North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, on Sunday opened a trade and innovation office in Tel Aviv, the first of its kind.
The new Office of Economy, Science, Education, Youth and Culture in Israel was inaugurated by the state’s minister-president, Armin Laschet, who is currently visiting Israel.
Laschet is one of three contenders to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as chair of Germany’s ruling center-right CDU party. As opposed to one of his rivals for the post, Norbert Röttgen, who has been critical of Israeli policies, Laschet is known as a staunch supporter of the Jewish state.
Currently the deputy chair, Laschet is considered the leading candidate for the CDU leadership contest, which will be decided by a special party convention in Berlin on April 25.
Located at the Be All co-working space on Arlozoroff Street, the office is the first ever venture of that type. While North Rhine-Westphalia does not have any similar offices anywhere in the world, a number of federal states in Germany, the US, and elsewhere have agreements and offices dedicated to expanding ties with Israel.
“Our state’s office in Tel Aviv is another milestone in the relations between North Rhine-Westphalia and Israel. In no other country does our state have an office with such a comprehensive mission,” Laschet said.
The office, headed by Gil Yaron, a former Israel correspondent for the German daily, Die Welt, will operate in coordination with the Foreign Office in Berlin and the German embassy in Tel Aviv.
“Our office in Israel will bring the cooperation between our two states to a new level. We want to further strengthen the exchange and the meetings between universities and municipal, cultural and educational institutions and civil service groups,” said Laschet. “That’s a sign of our appreciation to our friends in Israel.”
Earlier on Sunday, Laschet visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center and the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and met with President Reuven Rivlin, who said that the opening of an economic office in Tel Aviv “further strengthens the relationship between the business sectors of both countries and both peoples.”
During the meeting, Laschet referred to the increasing popularity of extremist parties in Germany. “We have just come from Yad Vashem where we saw evidence of the greatest crimes against humanity. It still affects us,” he told Rivlin. “The rise of the far right in Germany fills me with shame, just 75 years after Auschwitz.”
Meeting with Minister-President @ArminLaschet of @landnrw this morning on his visit to Israel. I thanked him for Germany's commitment to fight antisemitism and hatred, and for Nordrhein-Westfalen opening an economic office in #Israel to strengthen our business links pic.twitter.com/w9bl3ETWcN
— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) March 1, 2020
Laschet, 59, also met with the great-grandchildren of Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion and Germany’s first postwar chancellor Konrad Adenauer, to mark the 60th anniversary of their first meeting. On March 14, 1960, the two leaders, who were responsible for their countries’ establishment of diplomatic relations five years later, met in New York for the first time.
“This meeting 60 years ago was a great political achievement of these two statesmen,” Laschet said. “They laid the foundation for a friendship between Israel and Germany that began with the most difficult of conditions and continues until today, without any conditions.”
Located in northwest Germany bordering The Netherlands, North Rhine-Westphalia has a population of about 18 million and is considered the country’s economic center.
Israeli trade with the state, which is home to Cologne, Bonn, and Dusseldorf, is about 800 million euros a year, Laschet’s office said in a press release. Some 120 Israeli businesses are located in North Rhine-Westphalia. Twenty-eight cities in the state have partnerships with Israeli municipalities.