Photo Credit: Koby Gideon (GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, March 2, 2022.

Germany’s newly-elected Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to Israel on March 2 heralds a new, post-Angela Merkel era in German-Israeli relations. A recent survey conducted in Israel and Germany by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s European Forum, reveals a complex picture regarding Israeli perceptions of Germany, as well as German perceptions of Israel. 

The survey in both countries was prepared by the European Forum at HU. In Israel, it was conducted in face-to-face interviews in respondents’ homes during October 5-26, 2021, and included 1,006 men and women, aged 18 and older. In Germany, the survey was conducted over the same period via telephone interviews and included 1011 men and women, aged 18 and older. Both are representative samples of each country’s population.

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In Israel, an affinity for Germany was tied to ethnic identification: Jewish or Arab. Within the Israeli Jewish population, perception of Germany was almost solely dependent on the respondent’s level of religiosity. As Jewish religiosity increases, the attitude toward Germany becomes more negative. In Germany, the fault-lines tend to be between age groups, between men and women, between respondents from the former Eastern and Western parts of the country, and among respondents with and without a history of migration. 

Here are the survey’s key findings:

  • Current Israel-German relations to continue under the new government.  A majority in both countries expect the new government in Germany to continue Chancellor Angela Merkel’s approach towards Israel to continue, including her assertion that ensuring Israel’s existence is in Germany’s national interest.
  • Germany as a mediator in the Middle East. Asked about the possibility of Germany acting as a mediator between Israel and other countries in the Middle East, about half of the Israeli respondents would like to see Germany involved. About the same percentage of respondents in Germany would like to see their country in that role, while 40.5% are against it. Younger German respondents, much more than older ones, want their country to be diplomatically involved with Israel. 
  • Only a minority visit each other’s countries. 30% of the Israeli respondents and 13.6% of the German respondents have actually visited each other’s country and many of those who did, are repeat visitors. On the German side, most of the respondents who have visited Israel are from the western part of Germany, without a history of migration, and are, on average, 63 years old.
  • Knowledge deficit about each other’s culture. Exposure to and knowledge of the other’s country and culture is rather limited. Moreover, German respondents have difficulties distinguishing between Israeli and Jewish culture.
  • A majority of Germans agree that antisemitism is a problem. 58% of Germans agree that antisemitism is currently a problem in their country. Most respondents (72%) see it emanating from the far right, followed by (70.1%) from the whole population, and 58% from the Muslim minority. Many more respondents from the western part of Germany see antisemitism as a problem than from the eastern part, where men were the group with the lowest percentage (38.5%) who agreed.
  • Criticism of Israel is not always an antisemitic act. 66% of German respondents think that Israel can be criticized without any connection to antisemitic attitudes. In Israel, a majority does not see criticism of Israel necessarily as a form of antisemitism but feels that there can be, at least sometimes, a link between the two. Almost half of the Arab respondents do not make this connection at all. 

Gisela Dachs, a professor at HU’s European Forum and principal author of the survey, believes that Israel and Germany are now at a critical stage in their bilateral relationship as a younger generation begins to take over the reins of every aspect of life in both countries. She explained, “we need to look to the future. History is a strong pillar but it fades away. The challenge is to build a shared future between Israel and Germany that is not only founded on a shared past.” She plans to continue taking similar surveys every two years so that changes in attitude and experience can be meaningfully tracked.

“The importance of this survey lies in the fact that we collected concrete data not only about what the respondents think but also what they actually do,” Dachs observed. The survey included questions about the frequency of travel to each other’s country and how respondents experienced each other’s culture. As Dachs noted, “once you can identify a specific lack of knowledge, then you are in a better position to address it.” The survey, therefore, has implications, she said, for education and public policy by both governments.

H1 Medienanalyse/Infas did the survey fieldwork in Germany and PORI Institute in Israel. The survey was partly funded by the Hanns-Seidel-Foundation in Jerusalem. 

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