A debate in the German Bundestag and an exhibition opened at the Federal Foreign Office on 7 May were devoted to the upcoming 50th anniversary of the establishment of German-Israeli relations. In his speech to the German Bundestag, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier hailed the friendship between Germany and Israel as “unique” and “nothing less than a miracle”. State Secretary Stephan Steinlein, who opened the exhibition “50 years of Germany and Israel” at the Federal Foreign Office, also spoke of a unique relationship between the two countries.
The first German Ambassador to Israel did not have an easy time. When he presented his letter of credence in Jerusalem in August 1965, hearings at the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials were just reaching their conclusion. An enraged crowd, including many former concentration camp inmates, protested in front of the Presidential Palace with chants of “Nazi, go home!”
It has now been fifty years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel. Both countries are inextricably bound together by the crime against humanity that was the Holocaust. It is impossible to imagine their histories without the murder of over six million Jews and the fate of all those who were forced to leave their homes.
Debate in the German Bundestag
The German Bundestag marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of German-Israeli relations with a debate on 7 May. In his speech to the Bundestag, Foreign Minister Steinmeier described a friendship that was simply inconceivable 70 years ago and that is enjoyed today “completely as a matter of course” by the young generation.
Israel, the land of the victims, reached out its hand across the abyss of the past to Germany, the land of the perpetrators. And together, we, Germany and Israel, have built a bridge of friendship. This friendship is unique. It is nothing less than a miracle.
Message of understanding and reconciliation
Steinmeier added that Germany and Israel have, in the true sense of the word, grown dear to each other’s hearts. Their friendship is held together by the people, he said, and comes to life in a thousand little details of their daily lives. The fact that the two countries were able to forge a friendship after the unspeakable cruelty of the past sends a “message of understanding and reconciliation”, he went on. The Foreign Minister called for this message to be taken to heart and put into practice: “Anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia – there must never again be room for any of that in our society.”
Steinmeier added that Israel’s security was a “historical imperative” for Germany. Lasting security for a Jewish and democratic Israel will not be possible without a viable and democratic Palestinian state, he said, which is why Germany will continue to support a two-state solution. Israel’s security is also being taken into account in the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme, he continued.
Click here to read the full text of Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s speech.
Close, diverse and forward-looking relations
State Secretary Steinlein also emphasised the unique nature of the German-Israeli friendship at the opening of the exhibition “50 years of Germany and Israel” in the Atrium at the Federal Foreign Office.
German-Israeli relations will forever remain rooted in responsibility for the past, he said. At the same time, he continued, these relations are closer and more diverse and forward-looking than ever before – which is not only reflected by traditional politics and diplomacy, but also by close trade relations, cultural and academic exchange, city twinning projects and countless personal encounters.
Steinlein opened the exhibition together with the Israeli Ambassador to Germany, Yaakov Hadas-Handelsman, and Hermann Simon, Director of the New Synagogue Berlin – Centrum Judaicum Foundation.