Address by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth at the reception to mark the 20th anniversary of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee

11.10.2018 - Speech

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When I think about relations between Germany and the American Jewish Committee, the picture of a bridge with a two‑way lane comes to mind. Sometimes this bridge has had to be across troubled waters, but traffic has flowed steadily in both directions, especially in the past two decades.

The bridge over the Atlantic was established in 1906, when American Jews, mainly of German descent, founded the American Jewish Committee.

One would have thought that the horrors committed by Nazi Germany, the cruel murder of millions of Jews, would have shattered every single pillar of this bridge. But even after the Holocaust, enough substance was left to rebuild this bridge over the abyss of the past.

As early as the 1950s, AJC established contact with leaders in the German Government, civil society, and the Jewish community in order to support the rebuilding of democracy. AJC leaders like you, David Harris, strongly believed in a reunified, democratic Germany.

Over the years, AJC established joint education and exchange programs with our political foundations, as well as a successful program with our armed forces, the Bundeswehr. Finally, in 1998, AJC was the first American Jewish organization to open an office in Berlin. Lawrence and Lee Ramer contributed generously to the establishment of the Berlin Office. They were convinced of the need to establish ties with younger generations in Germany in order to foster understanding and to promote tolerance. Today the Berlin headquarters is one of nine AJC offices outside the U.S.

Therefore, I wish not only to congratulate you today on the 20th anniversary of the AJC Berlin Ramer Institute, but also to thank you for the excellent cooperation during the last two decades. By the way: We share this special anniversary, as I was elected to the German Bundestag for the first time in 1998. Ever since then, I have been unable to imagine the political sphere in Germany without the valuable input of AJC. I have benefited a lot from our fruitful cooperation and sound friendship. I remember great trips to New York, Phoenix, Los Angeles and DC.

I came into contact with Jewish life in the U.S. and was deeply moved by superb hospitality and inspiring discussions. I remember our joint events here in Germany – conferences, panel discussions and receptions highlighting our commitment to our common values and open, liberal and inclusive societies.

Over the past two decades, the AJC Berlin Ramer Institute has supported and shaped dialogue between Germany and the U.S., between Germans and American Jews.

Dear Deidre, we are grateful to you and your staff for your outstanding work. Under your predecessor, founding director Eugene Dubow, and under your leadership, the Berlin Ramer Institute has truly opened up a two‑way street of communications on a broad range of issues between our two countries. AJC has been an advocate for Germany in the U.S. and a strong voice in the public debate in Germany.

We value the open debate with AJC on foreign policy issues, in particular on how to achieve peace and security in the Middle East.

AJC’s view on Jewish life in Germany and on Holocaust Remembrance has proven a valuable source for the German Government. Let me just recall a few examples: Your input in the debate about the Brit Milah, your stance on compensation policy, or your initiative to protect mass graves in Ukraine.

For years, AJC has been active in exposing and combating anti‑Semitism and in taking a stand for human rights and tolerance. You have addressed the core of the issue or – as we say in German: „Sie haben den Finger in die Wunde gelegt“.

Let me be very clear: anti‑Semitism poses a threat not only to Jewish communities, but to society as a whole. Any anti‑Semitic incident is an attack on all of us – on an open, free and tolerant society. We will not tolerate that Jews have to be afraid to openly live their religion.

This is shameful and unacceptable. Only when Jewish facilities no longer need special protection will we have restored normality. We will not stop until we achieve this aim. We are glad to have AJC on our side.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I especially want to thank AJC for being a crucial pillar in our relations with the United States, and I wish to express my gratitude for your important initiative of “Reaffirming the Transatlantic Partnership”.

It is this kind of principled stand – for a rules‑based international order, cooperation across borders, and most of all for democracy itself – that we need in these turbulent days.

The United States has been our most important friend and ally since the days when it defeated Hitler’s Nazism in Germany and thereby helped to restore democracy in Europe. During the Berlin Airlift, throughout the Cold War and its end marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the close relationship between Germany and the United States was vital for Germany’s security, and it still is today.

The United States emerged as the guardian of global peace and order after World War II and was key to establishing many of the international regimes protecting democracy and human rights worldwide. And as the German Minister of State for Europe, let me add that without the support and stability America provided, I cannot imagine we could have made the progress we have towards a united Europe.

These days, the international order which was overwhelmingly shaped by the United States is at risk. The tone coming from the other side of the Atlantic leaves us wondering if America still wants to be that steady anchor of stability, if it is still ready to defend and strengthen the international institutions it has shaped. There are probably several answers to this question and there is a debate within the United States as to where America should be heading in terms of foreign policy.

I believe this is the time to intensify our engagement with the people of the United States. To quote John F. Kennedy: “We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light a candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.” I want to thank the American Jewish Committee for lighting one candle after another, and for keeping the transatlantic flame alight.

And so I would like to invite you to spread the word about the Deutschlandjahr USA that we opened last week on the Day of German Unity, on October 3. Under the heading of #wunderbartogether, we have prepared 300 projects and well over 1000 events in all of the fifty States of the United States.

We want to paint a picture of everything that transatlantic relations stand for – in the fields of science, the arts, culture, language, and business. We want to create opportunities for an exchange of ideas with Americans – not only in New York, Washington, and Los Angeles, but also in the heart of the country.

Dear David Harris, dear Deidre, dear friends,

AJC and its Berlin Office are strong allies in this endeavor. I want to raise my glass to the partnership between AJC and Germany, between the American people and the German people. I would like to express my personal gratitude for a longtime friendship in really challenging times. Welcome and have a fruitful stay in Berlin.


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