Behind the scenes, in backrooms, and far from the official declarations of friendship and affinity, the German government is pursuing increasingly harsh anti-Israel measures. Beyond its regular funding of groups and activities that focus on delegitimizing the State of Israel, the German government, specifically its foreign ministry, is now intentionally targeting diplomatic relations between the countries.
This harmful activity is currently focused on the Germany-Israel Friendship Association, which was established in 1966, less than a year after West Germany and Israel established diplomatic ties, to promote relations between the countries. Today the association comprises some 50 branches across Germany and between 5,000-6,000 members. The association was apolitical from the outset, as a general reflection of all German political parties’ commitment to Israel. The association’s first order of business is to “deepen the ties between Germany and Israel in all areas of public and cultural life.”
With the goal of expanding its activities and stabilizing its financial situation, the association’s directorship requested annual monetary aid from the German government. The request was approved and today this financial aid, which is channeled by the German Federal Foreign Office, stands at around €500,000 ($548,000) – €350,000 of which are used to fund ongoing operations and €150,000 ($383,000 and $164,000, respectively) to fund special projects.
Supposedly, this gesture symbolized Germany’s commitment to maintaining good ties with Israel. But there was a fly in the ointment: It became members of the association quickly learned that this financial aid wasn’t simply a magnanimous gesture for the benefit of bolstering relations between the countries; its true purpose was to give it control of the association and subjugate it to the policies of the German foreign ministry, which often starkly contradict Germany’s official commitment to Israel, its existence and security. This is the same foreign ministry that regularly votes against Israel in international bodies, and whose representative in the United Nations comfortably compared Israel to North Korea.
As is always the case with German government funding, “follow the money.” Thus the association’s members are bound by conditions and prohibitions, and are completely under the thumb of the German state authorities. The association’s directors were initially told they must cease all activities pertaining to two core issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict: UNRWA and Germany’s generous support for the UN agency responsible for Palestinian “refugees,” whose goal is to destroy the State of Israel. In recent years, it’s worth noting, Germany has become one of UNWRA’s biggest donors, providing some 180 million euros. Later, the association was told it could only use the government funds for “cultural activity,” meaning activities affiliated with a very particular political camp in Israel.
This year, however, came the biggest blow. In recent years a tradition has developed ahead of Israel’s Independence Day, whereby the association, in conjunction with other pro-Israel groups, organizes a project called “Days of Israel,” which is held in dozens of cities and towns across Germany. Within the framework of this project there are speeches, performances, movies and various public relations booths that give the German public information about Israel. The project, which began as a small and modest initiative, quickly became a grand display of support for Israel.
This year, however, the German Federal Foreign Office said it was pulling its financial support for the event. Its official reason was that “these events don’t attract new groups to take an interest in Israel, rather are an opportunity for members of the association to get together.” To loosely translate this from German to Hebrew: These events don’t fall in line with the types of messages acceptable to the German foreign ministry – that is to say criticism of Israel and its government – rather create a positive atmosphere around the “problem” otherwise known as Israel. This year’s “Days of Israel” events were ultimately canceled due to the coronavirus. Some were held online. But this doesn’t detract from the fact that the German government has created an extremely problematic precedent for the years ahead, which threatens the continuation of this important project.
To make matters worse, meanwhile, young association members visiting Israel recently were stunned to receive a list of dos and donts from the German foreign ministry. Among other directives, they were explicitly prohibited from meeting with right-wing Israeli NGOs, were completely prohibited from meeting with settlers, and were strongly urged to meet with radical leftist organizations.