Europe and Israel together against nationalism

25.04.2017 - Interview

An article by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on the values that Europe and Israel share, against nationalism and populism Published on 25 April 2017 by the DuMont Mediengruppe.

Europe can count itself lucky that given the dangers posed by nationalism it is now seeing a renaissance of Western, indeed its own European values. A vast majority of the French, more than 75% voted for the left and the liberals, conservatives and socialists, less than a quarter were receptive to the propaganda peddled by the right-wing nationalists.

The victory of the extreme right remained a chimera, even though the French party system is in tatters and the Front National boast France’s best-organised party structures.

The French chose European plurality over national uniformity. The draw of nationalism is fading. This can reassure not just us Germans but also the country that I am visiting today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day: Israel.

In their long history, the Jews suffered like no other people at the hands of nationalism and chauvinism, particularly in Europe. Thus, as visitors from Germany, we should also represent a pluralist Europe and serve as ambassadors of the Western community of shared values.

We are standing here on the shoulders of European giants. In 1951, the Social Democrat Carlo Schmid pressed for the recognition of the young State of Israel as the legal successor for compensation claims resulting from the Holocaust. In 1952, the Government led by Christian Democrat Konrad Adenauer failed to secure a majority for reparations to Israel to the tune of 3.5 billion Deutsche Mark. Nationalist members of parliament would not have it. Adenauer was only able to get the agreement through the Bundestag in 1953 with the help of the SPD.

This pro-Israeli stance became the hallmark of German Social Democrats. Like the Jews, Social Democrats were the first victims of the National Socialists. The latter were the victim of political persecution, the former of vile racist doctrines. It was not until 1973 that the first German Federal Chancellor, Willy Brandt, paid an official visit to Israel. It was Willy Brandt who coined the most fitting description of the relationship between the two states: “normal relations [that] are very special in nature”.

It is time again for Europeans - and Germans - to focus more on Israel and Palestine today. Israel emerged after World War Two as a secular, social and democratic state founded by Jews that was inspired by Western European democracies.

We must again do more to emphasise the common ground with us Europeans.

The State of Israel has the same core values as the founding nations of European unification after the disaster of World War Two: social and political security. This was also the dream of the Jewish immigrants from around the world. The Israelis dreamt of a state that should be rooted in humanity and solidarity and above all offer protection and security. The founding fathers of the Jewish State believed, just like the founding fathers of the European Communities, that democracy was the only system of government which could peacefully balance out the different interests of the many people who were coming and continued to come to Israel from various cultures.

Europeans, as we Germans are also experiencing given the current threat posed by nationalism and populism, are fighting like many Israelis to uphold democracy, solidarity, community spirit and diversity. Democracy is the most difficult and at the same time the best system of government of all because it constantly seeks the common good in a self-perpetuating dialogue between very different standpoints and stances running contrary to peaceful co-existence.

There is a modern link between Israel and Europe. The Israeli democracy is a pluralist kaleidoscope. Europe and Israel stand rooted in a robust democracy. Europe and Israel do not want to fall victim to autocracy and nationalism again. European and Israeli democrats are together fighting the persecution of those with different ideas and beliefs. They live using the same moral yardsticks and reject politically motivated attempts to place ethnicity above plurality.

Israelis and Europeans are not prepared to live in an ethnically homogeneous society as the nationalists would have us do. The patriotism of Europeans and Israelis is a pluralist one. In their shared tradition, there is no place for a policy which excludes or drives out minorities.

Germany and Europe also stand at the side of this Israel because it wants to be a country which treats all its citizens with fairness and decency. Since the end of World War Two and since the new start in Europe which grew out of the ashes of war, we Europeans share the values of the young Israeli State. Israel and Europe were founded on the same bedrock of moral principles.

It is these shared values that brought Israel, Europe and also America, despite all the differing views, together time and again.

Also for this reason, I believe that a negotiated solution with two states that co-exist peacefully and respect one another is the best solution for the Middle East conflict. The same fair and forward-looking principles should apply to all peoples of this world. I am certain that Israel and the whole world would benefit from such a step. It would be rooted in the bedrock of shared values.

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