The returns of the Bavarian state elections raise questions how these results could affect the current policies of Germany, including towards Israel. The Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), sustained hefty losses to third parties – evidence of an emerging partisan split, dividing German policy. On the right is the AfD (Alternative for Deutschland), which garnered 10.7% of the recent vote after not acquiring any representation in the Bundestag only five years prior, in the 2013 federal elections. On the left, the Bavarian Green party more than doubled its tally from 8.6% to 17.5% since 2013.
A significant voting point for Germans in this election was the question of immigration from the Middle East into Europe, an issue that dually and directly impacts the opinion of Israel in the eyes of Germans.
During her tenure as chancellor, Merkel has, for the most part, been a friend to Israel. Merkel’s reasoning for support of Israel has been twofold: First, Merkel recognizes the history between the Jewish people and Germany. In a 2008 address to the Knesset – the first by a German chancellor in history – she proclaimed that Germany’s support for Israel was a raison d’être and that German chancellors bear a “special responsibility” to ensure Israel’s security is upheld.
Germany’s second connection to Israel is economic. Having invested billions of Euros in recent decades into Israel start-ups and companies, Germany is reaping the benefits of Israeli innovation in fields such as aerospace technologies and other scientific research. Her recent visit to Israel was noted as a visit intended to improve the economic ties between the two countries by way of investments. Merkel was earlier praised by Netanyahu as “a true friend of Israel.”
However, it remains to be seen if, and how, the state election in Bavaria will impact relations with Israel, after Merkel’s allies, the CSU, suffered historic election losses with around 37%, a more than 10-point drop from four years ago. On the subject of Israel, both parties — AfD and Green — are relatively united in their support, however for vastly different reasons.
The AfD do not hold particularly ardent views on Holocaust education or remembrance, rendering Merkel’s first and foremost case for support of Israel irrelevant to them. Per a 2017 poll of German politicians, only 38% of AfD legislators “tend to agree” that Holocaust education is a necessity. This contrasts 100% of respondents from Merkel’s bloc (the center-left and center-right parties) expressing the need for adequate Holocaust education.
Not only do many AfD politicians disagree with a robust Holocaust remembrance, but they actively work towards the minimization of the Holocaust. On a seemingly regular basis, AfD members will act in a manner making them susceptible to charges of anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism, which supplements their much more overt xenophobia and racism. Alexander Gauland, serving as Leader of the AfD, recently asserted that the Nazi regime was a mere “speck of bird s**t” in German history. Gauland was applauded for his remarks (at an AfD youth function no less), and was later defended by party spokesmen. For a high-profile party member such as Gauland to espouse such a view makes the larger party ideology apparent. Other individual party politicians have been pictured posing beside Swastikas and images of Hitler as well as Nazi propaganda.
Nonetheless, AfD adopts pro-Israel positions, condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and supporting the majority of Israel’s internal policies. The likely reasoning for AfD’s support of Israel stems from their opposition to Muslims and immigrants, which outweighs their apparent anti-Semitic sentiment. Many AfD members view Israel as a line of defense between Middle Eastern migrants and Europe. Israel, in their view, is uniquely positioned to either utilize direct force or other means to deescalate the conflicts and slow the flow of migrants. To many in AfD, Israel is a valuable asset in fighting what they view as a major threat to Germany, Muslim immigrants into Germany.
Bavaria’s Green Party also enjoyed significant gains from the election and appears to display similar support for Israel. The Green Party differs from AfD, however, in refusing to denigrate the importance of the Holocaust in German history. In a 2017 resolution, the Green party rejected the BDS campaign decisively, stating that “the BDS campaign is, in its totality, anti-Semitic, hostile to Israel, reactionary and anti-enlightenment.”
The Green party has taken steps to delegitimize BDS by condemning any of their allies, who play a role in advancing the campaign. The resolution drew historical parallels between BDS and the early beliefs of the Nazi regime, which whereby citizens would refrain from buying goods from Jews. Given the largely pro-BDS positions of numerous Western and European left-wing sects, the Green party offers a contrasting rebuke of the movement appropriately rooted in German-Jewish history. This is a greatly promising sign from the party that anti-Israel bigotry and anti-Semitism will not be tolerated by the Green party in any manifestation. And having finished second-place in the votes in Bavaria, surpassing all except for the CSU, as well as second in a national poll, the Green party and ideas in Germany are cementing, which may actually prove beneficial for Israel in certain respects.
Yet this isn’t to say that the Green don’t have their faults regarding Israel’s security, as exemplified by Merkel herself. Being one of the few remaining centrist politicians, Merkel walks a balancing act between those on the right and those on the left, influencing her in various ways. To appease the right, Merkel has recently espoused a closed-border immigration process. While to appease the left, Merkel has supported the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, condemned expansion of settlements, and the scheduled demolition of the Khan al-Ahmar village. Green party MPs have reaffirmed many of Merkel’s policies. This indicates to a large extent the general policies of the German left-wing as being questioning regarding Israel, in spite of their full and appropriate recognition of the immense calamity that was the Holocaust.
Given the surge of third parties like the AfD and the Greens, it seems inevitable that Merkel’s centrist coalition will soon be split by the partisan preferences of the left and the right. And should both the Green and AfD continue their political ascent, Israel will be caught in the crosshairs between two varying approaches to the Middle East and to the ancient history of Jews.