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Rede von Außenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier vor dem Governing Board des Jüdischen Weltkongresses

14.09.2014

Dear Ronald Lauder,
Cher David de Rothschild,

Dear Chella Safra,
Lieber Dieter Graumann!
Excellencies, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen!

10 days ago, I went to Wroclaw. This beautiful Polish city –  built on twelve islands in the Oder river, with its huddled, colorful houses and its old cobblestone streets: It was once a center of Jewish life!

Abraham Geiger: famous scholar, reconciler between nations, worked there. Edith Stein: philosopher, reconciler between religions – and Fritz Stern: historian, reconciler after darkness, were born there. Ferdinand Lassalle, founder of my own political party, was born and buried there.

To me personally, Wroclaw is also the city where my mother was born and lived; until 1944, when she and her sister, mother, grandmother and aunt escaped from the besieged city, just before it was nearly fully destroyed.

When I went to Wroclaw last week, it was to the day 75 years ago that Germany attacked Poland and started the most brutal, most cynical, most sadistic war in all of history and, with it, the worst suffering, the worst crimes in all of history – the Shoah against the Jewish people; the Shoah that attempted to eradicate Jewish life on this continent.

On that 75th anniversary, in September 2014, I went to Wroclaw, I sat in the old synagogue and witnessed the first ordination of rabbis since the War – four young rabbis who were trained at the Abraham-Geiger-College here in Berlin and Potsdam.

That was a moment I will not forget: Jewish life is blossoming again in Europe, it is blossoming in Germany, and blossoming here in this city!

This, ladies and gentleman, is no less than a blessing – a miracle of history, and an almost unimaginable achievement of reconciliation! You in this room are part of this achievement. Because for the first time, the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress is meeting in Germany, and we are grateful for it.

To all of you I want to say: This new blossoming is our blossoming. We will nurture and protect it – not just as politicians, but as a society. Jewish life is back in the heart of this country, and it belongs there, it enriches us all!

The message of our rally this afternoon by the Brandenburg gate was very clear: There is no place for anti-Semitism in Germany! Anti-Semitism goes against our constitution, against our civilization, against our democracy, against what we believe in – There is no place for anti-Semitism in our understanding of a free, democratic and tolerant Germany, ladies and gentlemen!

***

However, in this world of today, ghosts from the past are rearing their ugly head –

ghosts that we had believed to be long dead.

Even to the European continent, questions of war and peace have returned. 25 years after the fall of the Wall, Russia is calling into question the architecture of European peace, an architecture that generations have been working for since the treaty of Helsinki.

But also new ghosts are haunting this world – conflicts of a new and complex nature: often not state against state, but non-state actors fighting their own governments, ethnic or religious factions fighting others – groups that are swift, dangerous, who make use of unspeakable brutality and of modern technology and social networks to scare and shock the world. 

In Iraq and Syria, ISIS is threatening to thrust an entire region into chaos. But not only there: also in many parts of Africa, the very concept of statehood is in danger. The fragile states of today are the breeding ground for the conflicts of tomorrow.

With conflicts abounding, to many people in Germany, in Europe, and I am sure in Israel or the United States: It seems as if the world is unravelling.

And as Foreign Minister – as much as I would like to give you a reassuring answer – I have to realize every day:  The world 25 years after the end of the Cold War, after the end of the bi-polar order, has not yet found a new order.

Some people said 25 years ago, when the Wall came down: This is the victory of liberal democracy. This is the “end of history”.  They were clearly mistaken!

Some people are saying today: We live in a multipolar world – and around the new players on the world stage the new order will arise.

I don’t think that is true either. This is not a bipolar and not a multipolar world – it is a nonpolar world. A world that is both unsettled and unsettling.

***

In these dangerous times, it is all the more important for our community of Western values to come together: Germany, Europe, the United States and Israel!

The crises of today are too big for any single country to solve them alone. Each member of our value community is asked to play their part.

And increasingly, Germany needs to step up and play its part. The Germany of today is economically strong, re-united and peaceful, firmly embedded in the European Union – and now we are even soccer world champion…

So, in line with these successes, many of our international partners demand a more active foreign policy from Germany. And I think: they are right. But the people in my own country ask me: What exactly does that mean – ‘a more active Foreign Policy’?

Let me tell you a story about this. In hundreds of towns all across Germany, you can find Stolpersteine. Some of you may have heard about them. They are “stumbling blocks” in the pavement. They are installed wherever people lived -Jewish people and other people- who were persecuted, expelled and murdered by the Nazis. Maybe you have seen some of them today in the streets of Berlin.

Last Sunday, exactly a week ago, I was in New Delhi. I met with a group of intellectuals there and one Indian professor said to me: “You know, I admire the Stolpersteine in your country. They say a lot about the historical consciousness, the culture of remembrance in your country. They remind Germans every single day – even when they’re going to the shop or for a run: ‘Never Again!’ Never again war – never again Auschwitz!”

And I said to him: “Yes, you are right. These Stolpersteine make young children ask their parents: Why are these stones different from all the others in the pavement? What stories are written on them?

And so what’s more,” I said to him as Foreign Minister, “this ‘Never Again!’ is also, and will always be, a driving force of German foreign policy!” 

So when I argue for a more active foreign policy, I stand in this tradition and I believe that we should use the entire toolbox of diplomacy to prevent war and violence!

One point I want to add: When we Germans say “Never again!” this must not be an excuse to keep our hands off the tough conflicts out there in the world. Quite the reverse: When we say “Never again!” that also applies to the dangers out there, where violence and war and genocide are looming. With the means of diplomacy, and with the partners we have, Germany is willing to do its share against these dangers. That also is the meaning of “Never again!”

***

Now, this is a dinner speech and we don’t want it to become a midnight snack… So I won’t go into all the details on the current conflicts.

But let me say something about Ukraine. 100 years after the beginning of the First World War, 75 years after the beginning of the Second, we cannot accept, and we will not accept, that borders in Europe are violated and redrawn.

This is why both the European Union and NATO sharply condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its actions in Eastern Ukraine. And we reacted in concert: We put political pressure and -especially after hundreds of innocent people were killed on flight MH17-, we put economic pressure on Russia.

But at the same time, we are convinced that this conflict must be solved politically and will not be solved militarily! I know that the way to a political solution is long and difficult. It is a balancing act: pressure on the one hand, to bring all parties to the negotiating table. On the other hand, keeping up dialogue and keeping channels of negotiation open – including the NATO-Russia-Founding Act, which we emphasized at the NATO-summit last week.

Most recently, President Poroschenko and President Putin met in Minsk and reached an agreement. It has now become a 12-point-roadmap toward a sustainable ceasefire. Even though the current status is very, very fragile, on at least two of the points we have seen actual progress on the ground.

We urgently need this ceasefire, because real political solutions cannot be found while bullets are flying. So we need to stay on this path.

***

When we look beyond Europe’s borders, we are confronted with a surge of violence across the Middle East. The latest Gaza-crisis – the third crisis in five years – has bitterly reminded us that Israel’s security is not a matter of course. It reminds us how dangerous, how fragile the security situation is - especially for the people of Israel, threatened every day by rockets from Hamas, who are cynically abusing their own people as human shields to cover their own heavy weaponry.

It has also reminded us that the underlying conflict is still unsolved. It urgently needs to be addressed in a meaningful political process! I need not emphasize to you how deeply committed Germany is to Israel’s security. I recently invited the Egyptian Foreign Minister to explore how Germans and Europeans can support the current political process. Together with our friends from France and Great Britain, we have made a number of suggestions for what Europe can do to stabilize the cease-fire and to enable the people in Israel and Gaza to find back into a peaceful life – free of daily attacks, threats and constant fear.

Two things need to happen: One, Israel’s security concerns must be addressed. Gaza cannot be allowed to remain a launching pad for rockets on Israel.

Second -if the first point is respected-, the living conditions of the people in Gaza must be improved. And I remain convinced that in the long-term, only a Two-State Solution can achieve both of these things and bring lasting peace and security to Israel. That is what our diplomacy will continue to work for.

***

Let me add a final word on ISIS ­– I have already talked about this threat, a threat that extends far beyond the Middle East.

President Obama has delivered an important speech that made very clear: both his concern and his determination to act. Germany supports the fight against ISIS, also by delivering weapons to the Kurds fighting ISIS right now in Northern Iraq – a decision that wasn’t easy for us Germans to take.

Let me add one word about this decision: We can only justify it if we see it as one element in a comprehensive, international strategy to take on ISIS – a strategy that must involve, besides immediate humanitarian aid and military action, three aspects to undermine ISIS permanently:

First: the political dimension –first of all, we need a central government in Iraq that is inclusive of all regions and religions. I just met the new Prime Minister al-Abadi and I am optimistic that he is on that path.

Second: the technical dimension – stopping the flow of money, weapons and fighters toward ISIS.

Third: the religious dimension – which means: de-legitimizing ISIS. Which means: the Muslim world rising up and saying: ‘These radicals are abusing our religion!’

On all three dimensions we need to work together: in Europe, across the Atlantic,

in the Security Council and in the G7!

***

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends:

With so many corners of the world aflame, our community of values needs to come together! We have to come together and act – not because we think we are better at everything. But because we believe that our system –human rights, democracy, the rule of law, free markets and social security– still has a lot to offer against the problems at hand.

Diplomats, in my view, are not missionaries. Diplomats are craftspeople. We are there to solve problems, to make the world a little more peaceful – step by step,

even if it’s risky, even if there are setbacks.

Yes, these crises are dangerous, and they confront us with tough questions. But I can assure you: Germany is willing to ask these tough questions and engage with the answers.

Now, again: This is a dinner speech... So, talking of tough questions, I am reminded of a wonderful story that a Jewish friend from Berlin told me a little while ago.

He told me this story: Hebrew school was over, and the Rabbi asked: “Kids, are there any questions left?” Little David raised his hand and said: “Yes, Rabbi, I have three questions. My first question is: Did the children of Israel really part the Red Sea and receive the Ten Commandments?”

“Yes, David, that is true.”

“My second question is: Did the children of Israel really fight the oppressors and build the Temple?”

“Yes, little David, that is also true. What is your last question?”

“Well, Rabbi: What were the grown-ups doing all this time?”

I don’t know if this story happened in a school in Berlin. But I hope that it did. Because I hope that young Jewish life in this country will continue to blossom and grow and thrive. Let’s raise our glasses to this blossoming: L’Chaim – To life!

Thank you very much.

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