Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the opening of the Haifa Center for German and European Studies at the University of Haifa

03.06.2008 - Speech

On Tuesday (3 June) Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier opened the Center for German and European Studies at the University of Haifa in Israel. In his speech on the occasion of the formal opening the Foreign Minister promoted an even closer mutual integration between Israeli and German society.

President of the University Professor Ben-Ze'ev,

Mayor Yahav,

DAAD Vice-President Professor Huber,

Professor Lahnstein,

Professor Bental, Director of the Haifa Center for German and European Studies,


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you today and to open the Center for German and European Studies at the University of Haifa.

This is my first visit to Haifa, and I have to say this town seems to represent in miniature what we seek to achieve on a larger scale: cultural exchange as a way of life. Haifa has long been famous for its tolerance and openness to all religions, and for the peaceful way in which Jews, Muslims and Christians live together. It is also famous for its unique, open-armed and productive cultural scene.

Here in Haifa we can see how the confluence of cultures, as it has been called by German writer Ilija Trojanow, can form a new current, which is broader, brighter and deeper than all its tributaries. This is an immensely important process, not just with respect to culture – we should also draw a political lesson from it. Indeed, we in Germany still have a lot to learn from Haifa in this regard! Please also view the Center for German and European Studies as a sign that we want to learn from you. That we are fostering the process of mutual and reciprocal learning, and seek to revitalize and modernize it with the help of this Center.

The Center for German and European Studies should devote itself to three tasks in particular. It should provide information about modern Germany and how Europe forms part of Germans' identity. It should firmly establish cooperation with top Israeli institutions, creating a contact point for academic exchange. And it should strengthen the humanities, especially German Studies, in order to give the German language a significant boost in Israel.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To sum up – by opening this Center today we are both continuing and renewing a tradition. And as German Foreign Minister, I am particularly grateful for the existence of this tradition between our two countries. For I know that it was academic cooperation that first paved the way for political and economic cooperation. And I would therefore like to use the opportunity presented today to thank all those who have actively nurtured this German-Israeli community of learning over the years and decades.

This community is an integral part of what I once called “active remembrance”. It is part of our special relationship. Maintaining, developing and renewing this special relationship is a task for German foreign policy and German policy as a whole. The Shoah, the murder of millions, the immeasurable suffering inflicted by Germans on German and other European Jews is part of our history. Its legacy is both an obligation and a task for us. Not just one of remembrance. But one that has to be enacted in our daily fight against anti-Semitism and racism.

For this reason our relations with Israel are not normal in any way – nor should they become so. They will forever remain special.

What does this special relationship mean for me today as German Foreign Minister?

Standing up for the existence and security of the State of Israel will remain a constant of German foreign policy. Given its history, Germany is particularly concerned to work for a lasting and just peace in the Middle East – with two states, Israel and Palestine, living in peaceful neighbourliness. For us Germans, the security and the wellbeing of Israel will always be a key element of our foreign policy.

Painful compromises will have to be made in order to realize the vision of two states. That will not be easy. It will require courage, and the solutions must be found here on the ground. Nothing we can do can replace the determination and far-sightedness required of the parties. But Germany and its partners can try to improve the framework conditions. We have done this at the political level by reviving the Middle East Quartet and I have initiated an EU action strategy for the Middle East.

A special relationship also and perhaps especially means commitment in the social and cultural spheres. Without the city twinning schemes and without the school and university exchange programmes, the friendship between our two countries would not have been established, and without the diverse forms of cultural exchange it would have found fewer forms of expression.

For this reason we are also commemorating the founding of the State of Israel 60 years ago with an ambitious programme of varied cultural events. These include some 250 to 300 in Germany, and more in Israel.

One recent event sticks in my mind. We, the Federal Foreign Office, and the German Football Association recently invited the German and Israeli writers and authors football teams to Berlin. They played football together and read out their works together in the Deutsches Theater. It was an unusual event, as one of the writers said to me in more or less these words:

“It makes a difference if you just read or listen to the other's books, or if you work up a sweat together, foul each other, rush down the pitch next to each other and have fun, and then share your love for literature with each other. Two football teams merge to become one literary team.”

Let us not only hope that the return match can take place soon – most likely in Israel – but also for many more such unusual encounters. Tonight I will – together with my colleague, your Foreign Minister - watch a modern German dance performance in Tel Aviv, put on by the wonderful Sasha Waltz company.

Earlier on I mentioned that the special nature of our relationship is revealed above all in the fields of education and science.

Scientific diplomacy got off to a much quicker start than traditional diplomacy between our countries – the former paved the way for the latter. The Weizmann Institute and the Max Planck Society made contacts in the fields of research back in the 1950s, long before diplomatic relations were established between Israel and the then Federal Republic in 1965. With their courage and confidence, they laid the groundwork for the great success story that is Israeli-German cooperation between scientists and universities, one of the key and outstanding fields of our bilateral relations. And not just in academic but also in financial terms, to judge by the monetary support provided in the past years.

The Center for German and European Studies follows in these footsteps, and I am convinced that it will soon become firmly established in Haifa, the “German town”, as it is sometimes called here in Israel. From the “German Colony” founded at the end of the 19th century to its present twinning arrangements with five German cities, Haifa offers many points of contact between our two countries, and I hope that the Center we are opening today will create another living connection.

And not just for the city and its excellent university, which I would like to thank most sincerely on this occasion. Projects such as these do not materialize out of thin air. They always have their many mothers and fathers, who have expended great personal energy and courage to put their ideas into practice. Let me thank you all very much for your dedication!

Your example should also spur us on to continue down the chosen path of cultural exchange and shared education. For now, more than ever, we face challenges that no country can master on its own, to which no culture can claim to have the only valid answer.

It is my conviction that we must promote international and intercultural communities of learning even more than we have done so far. Not so much with the aim of accumulating knowledge, although that is of course also beneficial, but because we need the experiences of diverse cultures and civilizations in order to find joint answers to global questions and problems!

The more complex the challenges become, the more we need shared cultural understanding. And this understanding cannot be acquired from books or Internet advice sites. It has to be lived, it has to emerge from our own experiences and stand the test of reality. We promote education, we promote exchange, because we are aware of this shared international responsibility. Because we know that we need courses of action that are not just valid for us, but also for a growing number of partners.

In a globalized society, international problems and challenges can no longer be solved by diplomatic conferences alone. More than ever, they must be met with practical responses at local level.

Let me give an example and state a wish.

My example relates to the situation in the region and especially in the Palestinian territories. We all welcome the fact that Israel and Syria have announced the resumption of indirect peace talks under Turkish mediation and that the situation in Lebanon has been calmed with the help of mediation by the League of Arab States. Just the other day, I was able to congratulate the newly elected President, General Suleiman, in person. This election could be an important step towards the revival of functioning state institutions in Lebanon, which will hopefully contribute to stability on Israel's northern border. Let us all hope that this will be the case and work towards this end.

Nobody is blind to the risks, but the efforts of the past weeks do represent significant progress. It is the fruit of international cooperation. It could be an important milestone on the path towards greater security and stability.

But we need to support, consolidate and in some cases prepare such progress at local level, so that it can be incorporated into the daily lives of the people of the region. Yesterday I visited a project in Jenin that has adopted this approach. There we are trying to offer a whole palette of measures that create jobs and give people a new future. An industrial park financed by Germany is being created there – a project designed to strengthen a self-sustaining Palestinian economy. We have also provided German funds for the construction of a vocational school in Jenin, and I am sure that these projects, especially if taken together, can help to tangibly improve the day-to-day lives of the Palestinian population. We need far more grass-roots projects like these. For I am certain that if we improve living conditions for the Palestinians, we will make lasting peace and stability more likely for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

I believe that whilst negotiations are under way, we must tell the people it is worth pursuing the path towards peace – and doing this is where I believe my responsibility lies.

Having mentioned that example, I would like to conclude by expressing a wish that concerns our two countries, and in particular our children and youth. I am certain that a joint university education, joint research and joint academic activities are perhaps the best instruments against forgetting and for forging a shared future.

For this reason I will be so bold as to ask whether we shouldn't begin this joint education for German and Israeli children at an even earlier age.

I think the time could be ripe for the up-and-coming generation to work together to prepare themselves for life within an international, intercultural community of learning.

And so I come to my wish. I would like us all to think about establishing a German school here in Israel as an international school for German, Israeli and other children, thereby opening a new chapter for our common future in this, your 60th anniversary year.

In this spirit I would like to say thank you very much, and mazal tov!

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