Speech by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel on receiving an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University

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  • Olaf Scholz

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Mr President,
Deans, members and friends of Tel Aviv University,
Honoured guests,

I am delighted to be back in Tel Aviv and here at the renowned Tel Aviv University on this special occasion. I would like to thank you most sincerely for your kind words and cordial welcome. The fact that I am today receiving an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University naturally strengthens my ties to the State of Israel. I regard this special honour as a sign of approval of my work and above all as an incentive to do all I can to consolidate relations between Germany and Israel and to further develop the links between our countries in all spheres.

I am receiving this honorary doctorate not for my scientific work – which I did actually enjoy very much, and indeed I have already identified a few representatives of neighbouring scientific provinces among those here on the platform – but for my work as a politician. Nevertheless, it is very pleasant to be here at a university where the “exact sciences” are greatly valued. Much as I enjoy politics, my heart still beats fast for everything you wrap up here under the “exact sciences”.

I thank you for awarding me this honorary doctorate above all because the sciences do in fact occupy a very special place in relations between our two countries, and have done so for many years. Over 50 years ago, it was scientists who laid the foundations for rapprochement between what were then the very young State of Israel and the fledgling Federal Republic of Germany. The part played by scientists in paving the way for the establishment of official relations and for rapprochement between our countries cannot be overestimated. And at our German-Israeli intergovernmental consultations yesterday the subject of scientific and research cooperation was again very much to the fore.

It was by no means obvious that our two states would be able to come together at all. And it certainly wasn’t obvious that it would eventually be possible for a friendship to develop between Israel and Germany. Because the heinous, inhumane crimes committed by Germans, the Shoah, the murder of six million Jews, brought inconceivable suffering on the Jewish people. This incomprehensible break with civilization trampled Jewish culture and tradition underfoot. It wiped out countless families. It ripped apart our shared history in Germany and Europe. Germany is – and I say this here as Federal Chancellor – aware of its abiding and eternal responsibility for the darkest chapter of its history. Germany is aware of this eternal responsibility because only the acceptance of this responsibility creates a basis from which we can truly shape our future.

As the voices of the survivors grow ever weaker, it becomes all the more important that we never forget this. The generation of those who personally experienced such unspeakable suffering will soon no longer be with us. That is why it is now up to my generation in Germany to ensure that the awareness of Germany’s responsibility is passed on to future generations. This is exactly what Federal President Christian Wulff was seeking to make clear in bringing his daughter with him on his first visit to Israel.

Our eternal responsibility creates obligations for German politics in several regards. Firstly: no matter where in the world racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia find a breeding ground, no matter where a state leaves scope for such contempt for mankind, Germany will resolutely oppose them. Secondly: our commitment to the security of the State of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state is part of Germany’s raison d’être. Thirdly: Germany and Israel are linked by shared democratic values and interests, both political and economic. Thus we are shaping our future as reliable partners and good friends.

Ladies and gentlemen, even though I wish to focus today on the diversity of German-Israeli relations, I cannot begin without first taking a look at the current situation. Let’s look first to Tunisia. There seems to be a chance of a fresh start there. The Tunisian people did not allow itself to be deflected in its yearning for freedom and democracy because in the end no people will allow itself to be deflected in its longing for freedom and democracy.

Of course at this juncture we must also look towards Egypt. I very much hope that there will be no recourse to violence of any kind in the current protests and demonstrations in Egypt’s cities. I very much hope that freedom to demonstrate and freedom of information will be granted so that a peaceful process of reform can begin. That is exactly what there must be: a peaceful process of reform, not chaos and violence. We must not forget that Egypt is the Arab neighbour with which Israel has enjoyed its longest period of peace – and may this period of peace and security continue into the future. That is my wish.

Developments in Lebanon are – in a word – worrying. That is why everything possible must be done to ensure that the country does not fall into another phase of incalculable domestic crisis. The consequences would be very, very difficult to predict, particularly in a situation in which Iran’s aggressivity is endangering peace and security in Israel and indeed the entire Middle East. If Iran continues to refuse to enter into negotiations on its nuclear programme, we are resolved to go down the path of sanctions. Sharper sanctions would then be inevitable.

Given recent developments, I am convinced that the Middle East conflict cannot and must not be left unresolved. In other words: the negotiations must be resumed without delay. The current standstill is helping no-one. But it is also clear that a viable solution requires political determination, it requires painful compromises, on both sides. The goal must be two states: a democratic, Jewish State of Israel side by side with a viable Palestinian state. Wherever Germany, Europe and the United States can support this process, we will do so.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Middle East peace process and the current overall security situation are of course important matters which were also raised in my talks with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday. But my visit has focused on the third German-Israeli intergovernmental consultations and thus on the further shaping of German-Israeli relations. These relations are unique. They are based, as I have already said, on shared values. And so they should be the focus of this celebration today.

In shaping German-Israeli relations, we have built and continue to build upon the work of many courageous people over the decades, people who had the strength to forge a new beginning after the horrors of the Shoah. These included the German-speaking Jewish immigrants. Their knowledge of Germany’s language and culture made them important bridge-builders between our countries. They became, not least, important advocates here in Israel for us Germans. They built up scientific and academic contacts and youth exchanges even before official relations had been established between our states. In those early days, as I have said, this was certainly not something that could be taken for granted. It is thanks to these people in particular that we now have a strong foundation on which to build.

Just think of the volunteer services. In Jerusalem this morning I met young German and Israeli volunteers who are serving in Israel or Germany under Action Reconciliation – Service for Peace. It was especially important for me also to meet two survivors of the Shoah. They explained to me how important the personal contacts which have come out of Action Reconciliation have become in their lives, especially in teaching them how to live with the trauma of the past at all.

It gives me hope when I hear that over 1500 volunteers have taken part in projects since Action Reconciliation began in 1961. What the young people – both German and Israeli – had to say was very, very moving. They have seen older people learn to speak about terrible things. Young Germans have received a warm welcome here in Israel, and young Israelis in Germany. This – personal contact – is what allows strong, resilient relationships to grow. I am very pleased that it has been possible for ten years now for young Israelis to come to Germany. Germans have been coming to Israel for 50 years, and for 10 years young Israelis have been coming to Germany.

We must not slacken in our efforts to encourage the young generation to enjoy new encounters and shared activities – particularly, of course, when it comes to longer-term projects where you really do have time to get to know one another, work with one another and form friendships built on shared experiences. I am utterly convinced that there is nothing, nothing, that can take the place of personal contact, be it in science, culture or youth work. Politicians are therefore called upon to create meaningful frameworks for such encounters. That’s why youth policy was one of the main topics at our German-Israeli intergovernmental consultations yesterday.

It is gratifying to note that youth exchanges between our two countries have continued to expand over the past few years: around 9000 young people participated in exchange programmes between Germany and Israel last year. Yesterday we signed a joint declaration reaffirming that we want to further intensify youth exchanges. Our relations are receiving fresh impetus from the German-Israeli Future Forum, a foundation established jointly by our two countries. The Future Forum aims to build up a new network, getting young people involved in joint projects.

Ladies and gentlemen, science and research are and will remain pillars of the relationship between Israel and Germany. A close partnership between our two countries is vital on our way to the knowledge society, not least because Israel invests more than most countries in science and research and enjoys an excellent international reputation in this area.

Researchers from our countries are working together to tackle the pressing questions of our time, as I saw for myself on a visit to the Weizmann Institute during my last trip to Israel. Our researchers are looking for new therapies for diseases like cancer or Alzheimer’s, or are developing new technologies to protect our environment. Their work covers the entire spectrum of basic research. I think it is very, very important that our relations be extended to include the humanities as well. Your Science Minister is a mathematician, ours has a degree in Catholic theology. That seems to me to be a good combination of the sciences and the humanities.

Ladies and gentlemen, German-Israeli cooperation is very successful, especially when it comes to concrete projects. There are German-Israeli water projects which we have developed into trilateral cooperation in Africa. Everyone knows that Israel has ground-breaking knowledge about the management of water and the saving of water resources. If one thinks what good one could do for Africa with this technology, then one knows that our projects in Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya are at best a start. In my view, these projects should be expanded.

Cooperation between German and Israeli universities is extremely lively and active. There are over 100 instances of such cooperation. The specially-established Minerva Foundation at the Max Planck Society itself maintains 30 Minerva research centres at Israeli universities, including four here at Tel Aviv University. I have heard from many friends and acquaintances just how intensive, comprehensive and natural the exchange in these areas is.

In this 21st century, the fact that our scientific cooperation in particular is working so well is crucial. Because education and research are and will remain the key to economic prosperity. This is true, by the way, not only for our two countries, but for the whole of this region. I have just been talking about this with President Shimon Peres. Education, research and science ultimately provide access to free thinking and thus also to democracy.

Prosperity also derives from research results, from further development, from creativity and from innovation. I see very, very good possibilities for close German-Israeli cooperation in the development of new technologies. German-Israeli Innovation Days have taken place for the first time with the participation of our Economics Ministers. Newly-established contacts between companies can lead to new partnerships with technological skills and bring economic success. Turning basic research into applied research and practical products is a chain we need to keep an eye on. Let me mention just a few of our respective strengths: Israel is good on biotechnology, information and communications technologies, and Germany is strong on energy and environmental technologies.

Tel Aviv University has very close links with Germany through numerous partnerships and cooperation projects. For instance, the Marcel Reich-Ranicki Chair in German Literature was established in 2007. I should like to take this opportunity to extend my warmest thanks to the German Friends of Tel Aviv University, who sponsored the Chair. This Chair testifies to the amazing wealth of Jewish art and literature.

Which brings me to another area of our relations which is becoming ever more important: cultural exchange. A growing number of young scholarship-holders, students, scientists and artists are bringing us closer together in this field too. A diverse cultural scene has grown up between Berlin and Tel Aviv. There are especially close ties between the art and music scenes in the two cities.

I am very happy that the number of Israeli tourists to Berlin has constantly risen over the past few years. This was confirmed by German airlines in a meeting we had with business representatives this morning. However, it would be wrong to think the traffic was all going in one direction, because the number of German visitors to Israel has almost doubled since 2006. And Tel Aviv is an extremely attractive place. Of course the Jewish community in Germany in particular has close ties with Israel. There are always people crossing the Mediterranean to visit families and friends.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr President, if we consider all these developments then we see that German-Israeli relations include much more than just the Middle East peace process. Though it is clear that that subject is often the focus of our attention. But it is very, very important to me – and this is one reason why I am so particularly grateful to have been awarded this honorary doctorate – that you also lay the focus firmly on the broad exchange between Germany and Israel in all fields.

German-Israeli relations are much more, because they are based on shared values and interests. We are partners above all in shaping globalization, to fit in with our shared values. Our relations are lively; there are many different initiatives. The combination of Germany’s historical responsibility and the vitality of our ties today make the German-Israeli relationship unique.

And so what I want to say to you is this: in accepting this honorary doctorate I voice both a hope and a pledge.

The hope that relations between our two countries may remain steadfast and be even further consolidated. I will do my part to ensure this. And I would also like to thank all those who do their part, day in day out, towards this end.

And I voice the pledge that this will be done in constant awareness of Germany’s eternal responsibility for the horrors of the past, because we are convinced that this is the only basis from which we can shape the future well.

Thank you very much once again for the honour you do me. It will greatly strengthen my interest in Tel Aviv University and in your successes. It was very interesting to learn just now from Professor Klafter that we are mentioned together in a place one would never have expected. You see, I also have an honorary doctorate from Wrocław University. And so does Professor Klafter. So we are now really part of a triangle.

Thank you very much, and my best wishes to you all.