“Let your home be a meeting place for the wise,” the Talmud says. I think this would have been a perfect caption for the first AJC Global Forum in Berlin. And what an honour it would have been for us to host you here – for the first time in the AJC’s long history and 75 years after the end of the Shoah.
As you all know, coronavirus got in the way. So, I am all the more grateful to everyone who made this virtual meeting happen. Thank you very much!
In times like these – times of crisis and confusion – staying united is imperative. So, let me begin by expressing my deepest sympathy to all our friends across the Atlantic, who have been hit so hard by the pandemic. We were saddened and shocked by the terrible images reaching us from New York and other cities.
Moments like these reveal our joint humanity. And my first message today is: Let us preserve this spirit of togetherness.
Not only does coronavirus pose a threat to our health and prosperity, it is also a breeding ground for hatred, violence, racism and antisemitism.
And I am grateful to the AJC for pointing that out, loud and clear:
- In the United States, where the killing of George Floyd has reminded all of us of the deadly nature of racism.
- But also here in Germany and Europe, where racism and antisemitism are on the rise. Where local politicians are being shot and synagogues are being attacked by right-wing extremists.
And where the coronavirus crisis has revived some of the vilest stereotypes about Jewish citizens – reminding us of the darkest times in our history.
Martin Luther King was right to say that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. It is with this in mind that we must all play our part:
- civil society
- religious leaders
- and above all those who hold power in our democracies – whether they are police officers or the leaders of our countries.
Otherwise, this crisis will rip the social fabric of our societies apart. The winners would be those who claim that our democracies are weak.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is up to us to prove them wrong. And we have good arguments. Statistics show that many democracies respond well in this crisis – better than many expected.
But statistics won’t be enough when facts are denied or distorted.
Therefore, one of the priorities of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which begins in July, will be to enhance Europe’s democratic resilience.
Yes, we must protect the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech. But this does not mean that we must accept foreign disinformation campaigns or allow cyberspace to become an incubator for hate crime, antisemitism or Holocaust denial and distortion.
As the current holder of the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, we have therefore established a Task Force against Holocaust Denial and Distortion.
And through the programme, young people remember, we are helping today’s youth to engage with history – and to learn the right lessons from it.
One of those lessons is to show solidarity with those who are in a more difficult place than oneself. This principle also guides our international response to the current crisis:
- In Europe, we are setting up the biggest recovery programme in the history of our continent. This is an unprecedented act of solidarity.
- But a global crisis also demands global solidarity. We are therefore increasing our humanitarian aid. And together with others, we are financing the global quest for a vaccine available to everyone in every country – no matter how rich or poor they may be.
- And I am glad that we could also help our friends in Israel. We treated Israeli citizens who were stranded around the globe as if they were our own, bringing them home on German planes, and vice-versa. For me, this was more than consular cooperation. It was a moving example of the trust on which our unlikely, wonderful friendship with Israel is built.
This friendship will also endure challenges looming on the horizon. That became very clear when I visited Israel a few days ago on my first trip outside Europe since the lockdown.
In the 55th year of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany, we have agreed to strengthen our joint youth work and to continue and broaden our support for the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.
And as friends, we also openly discussed the many serious questions linked to a potential annexation of land in the West Bank, such as:
- What would a de facto one-state reality mean for Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state?
- What would it entail for the Palestinians’ rightful aspirations to their own statehood?
- And what would it mean for Israel’s security and the relationship with its neighbours, especially Jordan and Egypt?
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and I also talked about Iran and its highly problematic behaviour towards Israel and the entire region. This is why we will continue to do everything we can to prevent the nightmare scenario of a nuclear-armed Iran.
And we are also targeting Iranian proxies. Our recent ban of Hezbollah activities in Germany has sent a firm message in this regard. An organisation whose stated goal it is to “eliminate the State of Israel” has no room to operate within our borders. And we will encourage other European states to follow our example.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Government action, however, can only be one element. Now more than ever, we need voices like yours and organisations like the AJC to counter the voices of hatred, racism and intolerance.
And as this virtual meeting proves, even cyberspace can become a “meeting place for the wise”.
However, this forum cannot replace a meeting in person. So, before I conclude, let me invite you to come to Berlin as soon as the pandemic allows.
“Next year in Jerusalem!” is the Jewish wish on Passover that embodies hope and idealism after two millennia in the diaspora. Allow me to borrow it today to say to you, from the bottom of my heart: Hopefully, next year in Berlin!