Israeli and German heads of state highlight strong ties, vow to fight anti-Semitism

Rivlin Germany 50 stamp

Presidents Rivlin (L) and Gauck launch a celebratory jubilee postal stamp marking 50 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

President Rivlin, on a state visit to Germany, applauded the close friendship between Berlin and Jerusalem notwithstanding the dark past. German President Gauck vowed that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated in his country.  

By: Aryeh Savir, World Israel News Staff

President Reuven Rivlin and his wife Nechama, who began their three-day state visit to Berlin marking 50 years of diplomatic relations, attended a series of events on Monday that symbolized the warm ties between Germany and the Jewish state, while not ignoring the dark past.

The itinerary began with an official state welcome to the Israeli president at Berlin’s Bellevue Palace, the residence of German President Joachim Gauck, who received Rivlin warmly. Rivlin signed the guestbook, quoting Psalm 122:6: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; May they that love thee prosper.”

The two presidents reviewed a military guard of honor and were then greeted by Israeli and German schoolchildren waving the flags of both nations.

Rivlin and Gauck held a working meeting in which they discussed the importance of bilateral relations between Israel and Germany, and they expressed interest in deepening the already-strong relationship between the countries. At the conclusion of the meeting, they addressed the media and launched a celebratory jubilee postal stamp marking 50 years of diplomatic relations.

The Israeli head of state began his remarks by thanking his host for the invitation to visit and the friendly welcome. “What our two nations have achieved over the last 50 years and what we continue to achieve in working together in the fields of social issues, economy, and security is truly incredible,” he said. “This would be true even if we did not have such a complicated and difficult past, but when you consider how far we have come, it is truly amazing.”

Rivlin and Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The relationship, Rivlin continued, is “built on shared values of democracy, freedom of speech and equal rights.”

He stressed, however, that the close friendship between the Israeli and German governments is not compensation for the Holocaust, adding that “an understanding that the lessons of the past must drive us toward a better future.”

Citing the threats of rising anti-Semitism and racism, Rivlin stated:”It is our duty together, as Israelis, as Germans, as democracies, as part of humanity, to stand up to these terrible evils. It is my hope and prayer that the friendship and relationship will grow stronger and that the cooperation between our two countries will continue to help build a better world for all.”

Gauck expressed appreciation for the trust Israel placed in the German leadership 50 years ago, saying that “ever since, the connection between us has grown stronger and deeper.”

“We are connected not only by the horrendous crimes of the past, but by the values in which we both believe. The ties between our countries do not solely find expression in the close friendship between our governments, but in the many citizens involved in cooperation and partnership projects. I also express my appreciation for these projects,” Gauck declared.

Memorial for Jewish Victims of the Nazis

Rivlin addressed a memorial ceremony for the Jews of Berlin who were murdered in the Holocaust. The event was held at Platform 17, the site from which they were deported to the Auschwitz death camp. He laid a wreath at the foot of the memorial and kindled the memorial flame.

Rivlin Platform 17

President Rivlin lays a wreath at Platform 17. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“Fifty-five thousand Jews were sent from Platform 17 to their deaths,” he asserted. “Residents of nearby Grunewald said that they did not notice the horror. The German people did not wake up one morning to the swastikas of the Third Reich. Anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and frustration grew like a cancer under the surface for many years. This poisoned soil was the foundation on which the Nazi monster acted unchallenged. Seventy years have passed since the last transport left Platform 17, yet once again, fascist and neo-Nazi movements are growing stronger and stronger on European soil. Apathy, indifference or denial is not the answer.”

Rivlin stressed the humanitarian obligation of the nations of the free world to combat the phenomena of anti-Semitism and racism: “In a world flooded with barbaric terror and hatred, in a world where tensions between cultures and ideologies grow stronger, the battle against racism, anti-Semitism and fundamentalism requires us to be alert and decisive. We must remember, democracy alone does not make us immune to nationalism and fascism. No nation is immune to anti-Semitism. No nation is immune to extremism or fundamentalism. Here, on Platform 17, we must commit to looking hatred in the eye. Only by cooperation between different communities and between different countries can we fight any violation of human dignity. This is our obligation. This is our duty.”

A Meeting with the Future

The Israeli president then joined Berlin Mayor Michael Muller in a symbolic walk through Brandenburg Gate, followed by a working meeting at the conclusion of which Rivlin signed the Golden Book of Berlin. From there, Rivlin and Gauck met with the Israeli-German Youth Congress at the historic Kalksheune building.

The youth congress is composed of 300 Israelis and Germans between the ages of 18 and 30 who have participated in partnership projects in a range of fields in arts and culture. During the meeting, which focused on Israeli society and Holocaust remembrance in Israel, among other socio-economic issues, the participants presented some of the projects to the presidents.

“In the last decades, Israelis and Germans have been working together to make this world a better place, exemplified by the wonderful projects we saw here today in theater and arts…. It is my belief, that no free nation, no free people, can or should, stand alone,” Rivlin told the gathering.

Rivlin Brandenburg

President Rivlin and Mayor Moller walk through the Brandenberg Gate. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

At the conclusion of the day’s events, the Rivlins returned to Bellevue Palace, where they were welcomed as guests of honor at an official state dinner.

“Your visit to our residence marks a very special jubilee,” said Gauck, the official host. “Fifty years ago, on May 12, 1965, Israel and the German Federal Republic established diplomatic relations. It is a great pleasure for me to celebrate this day together with you, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for joining us in Berlin. This is more than a gesture of trust and companionship, but an expression of the partnership and close friendship that has flourished between our two countries.”

Citing “vibrant cooperation” in several fields, Gauck pointed to the positive relationship between the Knesset and the Bundestag. “I am particularly pleased that Israelis and Germans are meeting one another, outside the framework of political life, with countless opportunities, including here in Berlin with artists and young students working to enrich this city, the city in which long prospered German-Jewish culture, and it is good to hear Hebrew in the streets. Similarly, many Germans are fascinated by Israel. Indeed, visitors to Jerusalem and the Holy Land do not easily forget the experience.”

Anti-Semitism and hate will not be tolerated in Germany, he vowed. “We will not allow fanaticism to poison our political climate or engulf us in fear.”

“Over the first 50 years of our diplomatic relationship, Germany and Israel have shared a common and widespread commitment – a commitment to protecting the values and interests of the free world against the dangers lurking,” Rivlin responded. “The burden of our common history on the one hand, and the deep friendship between us in the present on the other, drive us to fulfill this commitment together. I wish us all many years of cooperation and partnership.”