A special normalcy
Ever since World War II, Germany's leaders have sought to make their country "normal."
Ever since World War II, Germany's leaders have sought to make their country "normal." Its participation in ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of "that war," and the festivities that Germany, along with her former enemies, held in honor of the liberation from the Nazi yoke, gave "normalcy" a meaning it had never had before. Some would draw a straight line between those events and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's current visit to Israel. Her visit did not generate front-page headlines here; in the public discourse, Germany has become an almost "normal" partner of the Jewish state.
How can this be explained? In the first place, Merkel's visit was not the first visit to Israel by a German chancellor. Omitting Konrad Adenauer - who was no longer chancellor when he visited here in 1966 - still leaves us with visits by Willy Brandt, Helmut Kohl (twice) and Gerhard Schroeder. Presidents Richard von Weizsacker, Roman Herzog, Johannes Rau and Horst Koehler also visited Israel, and the latter two also addressed the Knesset, in German.
Second, and more importantly, Germany is currently Israel's best friend in Europe, and perhaps even in the world, excepting the United States. It stands out in the European Union for being willing to support Israel under difficult circumstances and for working to balance anti-Israel resolutions in international forums. It initiated the Essen Declaration, which gave Israel "special status" in the EU, and led the exceptional process that brought Israel into the EU's research and development program. Germany was the first to stand beside Israel during the Gulf War, it built submarines for Israel at no cost, and it has worked tirelessly to help Israel's captives and MIAs.
Third, Merkel herself has a special relationship with Israel, different from that of some of her predecessors. Her visit here is her third of the last two years. She feels a deep responsibility toward Israel, both because of the Holocaust and because of the actions of East Germany in which she grew up, whose hostility toward Israel was exceptional even by Soviet-bloc standards.
This "consistent and loyal friend of the State of Israel," as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert termed her in the Knesset yesterday, is "the architect of the upgraded relationship" between the two countries. Merkel came here at the head of a large delegation that included captains of German industry, members of parliament and eight senior cabinet ministers. The latter participated in the two governments' first joint cabinet session, thereby establishing an annual "consultative forum" such as Germany previously had only with France and Poland.
In her speech to the Knesset, which she opened and closed in Hebrew, Merkel promised to work to halt Iran's nuclearization, to fight anti-Semitism and to strive for closer relations between Israel and the EU. She also expressed solidarity with Israel's efforts to cope with terror attacks and Qassam rockets, and above all, she stressed her country's "everlasting responsibility" for the Holocaust.
What to many Israelis looks today like a "normal" relationship remains, in the eyes of Merkel's Germany, a "special" relationship that requires constant investment - "in words and deeds."