The conundrum facing Germany is no better represented than in the person of Merkel herself. The most pro-Israel chancellor in German history and the one most sensitive to Jewish concerns, Merkel’s attitude to Jewry is uncomplicated by the resentments and historical hang-ups possessed by some of her predecessors. In a 2008 speech to the Israeli Knesset, Merkel used unprecedented language to describe her country’s responsibility for Israeli security, stating that it constituted a German staatsraïson, or “reason of state.” Earlier this month, her government appointed a commissioner to fight anti-Semitism.
As to the fate of the world’s displaced, Merkel is similarly steadfast. In a 2014 New Yorker profile, George Packer asked a leader of the German Green party if Merkel—known for her ideological flexibility—had any principles. “She has a strong value of freedom, and everything else is negotiable,” this politician said. “Other Germans,” Packer noted, “added firm support for Israel to the list” of Merkel’s principles. Both of these convictions—in Germany’s responsibility to defend freedom and its responsibility to defend Jews and the Jewish state—derive, at least in part, from Merkel’s position as the first chancellor from the communist German Democratic Republic. Raised in a country that denied basic rights to its citizens and, from 1967 until the end of the Cold War, backed Arab regimes and terrorist organizations in their attacks on Israel, Merkel’s commitment to freedom and sympathy for the Jewish community constitute a wholesale repudiation of the GDR’s toxic political heritage.