Germany and Israel: Is It Friendship?

In the second of two posts on German-Israeli relations, Felix Berenskoetter argues that a shared commitment to the memory of the Holocaust and to Israel’s right to exist has not formed a true friendship between Germany and Israel. 

When there is a meeting between German and Israeli government officials, it has become a ritual to hail relations between the countries as a friendship. In 2008, even the Economist suggested that‘Germany is Israel’s second best friend’ (the first one being the US). Is this just nice talk? Few would dispute that the relationship is ‘special’ in some way. To evaluate whether it can be called a friendship in a meaningful way, we need some basic markers of ‘friendship’ in international relations.

Scholars have long claimed that friendship is possible not only on the personal level but also between states/nations. Yet only recently literature is emerging which looks more closely at what this involves. In my reading, friendship, and with it trust, honesty and solidarity, revolves around a shared project that both sides are committed to invest in and that provides them with a sense of ontological security. The project is based on overlapping biographical narratives, that is, a sense of a shared past and a shared future. Especially, it requires a common vision of building a better world that binds friends in creative interaction and manifests a productive relationship that benefits both. In this relationship friends regard each other as equals and practice a unique logic of reciprocity in which there is no debt but mutual trust that each side contributes as much as it can to keep the project on track. On this basis, let me offer a few thoughts on whether German-Israeli relations can be considered a friendship.

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