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Steinmeier: ‘Let us us talk to each other about the challenges to democracy honestly’

Referring to last month’s diplomatic spat between his country and Israel over a meeting between the German foreign minister and Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier says that he wants “to discuss our difficult questions with as many different groups in your country as possible.”

“Preserving the miracle that is this friendship is an unshakable task incumbent on us Germans. It was therefore clear to me that my first trip outside Europe as federal president would take me here to Israel. The events of the past two weeks have done nothing to change this – on the contrary, these discussions have strengthened my resolve to talk about democracy here in Israel,” Steinmeier told and audience at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Last month, Netanyahu canceled a planned meeting with German Foreign Minsiter Sigmar Gabriel after the latter refused to cancel a sit-down with Breaking the Silence, an NGO that collects anonymous testimonies from IDF soldiers on alleged human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Gabriel also met with B’Tselem, another group that deals with human rights issues and campaigns against Israeli settlement building.

This combination of pictures created on April 25, 2017 shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) attending a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on March 16, 2017 and German Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel during a joint press conference on April 5, 2017 at the EU headquarters in Brussels. (Amir Cohen and John Thys/AFP)
This combination of pictures created on April 25, 2017 shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) attending a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on March 16, 2017 and German Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel during a joint press conference on April 5, 2017 at the EU headquarters in Brussels. (Amir Cohen and John Thys/AFP)

“Democracy has never been a matter of course in either of our two countries, and it has neither reached a state of perfection nor is it guaranteed for all time today. It is precisely because Germany and Israel achieved democracy in such different ways that we Germans express such admiration for the path of Israeli democracy,” Steinmeier says.

“Because we Germans know and admire the diversity of democracy in Israel, we want to discuss our difficult questions with as many different groups in your country as possible, so as to get to know as many different viewpoints as possible – as we have done over decades in good faith. A word of advice to us all: let us talk to each other about the challenges to democracy honestly and without taboos. My experience from many years working in all fields of politics – not only foreign policy – is this: taboos do not help you to understand, and they do not create understanding,” he adds.

— with Raphael Ahren

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