Date: 26 May 2008


Germany & Israel
60th Anniversary of the Founding of the State of Israel
"If you want, it is no fairy tale"
Foreign Minister Steinmeier Recalls How Words of Theodor Herzl Became Reality, in Article for Yedioth Ahronoth Newspaper in Israel 
Published on May 7, 2008 in Yedioth Ahronoth 
Israel's 60th birthday  a special event for a German foreign minister. On 8 May 1945, while the world was celebrating the victory over Nazi Germany, Ben Gurion wrote in his diary, "the day of the victory is sad, very sad." The millions of murders, the crimes committed by Germans against the Jewish people, were too much to comprehend. They still are for us today.
The break with civilization that was the Shoah will always affect relations between Germans and Jews, between Germans and Israelis. In spite of this fact, Israel today counts Germany as one of its allies and friends, a development which can be described, without exaggeration, as a unique gift! The State of Israel's first passports were stamped "Valid for all countries except Germany". We can now look back on 43 years of diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Israel. The fact that Israelis were prepared to extend the hand of friendship to us Germans and to build bridges together is something for which we are forever grateful!
A few weeks ago we opened a new chapter in these relations with the first German-Israeli intergovernmental consultations. For Israel this was the first such meeting in this format with any foreign country. We deliberately began our meeting by visiting Yad Vashem. The holding of prayers for the victims of the Shoah in the Hall of Remembrance, together with our Israeli colleagues, was among the most moving moments of my political career.
One of the lessons from the horrors of the past must be that no-one has the right to question Israel's right to exist. Germany strongly condemns anyone who does so. My country is aware of its responsibility towards the State of Israel. This recognition forms part of the foundation on which the "other Germany", as David Ben Gurion called it, was built following the end of the Second World War and on which it rests to this day.
Another part of that foundation is the fact that we decisively fight anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia wherever they appear  within or outside Germany. On 11 March this year the Permanent Office of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research was opened in Berlin. The 25 members of the Task Force, which includes Israel, demonstrated their great trust in Germany by making Berlin the headquarters of their institution. We will not betray that trust!
Over the past decades a close network of personal ties has grown up between Germans and Israelis. I am thinking here of the many town-twinning arrangements or the 5,000 young people from both countries who take part in exchange programs each year. We have just announced the German-Israeli Year of Science and Technology. In this jubilee year we will create two centers for German studies at the Universities of Jerusalem and Haifa. The German-Israeli Future Forum will soon begin its work aimed at linking our countries even more closely  in economic, scientific and cultural terms.
Israel  for us Germans this is not only the Holy Land or a popular holiday destination. It is also a country which impresses us even today because of the pioneering spirit and diligence of its founding fathers, who under difficult circumstances created a nation-state and kept it alive in spite of all threats to its existence. Theodor Herzl uttered the famous words, "if you want, it is no fairy-tale". Only three years after the end of World War II, in Tel Aviv's museum, David Ben Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel, and Herzl's words became reality.
In only a few decades Israel has changed from a country characterized by kibbutzim and moshavim to one which regularly produces state-of-the-art technology and great scientific feats. This is not only proved by the Nobel Prizes for economics and chemistry won by Israelis in recent years. Israel today is a remarkably vibrant, democratic and modern society which has succeeded in integrating people from many different countries. Yes, this country, too, has its societal and political problems, which are discussed vociferously in its parliament and media, but it is just that culture of debate which makes Israel so unique in the Middle East.
All this fills me with admiration whenever I visit Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. But what impresses me most is this country's cultural variety and vibrancy, its people's energy, frankness and warmth, which one encounters here each day. I have one wish for Israel's next 60 years  the peace this country and its people deserve. The road is long, and I know that many Israelis and Palestinians are sceptical about the efforts made by their governments since the Annapolis conference.
We all share the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, existing in peace and good-neighbourliness. For that vision to become reality both sides must make the compromises they were not prepared to make up to now  on the issues of settlements, Palestinian refugees or the status of Jerusalem. Neither Americans nor Europeans can replace the necessary decisiveness and farsightedness, but we will support the negotiating process to the greatest possible extent. Israel can count on that. Our friendship is alive and well!