As a young man, Reuven Rivlin was opposed to diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany. Today, as Israel’s 75-year-old president, Rivlin sees the benefit of this relationship through the sharing of common values and Germany’s support of Israel in international forums.
On his first visit to Germany as president of the State of Israel, Rivlin on Monday received a warm, red carpet welcome replete with a military honor guard from German President Joachim Gauck in Berlin.
Rivlin is in Germany to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties. He is the fourth of Israel’s 10 presidents, and the second native Israeli president, to visit the country that was once led by a fiend who wanted to annihilate the Jewish people.
His immediate three predecessors in office, Ezer Weizman in January 1996, Moshe Katsav in May 2005, and Shimon Peres in January 2010, all visited Germany before him. All three, while cognizant that they were addressing a different Germany, in their public speeches and in their private meetings with German dignitaries did not allow themselves or their hosts to forget the Holocaust.
Peres, who lost close relatives in the Holocaust, addressed the German Bundestag on the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Rivlin, only three days before leaving for Germany, participated in the VE Day commemoration marking the 70th anniversary of Germany’s defeat by the allied forces. In Israel, the occasion was also a tribute to Jewish soldiers in the Red Army as well as in all the other armies that fought against the Nazi forces.
To its credit, Germany made no effort to evade recognition of its grim past, and included Holocaust-related commemorations in Rivlin’s agenda.
There was no stiff formality in Gauck’s greeting. He crossed the red carpet to clasp Rivlin in an embrace and in his speech of welcome underscored the special relations between their two countries, emphasizing that they would always remain that way.
The German president repeated what the country’s leaders have been saying for decades, namely that Germany is conscious of its responsibility to the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and that this responsibility will remain constant.
Rivlin recalled that when he protested against the arrival of Germany’s first ambassador to Israel, there was something unnatural in relations between Germany and Israel – but his current visit to Germany was to mark 50 years of close friendship.
Following a private meeting, the two presidents inaugurated a jubilee stamp that had been jointly designed in Israel and Germany.
Rivlin thanked Gauck for the invitation to participate in the jubilee festivities and declared that the achievements of the two countries over the past 50 years and the strong bonds that had been forged in the social, economic, and security spheres were without doubt strong and significant despite a complicated shared history.
What the two countries share today, Rivlin noted, are democracy, freedom of expression, and equal rights. As he has stated many times in Israel, Rivlin reiterated in Germany that the closeness in the relationship between the two countries should in no way be construed as compensation for the Holocaust, but is based on shared values and on lessons jointly learned from the past.
Rivlin also voiced his concern about rising anti-Semitism in Europe.
“Today we look around us and we are greatly worried by the resurgence of anti-Semitism, which is again raising its ugly head,” he said, condemning the many incidents of racism that are so prevalent throughout the world. “It is our joint obligation as Israelis and Germans, as democracies and as significant factors in humanity, to stand fast against such crimes,” he said.
“The fact that we stand here together proves that we can not only overcome a dark past, but also look toward a more promising future. This can be done for as long as we remain committed to the values of freedom and democracy.”
Rivlin said he is hopeful that relations between Israel and Germany will continue to flourish and that together they will work toward a better world.
Gauck touched on issues that they had discussed during their private meeting.
These included subjects on which they disagreed, such as how to best deal with Iran. Gauck said that Rivlin had spoken of Israel’s deep-seated suspicion regarding the Iranian threat, but that he had assured Rivlin that Germany and the United States have Israel’s interests at heart and could speak to Iran without compromising their friendship with Israel.
As friends, he said, they have a duty to try to achieve a breakthrough not only in the talks with Iran, but also in the peace process with the Palestinians. When there is true friendship between nations, said Gauck, they also must be able to discuss issues in dispute.
Rivlin then left the Bellevue Palace, Gauck’s official residence, to go to Berlin’s Grunewald train station, where he placed a wreath on Platform 17, from which 55,000 Jews had been deported to Auschwitz and other camps. The platform had been known as “the platform of death.”
Here again, Rivlin stressed how essential it is to fight the phenomena of anti-Semitism and racism, especially in a world in which terrorism, hatred, and barbarity are gaining momentum, and where the lines between different cultures and ideologies have become blurred.
The ceremony at the train station was also attended by Israeli Ambassador to Germany Yaakov Hadas-Handelsman, members of the Jewish community of Berlin, and several of the city’s rabbis.
Rivlin is scheduled to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Tuesday.
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