Where Does Israel Stand Following the Bavarian Elections?
In the wake of the surprising results of the Bavarian state elections, questions are raised regarding how these results may hold gravitas regarding the current policies of Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government coalition in Bavaria consisting of the Christian Social Union and the Social Democratic Party sustained hefty losses to up-and-coming political extrema parties, evidence of an emerging partisan split, dividing German policy. On the right-wing is the AfD (Alternative for Deutschland), comprising 10.7% percent of the recent vote after not acquiring any representation in the Bundestag only five years prior, in the 2013 federal elections. And on the left, the Bavarian Green party, whose tally more than doubled 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 ancestral 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 startups and companies, Germany is reaping the benefits of Israeli innovation in fields such as aerospace technologies and 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 the nature of Germany’s future diplomatic relationship with Israel was questioned by the Bavarian election results, as Merkel’s influence dipped to the point where her party no longer possesses a majority of the representation in the state parliament. Much of her former power was ceded to the AfD and Green party, leading to an imminent change in German policies, largely centered around European mass migration.
On the subject of Israel, both political extremes--AfD and Green--are relatively united in their support, however to vastly different extents and for various 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 conducive to claims of anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism--to supplement 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 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 poll at predominantly pro-Israel numbers, condemning BDS and supporting the majority of Israel’s internal policy. The likely reasoning for AfD’s support of Israel stems from their despisal of Muslims and immigrants, which outweighs their alleged anti-Semitic sentiment. Many AfD members view Israel as the only form of blockade or intermediary between migrants and Europe, uniquely positioned to utilize direct force or other means to deescalate the conflicts and slow the flow of migrants. To them, Israel is a valuable asset in fighting what is effectively the greater of two evils, Muslim immigrants into Germany over support of a Jewish state.
Bavaria’s Green Party, also enjoying significant gains from the election, appears to display similar support for Israel, however, excluding the derogatory reduction of the Holocaust. In a 2017 resolution, the Green party rejected the BDS movement swiftly, stating that “the BDS campaign is, in its totality, anti semitic, hostile to Israel, reactionary and anti-enlightenment.” The Green party attempts to entirely delegitimize the movement by condemning any of their allies that play a part in advancing the movement. The resolution makes appropriate parallels between BDS and the early beliefs of the Nazi regime 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 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 omnipotent 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 espoused a closed-border immigration process. While to appease the left, Merkel has supported the 2015 JCPOA as well as 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 flimsy regarding Israel, in spite of their full and appropriate recognition of the immense calamity that was the Holocaust.
Given the surge in far-end-of-the-spectrum parties like the AfD and Green, it seems inevitable that Merkel’s centrist coalition will soon dissipate into partisan politics between 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.