The relationship between Germans and Jews has improved significantly over the past 15 years. The majority of Israelis and American Jews now have a positive opinion about Germany. On the other hand, the feeling of responsibility for the Jewish people has become much more marked among Germans; they sympathise more with the Israelis than with the Arabs in the Middle East conflict, and in terms of anti-Semitism, there has been a slight drop in the number of anti-Jewish responses. These are the findings of a wide-angled survey by the Bertelsmann Stiftung on the relationship between Germans and Jews conducted in Israel, Germany and the USA in January 2007.
The survey shows that the numbers of Israelis with a positive view of Germany has increased from 48 percent in 1991 to 57 percent, whilst 56 percent of American Jews have a positive opinion about Germany and no less than 14 percent even hold a "highly favourable" opinion. Moreover, only 9 percent of Israelis now believe that there is no way of becoming reconciled with the Germans, compared to 22 percent from 15 years ago. At the same time a significantly higher proportion of Israelis now views Germany as a democratic system on a solid footing. In the wake of German Reunification nearly 80 percent of Israelis believed that Germany was endangered by extremist groups; today less than half of them (46 percent) subscribe to such a view.
Whilst just under half of Israelis and 40 percent of American Jews suspect that a large number of Germans embrace anti-Semitic attitudes, the findings of this survey suggest that this only applies to a minority of Germans and that traditional anti-Semitic prejudices about the Jews tend to be on the wane in Germany. It shows that more Germans than used to be the case reject the view that Jews bear a part of the responsibility if they are subject to hate or try to capitalise on their past. At the same time over the past 15 years there has been a significant rise in the numbers of Germans who feel a sense of shame that Germans have committed so many crimes against the Jewish people, and who are unwilling to draw a line under the past and "move on".
"It is quite apparent that the centres of the two societies now have a much more positive attitude towards one another than they did in the early 90s," says Prof. Werner Weidenfeld, executive board member at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, analysing the survey's findings. "Overall the ways Germans and Israelis perceive one another have become a lot less controversial and much more relaxed."
This can also be seen when it comes to other topics dealt with by the survey. They show that Germans now have a much keener sense of responsibility for the Jewish people than was previously the case, and that a significantly higher number of people now show sympathy for Israeli government policies. This does not go unappreciated by the Israelis, a large number of whom consider Germany's policies towards Israel to be more pro-Israeli than those of other European powers. And Angela Merkel enjoys much more popularity in Israel than Jacques Chirac or Vladimir Putin. Among the four of them, only George W. Bush outdoes her popularity rating with Israelis.
In point of fact the figures show that in terms of the Middle East conflict twice as many Germans (28 percent; 1991: 8 percent) now sympathise more with Israel than with the Arab side (14 percent). And whilst one quarter of respondents to the 1991 survey maintained that Israelis must make greater concessions in the Middle East conflict than the Palestinians, this view is now held by a mere 6 percent. Yet the majority of respondents see themselves as undecided or indifferent.
"Even so," comments Prof. Weidenfeld, "we should not loose sight of the fact that the historical experience of the Holocaust still continues to exert a very strong influence on mutual perceptions, whilst at the same time Germans and Israelis have different assessments of international problems."
Thus 78 percent of Israelis and 54 percent of American Jews continue to view their attitudes to Germans as heavily marked and constrained by the persecution of the Jews, whilst only one in two Germans assumes so. And when it comes to assessing current events, a major gap opens up between many of the opinions held by Germans and those held by Israelis and American Jews. Whilst three quarters of Israelis are in favour of the deployment of Bundeswehr forces in Lebanon, nearly one in two Germans (47 percent) are against with 49 percent being in favour. 80 percent of Israelis and 72 percent of American Jews taking part in the survey would be in favour of a military strike against Iran if the country should build an atomic bomb. Yet only 32 percent of Germans consider such military action to be justified.
Stephan Vopel, project director at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, points to the underlying causes for such wide divergence in the assessment of political issues. "With their different historical memories, but also with their completely different political realities, Germans and Israelis have completely different political cultures. This gives rise to strong disparities in formulating ways to deal with conflicts. Whilst Israelis tend to subscribe to the maxim 'never again victims', the Germans' dictum after World War II has been 'never again war'".
The analysis of the relationship between Germans and Jews is based on a representative demographic survey commissioned by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and conducted by TNS EMNID in January 2007 in Germany, Israel and among American Jews. Its findings have been compared with those of a comparable survey from 1991. The findings of the study shall be aired on Monday and Tuesday in discussions at the German-Jewish Dialogue, a forum created by the Bertelsmann Stiftung 15 years ago and which shall bring together leading personalities and famous experts from Germany, Israel and the USA.
About Bertelsmann Stiftung
The German foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung is dedicated to serving the common good. It focuses on the fields of education, economy and society, health and international understanding and promotes the peaceful coexistence of cultures. With its commitment to society, the foundation encourages all citizens to follow its lead and make their own contributions to the common good. Founded by Reinhard Mohn in 1977, Bertelsmann Stiftung is the majority shareholder in Bertelsmann AG. It functions exclusively as an operating foundation, remaining independent of the company and politically neutral.