The German-Israeli Relationship: A Chronicle of Four Decades, 1983-2023

Lily Gardner Feldman

Senior Fellow

Dr. Lily Gardner Feldman is a Senior Fellow at AICGS. She previously served as the Harry & Helen Gray Senior Fellow at AICGS and directed the Institute’s Society, Culture & Politics Program. She has a PhD in Political Science from MIT.

From 1978 until 1991, Dr. Gardner Feldman was a professor of political science (tenured) at Tufts University in Boston. She was also a Research Associate at Harvard University’s Center for European Studies, where she chaired the German Study Group and edited German Politics and Society; and a Research Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs, where she chaired the Seminar on the European Community and undertook research in the University Consortium for Research on North America. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Gardner Feldman was the first Research Director of AICGS and its Co-director in 1995. From 1995 until 1999, she was a Senior Scholar in Residence at the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University. She returned to Johns Hopkins University in 1999.

Dr. Gardner Feldman has published widely in the U.S. and Europe on German foreign policy, German-Jewish relations, international reconciliation, non-state entities as foreign policy players, and the EU as an international actor. Her latest publications are: Germany’s Foreign Policy of Reconciliation: From Enmity to Amity, 2014; “Die Bedeutung zivilgesellschaftlicher und staatlicher Institutionen: Zur Vielfalt und Komplexität von Versöhnung,” in Corine Defrance and Ulrich Pfeil, eds., Verständigung und Versöhnung, 2016; and “The Limits and Opportunities of Reconciliation with West Germany During the Cold War: A Comparative Analysis of France, Israel, Poland and Czechoslovakia” in Hideki Kan, ed., The Transformation of the Cold War and the History Problem, 2017 (in Japanese). Her work on Germany’s foreign policy of reconciliation has led to lecture tours in Japan and South Korea.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of AGI, the Society, Culture, and Politics program is pleased to present Dr. Lily Gardner Feldman’s policy brief devoted to understanding four decades of relations between Israel and Germany. Few countries have such a complicated and intertwined historical relationship and even fewer countries are as important to each other in the present. Grasping the historical evolution—the triumphs and tensions—of this special relationship are vital to understanding both countries, the larger regions in which they are embedded, and much of the international architecture of the contemporary world.

Since the early 1950s, a “special relationship” between Germany and Israel has been a constant feature of the improbable partnership embarked upon by Germans and Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust. The term “special relationship” (Sonderbeziehung, Sonderverhältnis) has a dual sense, combining the darkness of the Holocaust with the light that had carried the two countries over the abyss. The term captures both the uniqueness of history and the preferential relations that Germany and Israel each had with few other countries.

Ever since the American-German Institute was founded in 1983, the German-Israeli special relationship has figured prominently in its work through seminars, conferences, research, and fellowships.

This publication addresses key events and developments in the German-Israeli special relationship during the forty years since the American-German Institute was founded. Though some non-governmental activity will be discussed, attention is largely paid to government behavior.

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The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.