President Reuven Rivlin warned Monday that the international community needed to be deliberate in combating the upsurge in racism and anti-Semitism in Europe, as he arrived in Berlin to mark the 50th anniversary of Israeli-German diplomatic relations.
After laying a wreath at the memorial for the 55,000 Jews who were transported to Nazi concentration camps from the capital’s infamous Platform 17 train station, the president said that “apathy, indifference or denial,” was not enough to counter dangerous ideologies.
“Seventy years have passed since the last transport left Platform 17; yet once again, fascist and neo-Nazi movements are growing stronger and stronger on European soil,” the president said.
The Third Reich, Rivlin said, was not created overnight, but was the result of years of underlying racism that went largely unopposed by German citizens.
“Anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and frustration grew like a cancer under the surface for many years. This poisoned soil was the foundation, on which the Nazi monster acted unchallenged,” he said.
Rivlin emphasized the international community’s obligation to be alert and decisive in countering the rising popularity of racist movements.
“We must remember, democracy alone does not make us immune to nationalism and fascism. No nation is immune to anti-Semitism. No nation is immune to extremism or fundamentalism,” the president said at the memorial.
“Today we stand here and give testimony, not only to the dark lessons of the past, but of the bright promise of our shared future. Today, we look at the world around us, and we see again the rise of anti-Semitism, and racism. It is our duty together, as Israelis, as Germans, as democracies, to stand up to these terrible evils.”
At an official state dinner hosted by German President Joachim Gauck, the German leader acknowledged that there was “great concern at the rise in anti-Jewish violence.”
“Also in Germany, we heard in the last year evil, anti-Semitic chants, during demonstrations against Israel’s policies and military actions in Gaza. The overwhelming majority of Germans were shocked and ashamed of this. Regardless of from where the evil of anti-Semitism arises – from the far Right or far Left, from veteran citizens or immigrants – it will not be tolerated in our country. We will not allow fanaticism to poison our political climate, or engulf us in fear,” Gauck said.
Earlier on Monday, Rivlin was welcomed by Gauck at the official residence where the two were greeted by Israeli and German school children waving flags of both countries.
The two presidents also met to discuss the importance of bilateral relations between the two allies and unveiled a jubilee postal stamp marking the occasion.
Praising the last 50 years of diplomacy and cooperation, Rivlin emphasized that the close relationship between Israel and Germany was due to shared values of democracy and freedom, and was not compensation for the Holocaust.
Gauck echoed Rivlin’s sentiments and thanked Israeli officials for putting trust in the German government only 20 years after the Holocaust. “We are connected, not only by the horrendous crimes of the past, but by the values in which we both believe,” he said.
Rivlin will meet Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Tuesday.
Meanwhile in Israel, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen hailed Israel as Germany’s “great friend” in the Middle East, in a press conference marking the jubilee anniversary.
The German minister said that “there is no other country in the world that we share security relations with as Germany shares with Israel.”
Leyen also praised the military cooperation between the IDF and the German military, and assured her Israeli counterpart Moshe Ya’alon that Berlin was committed to defending Israel’s security.
“We are trying to strengthen the fragile region through UNIFIL, to prevent arms from reaching Lebanon, out of concern for Israel’s security.
“We have different opinions regarding the Iran nuclear deal, but it’s clear that the deal will enhance Israel’s security. We have full confidence in Israel and Germany,” she said.
During the press conference, Ya’alon told Leyen that Iran was behind a recent attempt by militants to plant explosives on the Israeli-Syrian border, and said that Tehran was attempting to open a front against Israel in the Golan Heights.
Leyen’s remarks come several hours after Israel agreed to purchase four warships from Germany to protect its offshore natural-gas drilling platforms, in a €430 million ($480 million) deal.