Germany and Israel established diplomatic relations 50 years ago. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier launched a year of German‑Israeli anniversary celebrations with the first in a series of readings and discussions. Steinmeier stressed that the fact that the two states could now look back on 50 years of official relations seemed “for us Germans especially, [...] miraculous”. A host of events in Germany and Israel this year will commemorate the history of these relations – and develop new perspectives.
At the Federal Foreign Office on 15 January Foreign Minister Steinmeier opened a series of German-Israeli readings and discussions entitled “Zweierlei Heimaten”. There followed a panel discussion along with Israeli author Meir Shalev and German author and film director Edgar Reitz at which the focus was on the concepts of “home” and “identity”. Israeli author Savyon Liebrecht was the evening’s guest of honour.
The evening began with a musical welcome for the many guests in the Weltsaal at the Federal Foreign Office: the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin played works by the Jewish composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier opened the evening, which was also the first event of the German‑Israeli anniversary year in Berlin. In his speech, he talked of the fifty years of relations between Germany and Israel. Referencing themes addressed in Shalev's work, the Foreign Minister recalled that “war, grief, loss, peace, identity and above all home and the loss of home” characterised the starting‑point of relations between Germany and Israel. Steinmeier continued:
By no means can we take for granted, therefore, the fact that we can celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations 70 years after the liberation of Ausschwitz. For us Germans especially, that seems miraculous.
Country of persecuted, country of persecutors
It was possible, Steinmeier said, only because “the country of the persecuted reached out a hand to the country of the persecutors – hesitant at first, and then determined”. Furthermore, Germany had acknowledged and continued to acknowledge both its historical guilt and its current responsibility with respect to Israel’s right to exist. Today, the Minister said, the two countries were linked in close partnership and deep friendship. Steinmeier went on to describe it as “a friendship that gives us a lot to share, that demands our solidarity when Israel’s security is threatened, but that also allows us to speak frankly with one another”.
The Israeli Ambassador to Germany, Yacov Hadas‑Handelsman, then also spoke about the history of German‑Israeli relations, saying that after emerging “from the darkest hell in history” they had developed almost unbelievably. He hoped that the series of discussions would give revealing insights into the way of life and everyday situation in the two countries.
“Home” and “Identity”
The first panel discussion in the series of readings and discussions saw Foreign Minister Steinmeier on stage with Meier Shalev and Edgar Reitz. Both the Israeli author Shalev and German film‑maker Reitz have spent much of their artistic careers looking at themes relating to home and identity. They tried to describe succinctly what these concepts meant to them. This also led to the question of what “home” means in Germany and in Israel, and what differences there are between the two understandings. The discussion was chaired by TV journalist and former Israel correspondent Astrid Frohloff.
The discussion ended with an eye to the future, looking at how to shape the next 50 years of bilateral relations. Foreign Minister Steinmeier focused on the young generation, saying that the fact that many young Israelis came to Germany and young Germans found friendships in Israel filled him with confidence. “We will not only be taking a backwards look at German‑Israeli relations. They will also have a good future.”
2015 – an anniversary year in Germany and Israel
This event launched the year of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel in 1965.
Throughout 2015, a large number of events organised in both countries by various ministries but above all by civil‑society organisations will be looking at the history of this special relationship.