Welcome address by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the reception in honour of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel

31.05.2016 - Speech

Ambassador Hadas-Handelsman,


Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to see so many of you here today.

“Beyachad hakol efshari” – or, for those of you who don’t speak Hebrew, “together, everything is possible”.

The last few months have been amazing. They have been living proof that this maxim is true. The 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel has been many things, including, quite rightly, a magnificent celebration!

You, ladies and gentlemen, the people who are being honoured here tonight, stand proxy for the countless activists in both countries who have made sure that this anniversary year was not marked by a series of stuffy, formal events, but that we have all enjoyed a varied and cheery programme throughout the year. A kaleidoscope of all the diverse elements that make our relations what they are!

There were DJ nights in Berlin and Tel Aviv. Israeli and German singers performed together. The people of Berlin had a chance to admire artworks from the Tel Aviv Museum in the Gropius Bau. At the same time, works by German-Jewish expressionists such as Max Liebermann and Hans Arp travelled from Germany to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Authors and film-makers from both countries debated the past and the future.

Some of you will remember the wonderfully frank and congenial conversation between Meir Shalev and Edgar Reitz at the opening of the German-Israeli series of readings, held in the Weltsaal of the Federal Foreign Office. Critical, self-critical – a world apart from the cautious language of diplomacy. But communicating still with wonderful sensitivity and great fellow feeling. Some members of the audience may well have held their breath when delicate questions of Middle Eastern politics were discussed. But I believe we all sensed that this kind of conversation does us good.

Scientists, artists, musicians, school pupils, students, athletes and ballet dancers all took part in joint events or exchanges last year – there was even a group of lifeguards from the two countries that was involved.

Amid this wealth of activities, one event in particular has stuck in my mind – for the simple reason that it was the loudest! I’m referring to the final event in our German-Israeli series of readings, in the Berlin Club Ritter Butzke.

There, over the house and techno music played by DJs from both countries, you, Ambassador Hadas Handelsmanm said something very wise.

“50 years are well and good,” you said, or words to that effect, “but today we must look to the 51st year of our joint relations!”

Ambassador, I agree with you completely. We must look to the future, to our people’s daily lives above and beyond such festive occasions.

And of course, working for the future does not mean that we should neglect the past. Far from it.

When we launched the anniversary year in January 2015 with a concert at the Berlin Philharmonic, the music resounded from some very special instruments: the violins of murdered Jews, people who had been shot, gassed or tortured to death by the Nazis. Now they sang again. In Germany, in Berlin! Lovingly restored by Amnon Weinstein and played by young German and Israeli musicians. It was an evening that nobody there will ever forget.

It was the sound of hope. For what this wonderful concert underscored was the long road that we Germans and Israelis have traversed together, from the dark chasms of the past into the light of reconciliation, understanding and friendship.

It was this long journey that we celebrated last year. And it is this path of friendship that we want to further consolidate and expand together – in the 51st year and in the many years to come.

This is true not only at political level. Our links are now so close at political level that difficult debates about differing points of view have become possible – and have to be possible.

No less close are the countless societal, academic and cultural ties which have taken root between our two countries.

In any case, we at the Federal Foreign Office will do our bit to safeguard and consolidate everything that has grown up between us over the past decades. I am glad, for this reason, that we were able to help out with funding for the Berlin-Brandenburg Jewish Film Festival at the last minute.

However, all we can ever do is create room for dialogue. This space has to be filled by others – by people such as yourselves, ladies and gentlemen! You and the countless people who are actively involved in German-Israeli relations at all levels – not just because it’s their job, but because their heart’s blood is in it.

On this note, let me repeat: “Beyachad hakol efshari.”

Thank you very much!

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