Speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the launch of the German‑Israeli series of readings and discussions marking the 50th anniversary of German‑Israeli diplomatic relations

15.01.2015 - Speech

Ambassador Hadas-Handelsman,
Savyon Liebrecht,
Members of Parliament,
Honoured guests,
– and a special mention for Meir Shalev and Edgar Reitz! –

The title of tonight’s event, with which we are launching the celebration of 50 years of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel, is “Zweierlei Heimaten” – two homelands. From the very start of this historic year, then, we are going to be looking at the very roots of our relationship.

The piece that we just heard played for us by the Deutsches Symphonie‑Orchester Berlin was written by Jewish composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold of Vienna. After the Anschluss with Hitler’s Germany, Korngold and his family could no longer regard Austria as home. Just in time, and with a heavy heart, the Korngolds left their former homeland behind. They left everything behind to survive – and to seek a new homeland. They were persecuted, forced to flee, uprooted, for being Jewish.

The Korngolds’ fate mirrors that of hundreds of thousands of European Jews who were driven from their homes under the Nazi reign of terror, survived the martyrdom of the concentration camps and eventually found a new homeland. The Korngolds found theirs in the United States, but many others found a home in the new State of Israel. One such family was Savyon Liebrecht’s.

You once said or wrote, Savyon, “I had no grandparents, no aunts, no cousins. But in our house we pretended that was normal.” To this day, you said, you don’t know how many of your relatives were murdered in the concentration camps, because your parents never said.

The Shoah, death and persecution, loss of home – that history is your family’s too. And feelings of uncertainty and foreignness, the search for a home, are a central theme in many of your works. I am glad that you accepted my invitation to join us this evening. A very warm welcome to you!

The Jewish people’s longing for a home is a key theme in the work of another Jewish author who is with us tonight: Meir Shalev, a very warm welcome to you too! After such books as “The Loves of Judith” and “Esau”, widely read here in Germany as elsewhere, his “A Pigeon and A Boy” is a wonderful book that is simultaneously very sad.

Fatally wounded in the Israeli war of independence, the son of a Jewish mother murdered in Germany releases a pigeon shortly before dying of his injuries. The pigeon flies back to its dovecot. It can still do what he cannot: it can get home.

War, grief, loss, peace, identity and above all home and the loss of home – these themes, so cleverly decrypted by Meir Shalev, pretty much symbolise the starting point of relations between Germany and Israel too.

We cannot strip our countries of the terrible history that connects us, the barbarism of Nazi Germany, the immeasurable crime of the Shoah, the lost homes and the new homes of those who only survived because they left Germany.

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 Auschwitz. For us Germans especially, that seems miraculous.

It became possible because the country of the persecuted reached out a hand to the country of the persecutors – hesitant at first, and then determined. It was also made possible by the fact that my country acknowledged and continues to acknowledge both its historical guilt and its current responsibility with respect to Israel’s right to exist.

Germany and Israel today are part of a common home of Western democracies. What connects us these days is a partnership whose density and depth nobody could have even vaguely imagined five decades ago.

What’s more, it is 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. Our Israeli friends know that I remain convinced that the current status quo in the Middle East is not conducive to long-term security for Israel. Therefore, however difficult the road towards a two‑state solution may be, lasting security for Israel is ultimately not possible without a viable and democratic Palestinian state. And we need to work towards that goal!

The ties between Germany and Israel today go far beyond history and the Middle East conflict. German‑Israeli relations means far more than intergovernmental consultations and diplomatic routine. It means lively exchange in all areas, brought about by committed individuals on both sides. One in four Israelis have friends in Germany; among the younger generation, one in two have been here themselves – that at least according to a recent survey. More than a hundred town twinnings, countless business collaborations and innumerable cultural exchanges feed into an ever more full, diverse and close connection. We want to continue spinning all those threads over the next 50 years. That, Ambassador, is our goal as we enter this jubilee year.

You can see just how interconnected our world have become in the vast numbers of young Israelis who call Berlin home – if only for a while – be they computer nerds, musicians, painters, photographers, students, academics or young entrepreneurs. We were surprised to find this was the case and on such a large scale – and, as I found on my last visit to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it’s a major theme in Israeli public opinion too. But it is definitely a good thing!

Our relations will forever remain rooted in responsibility for the past. But on the broader basis of a present energised by the curiosity of younger generations, they are set to look even more keenly towards our shared future.

That shared future creates opportunities for the young people of both our countries. But it also demands input, especially right now. Our shared fight against racism and anti‑Semitism is part of that shared future. I was deeply moved to see the way millions of people around the world stood up for freedom and democracy after the terrible attacks in Paris. In Jerusalem too, and in Tel Aviv, and in Berlin, and in Ramallah.

Our joint message is unequivocal: We oppose the enemies of our open society with absolute determination – whether they are fantasising about the West being overrun by foreigners or spreading Islamist or anti‑Semitic rhetoric.

The brutal attack on Shahak Shapira on the Berlin underground recently demonstrated just how pressing that fight is right here in Germany too. I am all the more delighted that Shahak Shapira is here with us today – you are very welcome!

Let me say this very clearly: we utterly oppose those people who still see homeland as a matter of blood and soil and are trying to split our society up by spouting hatred.

They have it all wrong. We need to support people whose homelands have fallen apart, people looking for a bit of happiness and security in a new place – in a place where they will hopefully find mutual understanding.

I am glad that we are joined today by someone who has dedicated a whole artistic career to the fragile certainties of “home”. A very warm welcome to you, Edgar Reitz!

Fifty years of German‑Israeli diplomatic relations – a unique story of suffering, grief, guilt, reconciliation, partnership and friendship. I invite you to celebrate that special history with us and to open a path for it to continue along for the next 50 years. It’s good to have you here this evening. A very warm welcome to you all! Thank you very much.

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