On 7 May 2012, Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle gave the following speech at the event hosted by the German-Israeli Association and attended by the Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman in honour of 100 years of Axel Springer:
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Foreign Minister, my friend Avigdor,
Fellow members of the German Bundestag,
Ladies and gentlemen,
A diplomatic solution is in the interest of all parties.
It is a great honour for me to be here this evening. I would like to thank the German-Israeli Association most warmly for hosting this ceremony.
It is wonderful to have the Foreign Minister of the State of Israel as our guest in Berlin today. My friend Avigdor, a very warm welcome to you, Shalom ve Baruch Haba!
Germany and Israel today have a unique relationship. In the light of the darkest chapter of German history this was and is by no means to be taken for granted. And it would be inconceivable without the work of the generations that have gone before.
Axel Springer displayed almost unparalleled commitment to German-Israeli relations.
German-Jewish reconciliation and work to shape the then still fledgling relations between our two countries were very close to this heart.
Axel Springer first visited Israel in 1966 and 1967, a time when German-Israeli diplomatic relations were only just beginning. He didn’t go as a tourist. He held talks with the President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. He considered himself a trailblazer in the tender relationship between our countries which was beset by uncertainty.
His personal experience of the Nazi reign of terror and the imperative “never again!” were the motivation behind and the maxim guiding Axel Springer’s commitment to the German-Israeli friendship. Axel Springer realized earlier than many others that Israel and Germany share a real community of values rooted in freedom and democracy.
Axel Springer managed in Israel to build trust in the Federal Republic of Germany. He was a tremendous ambassador for the fledgling democracy which emerged in Germany after the war. In a report written by the Embassy in Tel Aviv on 15 November 1966, we read:
“News coverage of Axel Springer’s visit to Israel was extremely positive. The press followed his visit in an attentive and friendly manner. There was detailed reporting on his meeting with the Prime Minister and the laying of the foundation stone for the library building he has donated. Tribute was paid to his cautious approach and his carefully chosen words.”
Finding the right words, striking the right tone, was a tightrope walk for a German in Israel in 1966, some 20 years after the Shoah. Today, half a century later, Germany and Israel can build on deeply-rooted and friendly relations based on trust.
Trust and friendship also mean we are allowed to have different opinions. Those who maintain it is forbidden to criticize Israel’s Government are wrong.
During my many visits, I have experienced Israel as an assertive and vibrant democracy. And needless to say, Israel is a democracy that can take criticism from others.
For me, what is important here is that we approach one another in a respectful and rational manner and talk to not about one another. Part of this is also looking frankly at the facts and the situation on the ground.
I first visited Israel in the 1980s as a young undergraduate. I stood on the Golan Heights and grasped Israel’s vulnerability. I have come to understand how Israel and its people have time and again in their recent past had cause to feel threatened and vulnerable.
It is obvious that Israel feels threatened as Iran continues to push ahead with its current nuclear programme. A nuclear-armed Iran would not just pose a threat to Israel and the entire region but would also be a danger for the global security architecture. For us, such a development is not acceptable.
Iran is threatening Israel. It is not Israel threatening Iran. Putting Israel and Iran on the same moral level is not sagacious but absurd and damages our country’s reputation.
Germany’s historic responsibility has no expiry date. We will not stand by if Israel is threatened and its right to exist called into question. We will make ourselves heard if Israel is unilaterally criticized in international fora. Germany stands firm at Israel’s side.
At the same time, I am convinced that we have to give the E3+3 talks with Iran a chance.
A diplomatic solution is in the interest of all parties.
Iran’s readiness to engage in talks about its nuclear programme demonstrates to my mind that the sanctions are effective.
Iran now must completely re‑establish international confidence in the purely civilian nature of its nuclear programme.We have signalled to Iran the urgency of the situation.We know where we stand.”
Last week I spoke at the Global Forum of the American Jewish Committee and I quote:
“We are not naive. Our patience is limited.
We will not accept playing for time.
We will not accept talks for the sake of talks.
We know where we stand."
The dramatic shifts in the region have changed the strategic landscape in the Middle East. We are aware this brings uncertainty and risks for Israel.
We believe part of the response to these developments should be to work resolutely for a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians.
The decisions which need to be taken are in every respect difficult decisions.
But time is short. We urge both sides to move forward with courage. The two-state solution must not be thwarted by developments as they unfold.
After all, only the two-state solution gives Israel long-term security. Only such a solution can uphold the historic achievements of 1948: Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state.
And only the two-state solution can do justice to Palestinian hopes for freedom and self-determination in an independent and viable state.
The readiness to talk recently signalled is thus more than welcome. Now it is a matter of bringing the process constructively to fruition with responsibility being shouldered by both sides.
The memory of the Holocaust and our shared values are the solid foundation underpinning the unique relationship between Germany and Israel.
Together we will uphold the memory of the Shoah for future generations and combat anti-Semitism worldwide.
However we are also investing together in the future of our relations. For example, we are continuing to extend our cooperation, whether in cutting-edge research, renewable energies or climate protection.
I am sure Axel Springer would have been delighted by developments in German-Israeli relations. Delighted by the unsated curiosity and the honest interest in one another, especially amongst the young generation.
More than half a million young people have taken part in exchange programmes over recent decades. Young scientists, cultural workers, film-makers and writers are in constant contact. Countless friendships have developed.
German-Israeli relations are not a project for the elite. Just look at the increase in tourism in both directions or the high number of vibrant city-twinning schemes.
For many young Israelis, Berlin is the most exciting city in the world – in the positive sense of course. Berlin is a place with a rich Jewish history and a city in which Jewish life is today flourishing once more.
I am extraordinarily grateful to hear Hebrew being spoken once more on the streets of Berlin.
Axel Springer once wrote:
“The unspeakable things that happened in the name of Germany cannot be undone, nor can we “come to terms” with them. There can be no reparation in the true sense of the word. All that remains is the historic opportunity that the master of history decided to bestow upon my people: to stand by the State of Israel through thick and thin.”
We are grateful to the courageous people who have grasped this opportunity for reconciliation between Germany and the Jewish people. Who have worked tirelessly to rid Germany’s name of its sinister aftertaste in Israel.
It is thanks to them that Germany and Israel are today partners, allies and friends. Thanks to people like Axel Springer.
They paved the way that we want to continue today in a spirit of responsibility and mindful of his achievements.
Thank you very much.