German flag in Berlin May 23, 2012 (Reuters)
German flag flies in front of the Reichstag in Berlin, May 23, 2012. Photo by Reuters
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Germans have become markedly more critical of Israel over the past three years, with 59 percent describing it as aggressive, according to a survey for the weekly magazine Stern released on Wednesday.

The survey was conducted shortly before President Joachim Gauck visits Israel and the Palestinian territories May 28-31.

A similar Stern survey in 2009 found 49 percent considered Israel aggressive.

The survey, conducted by Forsa pollsters, found 70 percent of Germans agree with the statement that Israel pursues its interests without consideration for other nations. Three years ago, 59 percent agreed.

Israel's threat to launch preemptive airstrikes against Iran if nuclear talks fail to stop its nuclear enrichment activities were debated in Germany last month after novelist Guenter Grass published a poem, What Must Be Said, which contended that Israel was threatening to "wipe out the Iranian people."

Most leading German politicians disowned Grass, while Israel accused him of anti-Semitism and said he would be refused entry if he ever tried to visit. Commentators then said many Germans might quietly agree with him.

The Forsa poll found only 36 percent of Germans had a very positive view of Israel, down from 45 percent in 2009, while 13 percent, unchanged, said it had no right to exist.

Some 60 percent disagreed with the statement that Germany owed a special obligation to Israel after the Holocaust, while 65 percent said that Germany ought to recognize a Palestinian state.