Three young people sit on a park bench and discuss.

Germans take skeptical view of Israel

Since the start of diplomatic relations fifty years ago, Israel and Germany have displayed an extraordinary commitment to the path of rapprochement. However, Germans are significantly more critical of Israel than vice versa, and the younger generation in both countries displays a tendency towards estrangement.

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Fifty years after the opening of diplomatic relations, 36 percent of the Germans have a positive attitude towards Israel. However, 48 percent of their compatriots say that their opinion of Israel is poor. This figure rises to 54 percent among the age group between 18 and 29 years. Attitudes towards the Israeli government are especially critical, with 62 percent of Germans expressing a negative opinion. Thus the Germans' attitudes to Israel are more negative than the opinions of Israeli Jews about Germany. These are some of the findings of the Bertelsmann Stiftung's study "Germany and Israel Today: Linked by the Past, Divided by the Present?"

According to the study, the perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has an increasingly dominant impact on the way Germans view Israel as a whole. While a majority of both Israelis (74 percent) and Germans (61 percent) believes that Germany has a special responsibility as a result of its history, opinions diverge about how this responsibility should be reflected in German policy. 84 percent of Israelis hope that the German government will provide political support for Israel in the Middle East conflict, but one in two Germans opposes such support. Similarly, 82 percent of Israelis want Germany to supply weapons to Israel, but 68 percent of Germans reject this idea.

Contradictory conclusions from history

Stephan Vopel, the Bertelsmann Stiftung's expert on Israel, believes that the main reasons for these discrepancies must be sought in the different security situations and political cultures of the two countries. In Vopel's view, Israelis and Germans have drawn contradictory conclusions from history: "In Germany, the watchword is 'No more war,' while in Israel it is 'No more victimization.'"

However, the Germans are less likely than in the past to say that the Israeli government bears the sole responsibility for solving the Middle East conflict. In the early 1990s, one in four Germans said that only Israel should make concessions in the Palestinian conflict, but today, only one in six still holds this view. At the same time, 73 percent believe that Israelis and Palestinians should be equally willing to compromise in order to achieve peace, and a majority (53 percent) among Israeli respondents shares this view.

"We must create more opportunities for direct encounters between young people from both countries."

Stephan Vopel, Bertelsmann Stiftung's expert on Israel

Younger Israelis more critical of Germany

The somewhat negative opinion of Israel held by many Germans contrasts with the conspicuously positive image of Germany among Jewish Israelis, 68 percent of whom have a good opinion about Germany while only 24 percent have a poor opinion. The very positive image of Germany that prevails in Israel today is also confirmed by a recently published study of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. In contrast, only 48 percent of Israelis had a good opinion of Germany in 1991, compared to 40 percent with a poor opinion.

It must be noted, however, that Germany's image is better among older Israelis than among their younger compatriots. While approximately 80 percent of Israelis aged over 50 view Germany in a positive light, the same is true of only 53 percent of those under 30.

Stephan Vopel believes that the results of the study should serve as encouragement and warning alike: "A great deal of progress has been made in Israeli-German relations in the past 50 years. To preserve and consolidate this progress, we must create more opportunities for direct encounters between young people from both countries," says Vopel.

The majority of Israelis also has a positive view of the work of the German government, with 63 percent expressing approval and only 18 percent giving a negative opinion. Yet relations between Germany and Israel continue to be colored by the Holocaust, as 77 percent of Israeli respondents confirm. Three-quarters of Israelis also reject the idea of putting the past behind them and only one in five endorses the call for closure. In Germany, 58 percent of respondents say that the past should be consigned to history, while 38 percent disagree.

While the study examines individual aspects of anti-Semitic attitudes, it does not claim to perform a full analysis of the complex phenomenon of anti-Semitism. To do so would require a more comprehensive survey. The present publication therefore confines itself to reporting about individual indicators rather than anti-Semitism in general, and therefore the results tend to be higher than in comparable studies on anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, we come to the conclusion that traditional anti-Semitic attitudes are on the wane. 23 percent of German respondents say that Jews have too much influence in the world, compared to 36 percent in the early 1990s. Anti-Semitism directed against Israel is also a cause for concern. 35 percent of German respondents, up from 30 percent in 2007, equate Israeli policies towards the Palestinians with Nazi policies towards the Jews, an increase from 30 percent in 2007. The intensity of both these forms of anti-Semitism increases in inverse proportion to the educational level of the respondents.

The study

The study "Germany and Israel Today: Linked by the Past, Divided by the Present?" is based on representative demoscopic surveys conducted in January 2013 in Germany and among Jewish Israelis. The surveys were carried out by TNS Emnid on behalf of the Bertelsmann Stiftung. Survey data from 1991 and 2007 were used for comparison purposes. The authors Dr. Roby Nathanson of the Macro Center for Political Economics in Israel and Dr. Steffen Hagemann of Kaiserslautern University of Technology analyzed and evaluated the quantitative data and placed the findings within their current and historical contexts.

Methodological note: In order to test whether opinions among the German population had changed appreciably since the original survey—especially in the aftermath of the Gaza War in summer 2014—seven of the questions were asked again in Germany in October 2014. The results show that many attitudes remain relatively stable over time (for a discussion of the trends, see pp. 60 ff. of the study). In order to provide the most up-to-date information, the present press release quotes the most recent of the available data. Survey results for Israel are those from 2013, while the data for Germany are predominantly from 2014.