Germany-Israel relations cool after ill-tempered exchange between Netanyahu and Baerbock

Israeli prime minister rejects German foreign minister’s warnings about ongoing aid blockades leading to a slide towards famine in Gaza

After the October 7th Hamas attacks chancellor Olaf Scholz insisted that “Germany’s place is at Israel’s side”.

Six months on, that promise is crumbling after an ill-tempered exchange between Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock.

On her seventh visit to the region in six months this week, Baerbock warned her host that ongoing aid blockades meant Gaza was sliding towards famine. Netanyahu retorted there was no starvation and mentioned photos circulating on Israeli social media of full food markets and busy beaches in Gaza.

“It’s real. It’s reality. We’re not like the Nazis who produced fake images of a manufactured reality,” he said, according to Israel’s Channel 13. It was an apparent reference to propaganda films of well-fed Jewish residents of the Warsaw Ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland.


When Germany’s chief diplomat suggested the images the Israeli leader mentioned didn’t show the true situation on the ground in Gaza, her host insisted they were authentic.

A stunned Baerbock reportedly asked: “Are you saying that our doctors in the field in Gaza aren’t telling the truth? Are you saying that the international media is lying?”

Alongside the US, Germany has been a steadfast defender of Israel and its right to defend itself against Hamas. But this week’s row has left Berlin officials speechless twice over: at the Netanyahu remarks, and their subsequent leaking by the Israeli side.

On the sidelines of the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Italy, Baerbock said on Friday that Germany’s ambassador to Israel “has been in contact with the prime minister’s staff to make clear what we think of such distortions”.

While German officials insist the spat was not the focus of the one-hour meeting, no one in Berlin is denying the remarks were made. As official Israeli-German relations drift into uncharted territory, meanwhile, public anger is growing at Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks.

A pro-Palestinian “Occupy against Occupation” tent settlement has sprung up adjacent to the Reichstag parliament building in Berlin.

On a large pink banner listing names, including leaders of the US, Germany, Canada and Italy, a slogan reads: “History will not remember your careers, history will remember your guilt and your complicity”.

Despite their official camp permit, protesters say they have faced a raft of conditions and police harassment: no languages apart from English and German, no music, no prayers, no speeches.

“We demand that Germany ceases to criminalise and suppress pro-Palestinian voices,” said organisers in a statement. Among their other demands: an end to the blockade of Gaza, the military occupation of East Jerusalem and German arms exports to Israel.

The latter was the focus of last week’s legal action against Germany in The Hague. Now Berlin-based lawyer Armaghan Naghipour has filed her own legal challenge at the capital’s administrative court, demanding a provisional ban on arms exports and reversal of export permits already granted.

Across Berlin, meanwhile, the other side of the Israel-Hamas conflict is on display. On the grounds of a western Berlin synagogue, a toilet container has been repurposed to remind Berliners of the 133 Israeli hostages still held by Hamas.

Plastered with hostage photos on the outside wall, visitors are reminded inside of their ongoing ordeal: a dirty mattress on the floor and speakers carrying the sounds of shooting, screams in Arabic and sobbing children.

The container installation is a joint initiative of the local Jewish community and the Israeli embassy to increase awareness and empathy for the Israeli population. A new poll suggests ordinary Germans want a further shift from Berlin on Israel.

After an initial surge of solidarity last October, 57 per cent of Germans in this week’s Forsa poll said they want a more robust line from Berlin towards Jerusalem while 36 per cent favour remain firmly at Israel’s side.