Fighting Anti-Semitism in Europe

German-Israeli Intimate Relations Despite the Painful Memory

Dozens of people take part in a human chain during a rally against anti-Semitism and Hate outside the New Synagogue in Berlin, Germany, 20 October 2019. (Felipe Trueba/EPA/EFE)
Dozens of people take part in a human chain during a rally against anti-Semitism and Hate outside the New Synagogue in Berlin, Germany, 20 October 2019. (Felipe Trueba/EPA/EFE)

Fighting Anti-Semitism in Europe

The EU-Israeli relationship has frequently witnessed tense rhetoric and varying degrees of subsequent regret, and intervals of lukewarm ties. Throughout many years, their relations were characterized by confusion, trouble and disappointment on both sides. That led to deep structural rifts inside the EU. However, many observers describe EU- Israeli relations as “special and exceptional.”

The German-Israeli relations have reached high levels of economic, political and intelligence cooperation. Berlin is one of the top EU commercial partners of Israel. The country has been always committed to the protection of Israel’s security and pursued diplomacy to resolve the Palestinian issue by holding talks on the two-state solution. Domestically, however, hate crimes have risen and taken various forms, including physical assaults and hate speech. This prompted the German authorities to tighten laws and fill in the gaps of the laws on anti-Semitism amid divisions among Germany’s political circles concerning these laws.

On a related note, French-Israeli relations date back to deep historic connections. Since 1949, France held firm diplomatic ties after it recognized the state of Israel. Despite France’s recognition, it decided, just as Germany did, not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to oppose the continuous establishment of settlements and the annexation of some West Bank territories. On the domestic level, there are divisions among French politicians on anti-Semitism which coincided with the authorities calls to fight against rising anti-Semitic actions via tightening measures and drafting new laws.

Reality of EU-Israeli Relations

EU-Israeli relations have undergone regular improvement within the frame of agreements signed in multiple sectors. Today, Israel enjoys the status of the most advanced relationship as non-EU contracting partner. Consequently, many Israelis consider EU as their natural economic zone. The strategic cooperation between both actors grew, particularly following September 11 due to perceived common threats. In fact, EU countries tend to build alliances according to their perceived common threats. For example, global terrorism and Iran’s nuclear threat, in particular, have become a major concern for Israel and the EU. In 2003, France, Germany and Britain led an international alliance with the United States, Russia and China under the name of EU 3+3 which aimed to prevent Iranians from developing nuclear weapons by imposing diplomatic and financial sanctions. Deeply concerned about Iranian nuclear threat, Israel cooperates with some EU countries to lead operations that aim to delay the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program.

Anti-Semitism in Europe

EU countries have recently witnessed a surge in anti-Semitism-related incidents. According to some statistics, anti-Semitism rose by 74% in France, and attacks against Jews in Germany rose to 16,000 incidents (an increase by 10%). In November 2020, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe published a report stating that anti-Semitic crimes amounted to more than 20% of hate crime committed in the European bloc. In 2019, there were 1704 anti-Semitic incidents out of total 6964 hate incidents in Europe. In December 2020, the EU adopted a draft declaration vowing to prevent all forms of anti-Semitism. On December 6, 2018, EU Interior Ministers approved a number of measures to combat anti-Semitism, and called for better protection of Jews and Jewish institutions in Europe.

Demonstrators hold signs against anti-Semitism during a silent march in Paris on March 28 in memory of Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Jewish woman murdered in her home in what police believe was an anti-Semitic attack. NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

EU Stance on Arab Normalization with Israel

The 2020 was a peak year of Israel’s foreign relations. For the first time, Israel holds relations with 164 countries out of 194 (85% of world countries). To further understand the significance of such number, it is worth pointing out that on the first years of its establishment after 1948, Israel was recognized by and had relations with only 47 out of 89 state members in the United Nations (53%).  In 1959, number of countries that recognized Israel rose to 62 out of 95 countries (65%). In 1965, a new peak reached 95 out of 130 countries (75%). However, following wars of 1967 and 1973, the number diminished to 92 out of 149 countries (62%)

On November 16, 2020, Joseph Borrell, the European Union high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that the EU welcomed the announcement of UAE, Bahrain and later Sudan’s signing of normalization agreements with Israel. “A normalization of their bilateral relations will be beneficial to both countries and a fundamental step for the stabilization of the region as a whole,” Borrell said.

Germany and Israel: Economic Cooperation

Germany is the second top commercial partner of Israel after the US with deep economic and security relations. On the economic level, the German-Israeli trade reached 6,6 billion dollars in 2016, and 7,8 billion dollars in 2018, an increase of 1,2 billion dollars. Top German exports to Israel include equipment, optics, chemicals and plastics, while top Israeli imports to Germany are machines, transportation equipment and chemical products.

On February 23, 2021, both countries signed an agreement to supply protection systems to the German Defense Ministry. The agreement provides the German military’s “Leopard-2” tank with Trophy active protection system, in addition to anti-tank munitions, spare parts and operational and technical systems. Berlin, on its part, provided submarines to Israel. Besides, both countries intensive cooperation included more projects in the field of science and research. Another deal worth of 430 million euros was inked by Israel and Germany, which include procurement of 4 warships to protect offshore gas extraction facilities.

A Specter of the Past

Post-1945 Federal Republic of Germany, which emerged from the ashes of the Third Reich that perpetrated the Holocaust, has become the strongest supporter of tolerance, justice and firm fight against anti-Semitism and hatred along with other forms of racism. Meantime, the dreadful specter of Germany’s past has never ceased to exist, as it became obvious in the return of the far-right, the activities of the neo-Nazis and targeting of Jews at schools and other places.

In 2000, Germany took an exceptional step by approving a new citizenship law that is fundamentally based on the principle of belonging and migration instead of bloodline. Following these changes and the concerns over Germanic racism, civil educational programs were developed sponsored by the government to fight anti-Semitism, along with international discussion panels that focus on war on terror and the so-called “anti-Semitism against Israel” in Germany.

Laws Combatting Anti-Semitism in Germany

An increasing number of Jews migrated from the collapsed Soviet Union to Unified Germany in 1990. Currently, about 118,000 Jews reside in Germany (40% of whom age above 65, while less than 10% are less than 15 years old). The Central Council of Jews in Germany (Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland, acronym ZDJ) is the largest Jewish organization in the country, as it moderates 23 organizations and comprises 100,000 members.

Germany also hosts numerous synagogues One of the most important synagogues is located in the city of Dresden and was opened in 2001. In addition, there are other Jewish synagogues such as the one reopened in Berlin in 2007, and in Schwerin 2008, and the Halle, Saxony-Anhalt synagogue.

On May 12, 2021, German police arrested more than ten men in three cities. The men were suspected of damaging a Jewish synagogue using stones, burning Israel’s flag and setting a Jewish memorial on fire.

On May 17, 2021, Berlin announced that it did not intend to tighten punishments against anti-Semitism following protests that took to streets in support of Palestinian people amid Israeli military escalation in Gaza. Nevertheless, German authorities seek to fill in the gaps regarding enticement, hatred, xenophobia and anti-Semitism in German laws. Currently, authorities punish those convicted of attacking other people on basis of their homeland, religion or disability by fining them or sentencing them to two years in prison.

Former German Minister of Interior Heiko Maas confirmed his country’s strict measures against any person who spread anti-Semitic hatred. He reiterated that Germany would not tolerate actions of burning Israel’s flag on its territories nor the attacks on Jewish institutions. According to statistics issued by the Ministry of Interior on May 25, 2021, Anti-Semitic violence against Jews in Germany increased to 1799 incidents (an increase by 20%), almost 90% of these attacks were committed by far-right movements.

In Defense of Israel

There is a consensus that Germany has both moral and political obligation towards Israel. Hence came numerous visits by the former German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Israel. It is noteworthy that Jewish synagogues in Germany are surrounded by special security. For the sake of strengthening security and neutralizing extremism including anti-Semitism, Germany has adopted relevant legislations.

On May 18, 2019, the German Bundestag officially approved a resolution that described the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel as anti-Semitic, and called for confronting its campaign. Major political parties supported the decision which called upon on German federal institutions to stop funding or supporting any groups that question Israel’s right in existence. On the other side, many political circles in Germany expressed their concerns about the baseless and not legally justified overuse of the term anti-Semitic, which aims to prevent legitimate criticism to Israel policies.

More strict policies were taken by Germany against all forms of political Islamism, especially after the normalization of ties between UAE and Israel.

Germany has found that the Lebanese group of Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood organization, and Hamas’s banners raised in German squares were inciting violence and hatred, which poses a threat to the country’s security, particularly in 2021. That’s why new laws were endorsed to ban use of banners and symbols of political Islamist groups.

Recently, the German domestic intelligence has shifted its attention to the state-owned broadcaster “Deutsche Welle”, where it was found that many workers in the media institution were dignifying Hamas and Hezbollah as well as other figures of political Islamism. Thus, a decision was made to review the DW management and its employers’ social media accounts. Many of them were found to express anti-Semitic opinions, which violate German laws.

The German broadcaster held a probe to assess allegations that some DW employees posted anti-Semitic comments online. According to the DW published results, “The experts found no evidence of structural antisemitism, but called for clearer guidelines for staff and broadcasting partners.”

“The investigation concluded that there is not a structural antisemitism issue in DW, but that measures in training and recruitment must be taken to avoid further individual cases. DW Director General Peter Limbourg said that as a result of the investigations, five employees will no longer work for DW,” the broadcaster stated.

The individual cases which the report referred to were detected in an independent investigation carried out by a specialist team comprised of psychologist and antisemitism expert Ahmad Mansour and former German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. Following interviews with members of DW Arabic service, Bassel Aridi, head of DW office in Beirut, and four other names were fired. Other names included the head of DW Arabic Service Naser Schruf, of a Palestinian origin; Mohamed Ibrahim, from South Lebanon; Yasser Abumuailek‎‏, a Palestinian; and Zahi Alawi, also a Palestinian.

European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address a media conference at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, December 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Germany’s Stance on the Palestinian Cause

Germany is committed to defend Israel’s security and support its needs. Although many European countries such as Sweden acknowledge the State of Palestine, Germany refrains from such stance, and if it would take it, it should come in coordination with Israel.

Germany denounced the missile strikes launched by Hamas movement in Gaza against Israel, and reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself. According to a UN Statement on May 18, 2021, Germany was committed to provide 40 million euros humanitarian aid after the Israeli airstrikes against civilians. Berlin also rejects expansion of Israeli settlements in West Bank. In January 2020, it denounced the Israeli decision to build settlements (1900 units) in West Bank. Former German Minister of Interior Heiko Maas previously said that “the peaceful future of Jewish and democratic Israel can not be imagined without the two-state solution.

Daniel-Dylan Böhmer, Middle East expert, clarified that the complicated German stance on the Palestinian cause has various aspects. First, Germany has a critical view of Israeli settlement expansion, and second, it is concerned about human rights conditions in Israel. Böhmer also added that Germany is the largest country in the EU which is politically and economically supporting the Palestinians.

For historical reasons, there is ongoing German support to the Jewish state. Few years ago, the former German Chancellor Angel Merkel said that the security of Israel is fundamental to German politics, in an obvious declaration of commitment. What we see now is Germany seeking to strike a balance between both sides.


The French-Israeli relations are characterized by strength, as the largest Jewish community in Europe resides in France in parallel with the presence of a large French community in Israel. On the economic level, France ranks third among the European countries exporting to Israel. In addition, there is military, intelligence and security cooperation, especially in the field of counter-terrorism and arms sales.


On February 18, 2021, a French court upheld a verdict against Dieudonne Mbala Mbala on charges of anti-Semitism, to pay a fine of 9,000 euros that could turn into a prison sentence. In its decision, the court relied on a video clip of a song titled "It's My Holocaust", which was published in 2017 on some internet platforms.

On April 17, 2021, Gerald Darmanin, the French Minister of the Interior, announced that a delivery worker who had stated that he would not serve Jewish customers in Strasbourg had been expelled from the country. He was sentenced to four months in prison before being deported from France.

Incidents of anti-Semitism in France increased by 74% during the year 2018, according to data from the French authorities, as there were 541 incidents. The issue of tackling anti-Semitism in the country by expanding it to include anti-Zionism has caused divisions. On December 4, 2019, the French Parliament adopted a motion that equates “anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism” and is subject to the provisions of laws in this regard. French President Emmanuel Macron had confirmed in February 2019 to representatives of Jewish organizations in France that the country would apply a definition of anti-Semitism to the memory of the Holocaust.

Observers believe that the logic of the French state has prevailed over the emotions as evident in the government’s hesitation to support the law before Parliament. Observers also think that France, as well as all countries in the world, which condemned US President Donald Trump's decisions regarding Jerusalem, settlements and the Golan, will maintain a critical position against Israel and can only hold up the enaction of any laws that may become subject to illogical jurisprudence and legal prosecutions. Moreover, France condemns the settlement policy in the occupied territories. Several measures were taken at the European level to address settlements, such as labeling Israeli settlement products where the French Ministry of Economy stressed the necessity of putting up a label bearing the phrase "Made in an Israeli settlement" to distinguish between Israeli territories and settlements.


Trade Exchange: The volume of French exports to Israel amounted to 1.52 billion euros in 2017. French exports are mainly aircraft, cars, medicines, chemicals and industrial materials. French imports from Israel increased by 4.3 % in 2017. The number of French facilities reached 100 French facilities located in Israel, and their turnover is estimated at 534 million euros. The stock of French foreign direct investment in Israel at the end of 2017 amounted to 2.9 billion euros. Moreover, France is one of the most favorite tourist places for Israeli tourists.

Security Cooperation: Paris has been selling weapons to Israel since 1950s and 1960s, and now the relationship has reversed, as Israel has become France’s exporter of drones, electronic surveillance systems, war robots, and others. An intelligence investigation on March 31, 2021 revealed a secret cooperation in the security and military fields between Israel and France, especially in the fields of future wars that combine digital command, drones and robots, despite the competition in arms sales.

Israel and France are participating in the Scorpion Project, which involves the modernization of armored vehicles and the development of digital command to ensure the simultaneous communication of soldiers and new military tools such as drones. In November 2017, France participated in the "Blue Flag" exercises led by Israel and other countries. In the field of combating terrorism, the Israeli intelligence services provided France with information about the attacks on Paris in November 2015 as well as information on terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq.


French fears mounted due to the escalating conflict between Israel and Gaza, and warned on May 23, 2021 of a possible prolonged apartheid in Israel if a solution to the Palestinian issue is not reached. On May 14, 2021, France proposed a draft resolution to the UN Security Council calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza.

The French Foreign Ministry confirmed in July 2020 that the Israeli government's annexation of the Palestinian territories of the occupied West Bank would make the solution of the Palestinian issue more complex, difficult and perilous to regional stability and Israeli security.


2021 saw two rare wins for EU policy on Israel and Palestine. First, European countries helped counter the US administration's vision of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by formalizing a Palestinian state similar to the Bantustan state. Then, Europe helped mobilize international opposition to Israeli plans to formally annex West Bank lands. Both threats have temporarily receded, thanks in large part to the European Union. These were important achievements, but the latter do not make much difference to the reality on the ground.

This deteriorating path is storing up a deeper conflict on the ground, which poses even greater challenges to the European Union's vision of its proximity and relations with Israel. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the cornerstone of regional and international security, and finding a political solution based on the establishment of two states and the international agreements signed between Palestine and Israel is the only solution.

Left to fester, it will continue to harm the EU's interests as a reservoir of instability, extremism, and violence (both domestically and in the immediate vicinity). The unresolved conflict will continue to hamper Europe's prospects for deepening relations with both Israel and Palestine, and will represent a continuing failure of the rules-based international order.

As for German-Israeli relations, these relations between Germany and Israel are of a special nature, and will always be marked by the Holocaust. However, the political relations between Germany and Israel are not without tension and differences of opinion on many regional issues.

The German government always seeks to take a balanced position on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in order to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict in the Middle East. Among the European Union countries, Germany is the largest supporter of the Palestinians on the economic and political levels. It always criticizes the human rights situation in Israel and the targeting of Palestinian civilians. Berlin always warns of the Israeli settlement policy and believes this opposes international conventions and laws, and accordingly complicates the possibility of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the two-state solution.

Meantime, Germany pledges to defend Israel's security and supports its security needs. The German government is moving against anti-Semitic parties in the country to tighten anti-Semitism laws.

With regard to French-Israeli relations, France seeks to strike balance on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as the French authorities see that the best solution to the conflict is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within secure and recognized borders alongside Israel. France sees from an angle that Israel's security is an integral part of French policy and a priority within its policy in the Middle East.


* Jassim Mohamad is a researcher who focuses on international security & counter-terrorism; his work covers Europe, Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Iran and Yemen), and African Sahel. He is the Head of the European Center for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies ECCI.

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