Israelis in Germany

Germany is home to around 20,000 Israeli immigrants. Discover why they are here and what life is like for them in Germany.

Wall art: the Star of David on a German flag.
Wall art: the Star of David on a German flag. iStock

They see themselves as Israelis first and foremost, and only then as Jews. Germany is home to around 20,000 Israeli immigrants. The anthropologist Dr Dani Kranz has been investigating why they came to Germany, among other things in the research project “Israeli migration to Germany since 1990” that she has been involved in at the University of Wuppertal.

Dr Kranz, how many Israelis live in Germany?

According to a micro census, roughly 25,000 Israelis live in Germany, though we believe the real number is closer to 20,000 immigrants. This is because the figure of 25,000 includes many people who have never been to Israel but are entitled to an Israeli passport. We are not talking about a massive immigration, in other words, though it is one that is highly charged emotionally on account of Germany’s history.

How long have Israelis been migrating to Germany?

There has been increased Israeli immigration since the early 2000s. There was a sharp rise in people acquiring citizenship of EU countries because an EU passport makes travelling a lot easier. The number of Israelis in Germany has remained relatively stable, however, and there is no longer any significant migration. That said, the number of German-Israelis is growing all the time. These are for the most part children with one German and one Israeli parent. Somewhat more than half of all married Israelis have a non-Jewish German spouse.

Why do Israelis want to emigrate to Germany?

Often it is because they want to advance professionally and economically. The employment market in Israel is very tight and Israel is a terribly expensive country. State versus religion is a perpetual bone of contention. That’s why there is one particular group that emigrates – namely secular Ashkenazim. That is to say Jews of Western or Eastern European descent. Most are well-educated and have at least a bachelor’s degree. A third come because they already have a partner living in Germany. And 20 percent of Israeli immigrants want to come to Germany simply because they like the German culture. With an Israeli passport it is fairly easy to obtain a work and residence permit. Furthermore, most Israelis who come to Germany are dissatisfied with the politics at home and tend to be politically moderate or left-wing. However, it makes no real difference on which side of the political spectrum they are, they are frequently viewed in Germany as being all the same. People often project their own images of the Middle East conflict onto Israelis in Germany.

Dani Krantz.
Dani Krantz. privat

Is there a difference between the Ashkenazi Israelis and Mizrachi migrants, i.e. say Jews of Middle Eastern or North African origin?

In Israel, an EU passport is seen as a status symbol, especially for Ashkenazim. However, many find that they are simply regarded as Israeli immigrants in Germany, despite the fact that they are Jews of German descent. The Mizrachi are a much smaller group in Germany. Like the Ashkenazim, they are often from the educated classes and are highly mobile. Many Mizrachi immigrants have entirely different points of reference to Germany – most have German partners and then already have a network in Germany because of their family.

Many appreciate the fact that they live in peace in Germany.

Dani Krantz, anthropologist at Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Scheva

What do Israeli migrants find to be the biggest adjustment they have to make in Germany?

Many appreciate the fact that they can live in peace in Germany. There is simply a lot more space in Germany, as people often live much more closely together in Israel. On the other hand, many Israelis find it difficult in Germany to respect the personal sphere of others. The spontaneity of Germans is generally not so pronounced, whereas Israelis tend to be more spontaneous people.

Do Israelis also experience anti-Semitism here?

Often they perceive any anti-Semitism they do encounter as a kind of general racism. Many are asked annoying questions such as “Where are you from?” or “Why do you speak such strange German?”. That bothers many Israelis a lot. Their perception of anti-Semitism differs completely from that of Jews who have lived in Germany for a long time, however. There is a lot that immigrants don’t notice because German is not normally their native language.

What role in this is played by Germany’s past?

Many don’t expect it at all at first, but then do report having very negative experiences, such as when Germans speak particularly loudly. At such times the German language sounds extremely foreign to some Israelis and is then perceived to be the language of the Holocaust. When they hear the announcement “Achtung, Achtung” (i.e. Attention, attention) at the station, for example, or when they see cargo trains, this triggers a sense of trauma in some Israelis. Only few of them can clearly express this reaction, however, and no doubt they keep many experiences to themselves. The issue of Germany’s past also unconsciously influences many relationships between couples, though this is only just being researched now.

In their adopted home country.
In their adopted home country. iStock

How do Israelis in Germany live out their Jewishness?

Many see themselves first and foremost as Israelis and only on a secondary level as Jews. Only 20 percent view themselves as more Jewish than Israeli. Many Israelis seek each other out when abroad, partly because of the language. The local Jewish communities are of less interest to them because these tend to speak German or Russian. What is more, Jewish communities in Germany function as religious centres, yet many Israeli immigrants are highly secular and rarely go to the synagogue.

How do you envisage the future of Israeli migration to Germany?

There will always be a constant coming and going in Israel. Migrants are always in a precarious position if they do not have a professional network or do not speak the local language. Many prefer to emigrate together with a partner and only do so alone if they are very brave. I’m sure we will not see another major wave of migration to Germany. Most people who wanted to come to Germany are already here.

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