By Ron Prosor
Director-General, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(Haaretz, 31 January 2005)
It has been 45 years since prime minister David Ben-Gurion met with German Chancellor Conrad Adenauer, in March 1960, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. At the meeting, which went on for approximately two hours, the leaders spoke about the new Israel and the new Germany, about Nazism and the destruction of the Jews. "I don't know if young people in Germany now know what Nazi Germany did," said Ben-Gurion, "but I have no doubt that they will someday know the harrowing truth."
With Adenauer's aid, Ben-Gurion sought to establish "pioneering, creative enterprises in Israel," which would give German youth a "feeling of moral redress, that Adenauer's Germany had - as much as this were possible - atoned for the sins of Hitler's Germany." Five years later, Asher Ben-Natan, Israel's first ambassador to Germany, submitted his credentials to the president of Germany. This year, we are marking the 40th year since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the states.
From the start, the "special relationship," which began even before the establishment of diplomatic relations, was based on a combination of historical perspectives and diplomatic considerations. This is how Ben-Gurion and Adenauer saw it, and this is how their successors continue to see it today. What seemed in 1952, with the signing of the reparations agreement, and the establishment 13 years later of diplomatic relations, to be the least self-evident development, has now become an inseparable part of the reality of our lives. Nevertheless, there is great importance even now in educating the younger generation in Germany to remember and not forget.
The relationship between Israel and Germany in 2005 is extensive and elaborate, encompassing cooperation in all fields and echelons. This is reflected in the close diplomatic contacts between the countries, the contacts in the security realm, inter-parliamentary and inter-party links, and the cooperation and numerous exchange programs in areas such as trade and industry, science, culture, twinned cities, youth groups, labor unions and sport.
Nevertheless, relations between the two nations should not be taken for granted. The mutual image, of Israelis vis-a-vis Germany and of Germans concerning Israel, is still complex, and the sensitivities that exist against the background of residual tensions of the past are well known. Added to that in the past few years is an additional challenge: deterioration of that mutual image against the background of developments in the Middle East.
The challenge of our relations with Germany does not end there. In recent years the two societies have undergone, and continue to undergo, deep processes of change that may shape the manner in which they conceive of themselves and their relations with their environments and with each other.
Israel considers Germany an important and key partner in the international arena in general, and in Europe in particular. Germany is Israel's largest trade partner in Europe, has a balanced position in the diplomatic sphere and assists Israel in the realm of security. As for Germany, it has repeatedly stated that its relations with Israel are among the mainstays of its foreign policy.
Anyone for whom relations between the two countries and the societies are important must consider the past - and, no less important, the future. The Holocaust of European Jewry in World War II is a formative event in the consciousness of every Israeli, and it is proper that it be in the consciousness of every human being. This is an imperative that extends beyond the bounds of current affairs, and as such it is fitting that it remain a part of us forever. At the same time, we must bear in mind the objective changes that influence society in Israel and in Germany, which play a role in shaping contemporary reality.
From this stems the clearly significant task of preserving and cultivating the special relationship between Israel and Germany, in the future as well. To meet the challenge, the foreign ministries of the two countries have initiated and spearheaded a long list of events and activities in the context of marking the 40th year since the establishment of diplomatic relations, through cooperative efforts with cabinet ministries and other organizations: These include a visit to Israel by the president of Germany in early February and a return visit to Germany by the president of Israel in May; cultural and sports events, including the opening of the "First Hebrews" exhibition in Berlin, Israel's participation in the book fairs of Leipzig and Frankfurt, Israeli dance weeks throughout Germany; and the list goes on.
Commemoration of this important historical event should be seen as an opportunity to lend added momentum to the relationship, with an eye toward the future. This is a mission that calls for mutual investment, creative thinking and sustained effort, particularly when it comes to education and the younger generation. The challenge, of determining how the relationship will look 40 years from now, rests on our shoulders.