a law degree at the London School of Economics. At the age of 22, he moved to Israel.

“England gave me a very important grounding,” he said. “That sense of having tolerant conversations and exchange of views [is] something that is not always prevalent in the Middle East, also in Israel.

“Meeting Arabs and Palestinians in the 70s in LSE, we listened and disagreed and talked. In Israel it was much more difficult to have conversations like that, even among Israelis; they were so emotionally charged. That is something I valued very much.”

The last four years have been among the most turbulent in his career. Both Israel and Germany saw transitions in government; a pandemic continues to rage; and now there is war in Europe.

“The Europe and Germany I came to in 2017 is different from the one that I leave now,” he said. “I was a student of the Cold War at the LSE, and I see a lot of echoes from the past coming back… It is incredibly saddening.”

Germany recently eased the way to citizenship for Jews coming from Ukraine, even those who have been in Israel first. Germany also has a substantial population of Israelis, estimated at 20-30,000, though there are no hard figures.

Mr Issacharoff doesn’t judge them for choosing Germany. He tries to engage with the Israelis here, in the hopes that one day the children might go back to Israel, just as he did.

“These decisions can be very intensely personal,” he said. When he decided to move to Israel, he also felt pressure to “stay in England, make a lot of money… I made a different decision. It was something much deeper in me: Israel is where I wanted to live.”

He also recalls an incident in his school days in London, when skinheads attacked members of his Jewish football team.

“I was beaten up and called a ‘bloody Jew’ after a football match that we made the mistake of winning,” he said. “I felt different because I was Jewish and to be honest I was different. I didn’t feel like I was English. And to some extent [that was] because my parents were Israeli.”
So it was natural for him to move to Israel, he said, “because that is where I felt most at home”.

He considers exchange programmes between German and Israeli youth to be key in preserving what some call the “special relationship” between the two countries.

That connection has huge benefits, from deep academic and business ties to intelligence exchange. “If we provide information that stops a terrorist attack, you will have no idea about it,” Mr Issacharoff said.

Mr Issacharoff is already receiving queries about potential career opportunities. “I’m keeping an open mind,” he said. “I’m going back to Jerusalem and family and it’s going to be a bit of a new beginning for me.”

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