By Alex Callinicos
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2900

Are Germany’s Israel ties under threat?

Israel's second biggest supplier of arms, Germany, is feeling the pressure over its support for the terror state
Issue 2900

Niels Annen, state secretary in the development ministry Picture: Wayamo Foundation on Flickr

The ruling class are split over how to deal with the Israeli killing machine, so much so that even the German state is under pressure. Olaf Scholz’s government has stood foursquare behind Netanyahu and stepped up arms sales to Israel.

But this has come at increasing diplomatic cost.  As Niels Annen, state secretary in the Development Ministry, admitted, “We have lost a lot of soft power in the Arab world”.  Supposedly the policy is atonement for the Nazis’ murder of nearly six million Jews in the Holocaust.

In a famous speech to the Israeli Knesset in March 2008, the then-German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said, “Germany’s special historical responsibility for Israel’s security…is part of my country’s reason of state. For me as German Chancellor, therefore, Israel’s security will never be open to negotiation.” 

As the weekly Der Spiegel news website put it, “the formulation about reason of state has remained— and become part of Merkel’s legacy.”

But the relationship between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany— which was created by the Western occupying powers in 1949— goes back to the 1950s. 

Konrad Adenauer, the first West German chancellor, saw establishing a close relationship with Israel as crucial to regaining international acceptance after the Holocaust. 

He put it in antisemitic terms, stating that “the power of the Jews even today, especially in America, should not be underestimated”. 

German reparation payments agreed on in 1953 boosted the Israeli economy when it was absorbing half a million Middle Eastern Jewish refugees. From 1957 onwards, West Germany became one of Israel’s major arms suppliers.  The historian Adam Tooze argues that arms figured heavily in Merkel’s intervention. 

“The really important weapons deliveries that Germany has made to Israel in recent decades are big and lumpy, they take years to design and deliver and cost billions of euros—they are submarines. Since the 1990s, German dockyards have been the prime contractors for Israel’s submarine fleet,” Tooze writes. 

The six German-built submarines are designed to fire cruise missiles bearing an important complement to an estimated around 90 Israel nuclear warheads.  From the early 1960s a key aspect of German-Israeli defence cooperation has been developing this secret nuclear force.  Tooze argues that Merkel was concerned by the threat to Israel from Iran, which it accuses of seeking to develop its own nuclear weapons.

Domestically, pro-Israel “reason of state” has gone along with the repression of solidarity with Palestine as antisemitic.

In 2019 the German parliament passed a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. Since 7 October German cultural and academic institutions have been engaged in a frenzied offensive to cancel anyone who criticises Israel. 

A particular shameful example came when the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology sacked the Lebanese-Australian anthropologist Ghassan Hage for social media postings.  The academic establishment has toed the “reason of state” line.

Jürgen Habermas, Germany’s most famous living philosopher, heir to the Frankfurt School of Marxism, issued a statement with two colleagues saying, “Despite all the concern for the fate of the Palestinian population, however, the standards of judgement slip completely when genocidal intentions are attributed to Israel’s actions.” 

The International Court of Justice might beg to disagree.  Now another, more genuinely left-wing philosopher, Nancy Fraser, has been sacked as a visiting professor at Cologne University. 

Her crime? To have signed the statement “Philosophy for Palestine” calling for an immediate ceasefire. 

But, as with the McCarthy anti-communist witch hunt in the United States during the 1950s, the repression reaches deep into society. State funding is being withdrawn from local cultural centres that can be accused of Palestinian sympathies.

This isn’t just about the strategic alliance between German imperialism and Israeli settler colonialism. 

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is pushing the mainstream parties to clamp down. Genocide and Islamophobia go hand in hand.

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