Behind the Headlines Survey Results Could Presage Test

A new study reveals popular German ambivalence about supporting Israel, just as Iran has raised the level of tension with repeated threats to destroy the Jewish state.

The gap that shows up in a new Bertelsmann Foundation /TNS Emnid survey suggests trouble ahead in Germany’s support for the Jewish state. Germany currently is Israel’s most important supporter, in economic and defense terms, after the United States.

Not all signs are bad: The fact that half of German respondents supported sending German troops to monitor the Lebanese-Israeli border after last summer’s war is “impressive,” said Deidre Berger, head of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office. In addition, she noted, the study shows a slight decrease in anti-Semitic attitudes since a similar survey was conducted in 1991.

In its entirety, the study suggests an urgent need for further German-Israeli dialogue, particularly among younger generations. “Strategic partnerships” also are needed “in the realms of foreign policy and security policy as well as in economic relations,” according to a statement released by Stephan Vopel, project director of the Bertelsmann Foundation’s German-Jewish Dialogue.

The dialogue, an annual program that began in 1992, brings together prominent Jewish leaders from around the world and German decision makers from politics, business, the arts and media. Sponsored by the Bertelsmann Foundation and British publisher Lord George Weidenfeld, the two-day event ended Feb. 13 in Berlin.

For decades German leaders, particularly those in the former West Germany, have emphasized Germany’s special responsibility toward Israel in light of the Holocaust. This special relationship is constantly being tested, most recently with the Lebanon war last summer, and today with debate over how to respond to a worst-case scenario involving Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“The finding that four out of five Germans no longer believe in a special relationship between Germany and Israel is disturbing but not unexpected,” Berger told JTA.

“With growing distance from the Holocaust, and a growing distance among the German public toward maintaining close German-Israeli relations, politicians might feel pressured to act in closer sync with public opinion,” she said. “The potential for such a development is considerable.”

While 62 percent of Germans believe Iran’s nuclear ambitions threaten Israel’s existence, only 30 percent would support military intervention against Iran if it obtained a nuclear weapon, the survey found.

The survey, which was issued Monday, showed that three-quarters of Israelis and American Jews believe Israel’s existence is threatened by Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

It was based on telephone interviews Jan. 12-26 with 1,004 Germans, 1,115 Israelis and 500 American Jews.

The report was issued on the heels of the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of sanctions if Iran fails to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions restricting its uranium enrichment. Merkel has repeatedly condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel’s destruction.

While about 80 percent of Israelis and almost 75 percent of American Jews would consider a military strike against Iran justifiable if Iran gets the bomb, 61 percent of Germans would oppose such a move.

The survey aimed to shed light on public perception of Germany and Israel, and on relationships between non-Jewish Germans, Israelis and American Jews. The Israelis surveyed included non-Jews.

In some areas, results were compared to a 1991 Emnid-Spiegel Magazine poll.

In one of its more disturbing findings, the ’07 survey indicated that 30 percent of Germans think Israel is doing to the Palestinians “what the Nazis did to the Jews in the Third Reich.”

“Experts believe this is a transference of anti-Semitic attitudes onto current Israeli political behavior,” said Berger of the AJCommittee, which has commissioned several studies on media and public attitudes toward Israel, as well as on anti-Semitism. “The two situations — a democratic government defending itself vs. a totalitarian government on a campaign of extermination — have no basis for comparison.”

The survey also revealed significant gaps among the three groups of respondents in perceptions of each other.

Four out of five Germans favor treating Israel like any other state, while most Israelis believe Germany has a special responsibility toward them.

And while Israelis and American Jews tend to have a positive opinion of Germany, most Germans have negative views of Israel.

Other results:

More Israelis than American Jews say their attitudes toward Germans are greatly influenced by the Holocaust, while Germans underestimate that influence.

Four out of 10 Germans, particularly older people or those with little education, believe Nazism also had its good sides. But the number of those who feel this way has dropped since the 1991 survey.

About 12 percent of Germans believe Jews were partly to blame for the persecution they suffered. Those who are older and less educated tend to agree more with this view.

One-third of Germans agree with the assertion that “Jews have too much influence in the world.” The proportion of people holding this view decreased slightly since the 1991 survey.

About one-third of Germans agree somewhat — and 10 percent agree completely — with the idea that Jews are trying to benefit from the Third Reich. These numbers have decreased significantly since 1991.

About 44 percent of Germans hold some classic anti-Semitic views. Fifteen percent of German respondents made an anti-Semitic remark in more than one response to the questions asked. Compared with the 1991 results, that was a slight decline.

Three-quarters of Israeli Jews interviewed welcomed the deployment of German armed forces in Lebanon to keep the cease-fire that ended last summer’s war with Hezbollah. In Germany, opinion is almost evenly divided.

German interest in information about Israel is middling to weak — but higher than Israeli interest in information about Germany.

Only 58 percent of Israelis know who German Chancellor Angela Merkel is, but those who know her give her good marks. President Bush is even more popular. On the other hand, Israelis dislike French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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