Germany - Israel: a Unique Relationship
There cannot be many countries with which the Federal Republic of Germany does not have diplomatic ties. Bigger, smaller, further, nearer, richer, poorer – all are important. But the bilateral diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel are surely unique.
It was in 1965, some 20 years after WW2 ended, and about 17 years after the establishment of the modern State of Israel, that the two countries agreed to exchange ambassadors. Now, 50 years later, and 25 years since the Berlin Wall crashed down and Germany was reunited, the German Embassy in Israel decided to celebrate these events with a grand soiree, held at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. And what a celebration it was.
The stain of Germany’s Nazi past is not easily forgotten. There was heated objection by many Israelis, and others, to German-Israel ties. There had also been violent objections to accepting German reparations (“blood money”, some said) when the reparations agreements were signed in 1952. Germany’s first Ambassador to the State of Israel had been career officer in the Wehrmacht, and subsequently also Germany’s military attaché in Turkey – facts that in the eyes of many did not make him particularly suited, to put it mildly, to serving as German Ambassador to Jerusalem.
Much water has flown under the bridge in the past 50 years. The beautiful reception, the star-studded guest list, the warmth of the greetings, the VIPs from Germany in Israel especially for the event – none of this could have happened if German-Israel ties were not special and unique. And if the German and Israeli leadership had not worked hard to find forgiveness for the past. Guest included many diplomatic officials, Ambassador Shlomo Morgan from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, former MK Colette Avital, Keith Mines of the U.S. Embassy, Heike Vecchini (personal Assistant to the Berlin Mayor), Volker Pellet (Political Advisor to the Mayor), Israeli artist Yaron Brovinsky, and the entire Deutsche Philharmonie Merck orchestra with conductor Maestro Wolfgang Heinzel. Absent due to last minute political issues was Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who was to have brought greetings on behalf of the State of Israel.
His Excellency Ambassador Dr. Clemens Von Goetze, together with his wife Dr. Sonja Von Goetze, hosted the glittering reception in the Museum’s grand lobby. The cream of the diplomatic corps mingled with Israel’s cultural, social and business world and the guests from Germany. Fine wines and beverages, German beer (of course!) and a beautiful buffet made for a very convivial gathering. (Guests with kosher requirements were not forgotten.) And it would be a failing not to make special mention of the décor, especially the giant flower arrangements everywhere, that added to the sparkle.
The formal part of the proceedings began with an orchestrated concert rendition by the Deutsche Philharmonie Merck of Israel’s national anthem, followed by that of Germany. His Excellency Dr. Von Goetze then addressed the gathering. His warm opening remarks of welcome included regrets that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who was to have graced the event, was unable to attend, but had instead sent a pre-recorded video message.
After his charming welcoming remarks, Dr. Von Goetze made unabashed reference to the “monstrous crimes” that his country had committed against the Jewish people in that dark bygone era, and thanked early Israeli leadership for nevertheless reaching out a hand of friendship to the perpetrators, who had assumed responsibility, resulting in the bilateral ties. He expressed his gratitude to Israel for the trust it places in its German diplomatic partner. The Ambassador spoke not only of the friendship between the governments and between the peoples, but of the broad range of ties: cultural, scientific, political and educational, among others.
And he did not fail to note the trying times at present in the Middle East, and particularly in Israel, with terror raising its ugly head again. “I sincerely hope that calm will return and that the incitement and violence will be contained”. Germany and its European Union partners are still seeking to bring peace, for two peoples living in harmony in two states. His gracious thanks to the guests for their presence were warmly applauded.
The video message from President Rivlin was screened. The President spoke sincerely of the long road of 50 years of close ties, making special mention of the heartfelt welcome he had received, especially from Chancellor Angela Merkel, during his recent state visit to Germany, and of the shared values of freedom and democracy between the two countries. “Chancellor Merkel will visit Jerusalem in December and we are looking forward to welcoming her and her party”. The President ended by congratulating Germany and expressing his sincere regrets at not being there.
His Honor the Mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Ron Huldai was invited to the podium to address the gathering. “It is no coincidence that this special event is taking place at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The only Jewish-German encounter that was possible after the horrors of the Holocaust was the human encounter between people; and one of the few areas where that encounter was sustained – was in the field of art”. In his learned comments, the Mayor paid special tribute to the contribution that German immigrants, the “yekkes”, had made to Israel in general and to Tel Aviv in particular. “Lawyers, architects, doctors, scientists, artists, industrialists and merchants. Their arrival made a vital contribution to the development of the first Hebrew city of Tel Aviv”.
Mr. Huldai also noted the close ties between Berlin and Tel Aviv-Jaffa, and that the Mayor of Berlin, Mr. Michael Muller, was in the audience, having traveled to Israel especially to be present at this auspicious event. “When I met with Mayor Muller earlier today, we discussed … the ties between our cities – through art and culture, technology and entrepreneurship, tourism and academic exchange. I believe that these ties are the best expression of the blossoming relations between Germany and Israel.” He noted too that Tel Aviv-Jaffa has sister-city ties with several other German cities.
Mr. Muller’s address was also very special. His charisma came through clearly, even though he spoke in German, a language many of the guests could not understand (the address was translated into Hebrew, again leaving many foreign guests in the dark). His Honor mentioned the popularity Berlin enjoys with Israeli tourists, and of the close ties between Tel Aviv and his city. A new cooperative project has just been launched: “Tel Aviv Startup City and the Place To Be Berlin are both cities known for their startup friendly surroundings and infrastructure. It comes naturally that the next step is to enhance the already existing cooperation. Both cities, hosted by ‘Berlin Partner for Business and Technology’ and ‘Tel Aviv Global’, are excited to launch a new collaboration: a startup exchange program.
The two countries will be offering start-ups free co-working spaces in both cities, advice on visas, regulations and legal issues around starting up companies in both Israel and Germany will also be made available, as well as one-on-one mentoring assistance for any startup who is interested”.
The Berlin Mayor thanked his Tel Aviv hosts for their warm welcome and congratulated Germany and Israel on the close friendship and warm ties.
His Excellency Ambassador Von Goetze then invited guests to take their seats in the Museum’s Recanati Auditorium for the special concert: Symphony #3 in A minor, “The Scottish” Op. 56 (Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy), followed by Symphony #8 in F minor, Op. 93 (Ludwig von Beethoven). The concert, by the Deutsche Philharmonie Merck orchestra conducted by Wolfgang Heinzel, was a glorious finale to a splendid evening.
This will be a hard act to follow for the diplomatic constellation.
Photos by Silvia G Golan