Israel's Ambassador Issacharoff "Merkel is an incredibly impressive Person"
In an exclusive interview with n-tv.de, Israel's Ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, talks about the result of the US election, economic opportunities in the Middle East and the deepening relationship between Israel and Germany. Issacharoff praises Merkel for her consistent style of politics, but also warns: One can never do enough to fight right-wing extremism.
Your Excellency let us begin the interview with a glance at US politics. Are you surprised by what has happened in the United States with regards to the transition of power from President Donald Trump to Joe Biden?
From my experience there has always been a strong respect for the constitution and the democratic requirements in America, particularly in the time of transitions. I remember very well the transition between the Bush administration and President Obama. By all accounts, it went incredibly smoothly, even though power was going from a Republican to a Democrat.
And what about this time?
Today, in all of this, as people can observe, there is a lot of division in America, but there is a clear electoral result. I have met President-elect Biden when he was Vice President and I think he is a very substantial friend of Israel. The relationship between Israel and the US is one between two countries, it will go from strength to strength and I have every confidence that this will continue.
Will the relationship between Israel and the US change at all when Joe Biden becomes President?
Both the President and the Prime Minister of Israel have spoken with the President-elect. In the past, there have been strong contacts with Joe Biden. He really is considered a great friend of Israel. There might be occasional differences on both sides with regards to what is the right way forward, but the overriding strategic objectives are very much in tandem.
The speed at which President Trump made some decisions, for example recognising Jerusalem as Israel's Capital, did set a new tone. Do you think the Biden administration will follow this?
While we are thankful for some of the decisions made during the Trump administration, I think there has been a strong partnership already before this administration and I think it will carry on in the next one as well…
…but let's look at a specific example: The current Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, visited Israeli settlements in the West Bank recently. An unprecedented move. Do you think that the incoming Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, would do the same?
I don't know. But every administration that comes in appoints new teams and has a review of policy. I have no doubt that they will go through this process and will decide for themselves what is appropriate to do, also in terms of the Israeli/Palestinian issue, but also in terms of a whole range of other issues like Syria, Iran, Hezbollah. One should not forget: The American agenda today is laden with so many critical issues. The Israeli/Palestinian item will be on the agenda, but will it be the first thing on the list? It will surely be part of the general approach. They will decide whether to pursue a way that Secretary Pompeo did or whether to choose a different approach.
A couple of months ago the diplomatic relationship between Israel and the United Arab Emirates normalised. What does that mean for the region?
It is a paradigm shift. Up to now we have only had peace treaties with Egypt and Jordanand these are countries that were more directly involved in the Israeli/Arab conflict. There were wars between countries, people were killed - a much more complicated situation. Now you have peace that is being established with countries that are not in the first tier of the conflict. This gives us a very clear example of how two countries that are in the same area can work together and see many challenges in the same way.
Could this relationship create a new economic trade area in the region?
Absolutely. Cooperation could also be in cyber or innovation in many different fields. We already have an agreement between the Weizmann Institute and Mohamed Bin Zayed University on artificial intelligence. Just last week, we had a trilateral conference between the German Chamber of Commerce, Israel and the UAE. Recently the Foreign Minister of UAE came to Berlin to meet with his Israel counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, under the auspices of FM Heiko Maas. That was no accident. There is a clear determination here to not just to have a peace agreement between the two countries, but also develop the partnership.
What role does Germany play in this?
Germany is probably the most important partner that we have in Europe. For the first time in many years Germany had a very strong position at the trilateral table in a process that will have a significant effect on the Middle East and on Europe, but also how Europe and the Middle East can relate to Asia. The UAE is a major hub that can lead Germany and Israel to new markets.
Let's talk about the relationship between Germany and Israel. Israel recently ordered four marine corvettes from a German shipyard in Kiel. It seems as if the military ties are growing stronger between the two countries. What does that mean for the future?
It is not just over the last years that we have seen a stronger defense commitment to Israel from Germany, but we also see a very strong Israeli commitment to German security. Luftwaffe pilots are being trained on the use of UAVs that Israel is leasing to Germany, in order to assist the German army in its efforts of Force Protection, which is crucial for German security. This is an expertise that Israel has and we have been able to share it with Germany. The relationship between the two countries has become a much more symmetrical and reciprocal type of relationship, where both sides help each other. To me, this is very inspiring when you look at where we were in the not so distant past. Both countries can be proud of how they preserve the culture of remembrance, but do not let only that define how we relate to each other today.
Why has the relationship deepened so considerably in recent times?
The relations between Israel and Germany remind me a little bit of the time I served in Washington in the nineties. Then, it wasn't as if just one day the US and Israel decided to be strategic partners. It is a reality that evolves and comes from many different elements. Now, being in Germany, I have very similar feelings when it comes to the evolving relationship between Germany and Israel. The two countries have very intimate conversations on sensitive issues. There is a lot of trust.
From a critical standpoint, where does Israel expect more from Germany, for example, when it comes to the recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel?
The Palestinian issue will not resolve itself and obviously Jerusalem is going to remain one of the issues. In my opinion: Jerusalem is too important to be ignored. Our position is very clear: Jerusalem is our Capital; we don't want to divide it again and it will stay part of Israel.
Chancellor Merkel has just met with the German State Premiers to discuss further measures in times of Corona. How do you view this global pandemic?
In Germany the numbers have gone up recently, so surely it will be important to get back control. Angela Merkel is a scientist. I speak to people that work closely with her and she is a person that understands the issues clearly. I have no doubt that she is looking at the issue of how to save German lives as much as possible. And none of these decisions are easy. It will be a constant balance between social and economic questions. This is also not just a physical illness. It has created a very different society for a lot of people.
There have also been protests in Germany against the strict Corona measures. It has become very clear that there are right extremists amongst the protestors, and they are spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories. Just a couple of days ago, the German government announced a plan to spend more money on fighting right-wing extremism. Is that enough?
To use any imagery from the past, from the Second World War, from the Holocaust and to make comparisons to this situation today, I find totally unacceptable. Whether they use symbols or images of people, it does a great disservice to the memory of those people and to the significance of those images that were part of a system, that systematically killed people. To take it to these extreme levels and make these comparisons to the Nazi period, I find very reprehensible. There is no doubt that a very strong right-wing extremism still exists.
Has right-wing ideology grown stronger?
There has always been antisemitism. But it has evolved to the stage of not only thinking and saying it, but actually taking action, as we saw in Halle, but also in Hanau. If you ask me: no government can really do enough to prevent this kind of extremism. You need to be effective all the time, because they only need to succeed once. We don't have the luxury to just look at one side of the political spectrum. It is important to note that antisemitism also emanates from the left and the space in between. But I think most people very clearly realize today, that an attack on a German Jew is not just an attack on a Jew, but an attack on Germany. You cannot sustain democracy and tolerance in Germany by allowing these types of things, because that is what is as stake here: Germany's moral and democratic character.
You make an important point here. The only reason the attacker in Halle couldn't kill more people, was because a door made of solid wood prevented him from doing so…
Like I said, you can never do enough. The challenge is considerable. Had this door not withstood, the impact it would have had on Germany's post war identity would have been very substantial.
Angela Merkel will leave office soon. What does that mean for Israel's relationship with Germany?
There has been tremendous appreciation of her leadership. Her policy and attitude towards Israel have been very consistent. She has been a cornerstone of bringing about the strategic partnership that I have described before. Her contribution has been immense in terms of developing a European identity and putting Germany back on to the centre stage of world politics. People see her as one of the most outstanding leaders in the international community. And one anecdote: When she announced that she was not going to run for another term, within the space of half an hour, I received calls from the President's and the Prime Minister's office in Israel. It shows the importance and respect for her. She is an incredibly impressive person and a very strong friend of Israel.
What will change?
I tend to believe that the policy that she announced in the Knesset in 2008, the German 'Staatsräson' towards Israel, will be something that any person who succeeds her will want to continue. The relationship with Israel is not just 'nice to have'. When you look at the crucial things that are being done in the bilateral relations between Israel and Germany it is clear that the relationship really does serve critical interests for both countries.
Interview: Philipp Sandmann