Following is the text of the speech delivered by Prime Minister Ehud Barak on
Wednesday, 16.2.2000, to the Knesset at a special plenum session in honor of
Federal Republic of Germany President Dr. Johannes Rau:
" We are very happy to host here today Dr.
Johannes Rau, on his first official visit to Israel in his capacity as President
of the Federal Republic of Germany. This is the first official visit by a
President of Germany in 15 years, but the 33rd visit by Dr. Rau himself - and
these are only his official visits to Israel.
These many visits are evidence not only of our personal relations with Dr. Rau,
which began long before he became President of the Federal Republic. They are
also evidence of the good relations that have developed between our nations and
These days we are investing great efforts to advance the peace process in the
region, a process that is intended to give Israel a secure future, a future for
the Middle East and an end to more than a century of hatred and violence between
us and our neighbors.
These 100 years have seen both the founding and consolidation of our sovereignty
in the Land of Israel along with continuous hatred and loss of life, pain and
bitterness on both sides. Even at this time - our hearts are with the
bereaved families who are mourning their dear ones, the soldiers who have fallen
in Lebanon. Our thoughts accompany the families of the wounded and we are
united in prayer for their full recovery.
At this moment of grief and introspection, it is sometimes hard to see how it
may be possible to extend a hand to each other and bridge the chasm of hatred
and pain that separates us from our neighbors. But these are the moments
that test the national leadership which must rise above the immediate [issues]
and see ahead to a different future and head there - with courage and
determination. These are moments that test the entire nation.
David Ben-Gurion foresaw this. He believed, against all the doubters, that
it was possible to overcome the threats of the past, while remembering the pain,
and to march forward for the good of the State of Israel, for its strength and
prosperity; the relationship developed between the State of Israel and the new
Germany of Adenauer and his successors is proof of how right he was.
On 10 September 1952, when the first agreement was signed between
representatives of the two countries, no-one could foresee how our relationship
would develop. No- one then would have dared to expect that they would
develop into genuine friendship - not only a wonderful friendship, but more than
a little astonishing, given the terrible background upon which they are based.
Israeli-German relations - which we have always described as "special" - can be
used as an example of the way to overcome the past while not forgetting for a
moment what can never be forgotten.
The Germany of today is one of Israel's most important friends in Europe, a
country that has stood by us again and again in the diplomatic and international
arena. It has helped us with the construction of the submarines and aided
us during the Gulf crises. It also helped us in the formulation of the Essen
Declaration regarding Israel's place in the European area by granting us a
The commitment to the security of Israel has been defined as the guiding
principle of the government of Germany for all these years, with Germany
considering it her moral responsibility to strengthen the State of Israel, its
security and prosperity.
This concern for the security of the State of Israel - the Jewish state founded
on the ruins of the Holocaust - is one of the ways Germany realizes its brave
decision to confront its past and accept the responsibility for the crimes of
This is a complex process. Since its beginning in the early 1960s, Germany has
been undergoing an unceasing and often stormy and always searing soul-searching.
But there can be no doubt that this process has not only strengthened German
democracy and returned Germany to the family of nations as a free society, open,
pluralistic and humane.
Even though neo-Nazi incidents have not disappeared from the German scene,
German society has shown how to deal with them these past years, to isolate
them, to fight them and ultimately defeat them. This is proof that Germany is
indeed not prepared to repeat the mistakes of the past and is not prepared to
sweep the past under the rug.
This process continues today. Less than a month ago, on 27 January, Memorial Day
for the Victims of the Nazi Regime in Germany, the cornerstone for the Holocaust
Memorial was dedicated - a great enterprise of remembrance for European Jewry
who died in the extermination camps of the Third Reich.
A day earlier, 26 January, the German government approved the draft legislation
that will be the legal basis for the establishment of a restitution fund bearing
the symbolic name "Remembrance, Responsibility, Future" and whose aims are to
deepen the education of tolerance and to fight racism and anti-Semitism.
Israel will be pleased to cooperate with the government of Germany on the
activities of this fund, in the hope of making it into an effective tool to
isolate all expression of Holocaust denial in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
The establishment of a new coalition government in Austria with the
participation of the party of Jöerg Haider proves how much remains to be done
even now. Israel considers the organizing of a worldwide effort to fight
the phenomenon of neo-Nazism, racism and xenophobia to be of supreme importance.
We are glad to see Germany - together with the countries of the European Union -
openly and aggressively joining the fight against the embarrassing vision coming
out of Vienna.
In Austria today, there are groups trying to calm the international community by
saying that Haider will yet change. "There were slips-of-the-tongue," they
say, "He will learn to restrain himself." These attempts to calm are very
worrying because they are evidence that even in the other Austria, the sane
Austria - too many refuse to understand what has so shocked world public
It is not Haider's slips-of-the-tongue that shock us - but his opinions, his
real opinions - racist, anti-democratic - which Jöerg Haider may now try to
restrain and not give them public expression. Haider and his cohorts - and
maybe his coalition partners in Austria as well - hope that the wave of protest
across the world will soon ebb and wane.
Israel, Germany and the other countries of the world that have so far stood
together determinedly against this embarrassing vision must continue to
coordinate their steps to convince the Austrians that Europe and the enlightened
world do not intend to let the entrance of a neo-Nazi party into any government
be dropped from the agenda.
The central lesson of the Holocaust was again raised at the International Forum
held in Stockholm last month. It is that the Holocaust could recur even in
the heart of what has been called, or is thought to be, a cultured world.
The inescapable conclusion is that enlightened society, a society that protects
human rights because they are human, is not self-evident, but must be fought
for, protected and guarded at all times.
In your welcome to the diplomatic staff in Germany on the eve of the millennium,
you, Mr. President, interpreted your perspective on "the ideal of
good-neighborliness as a model for future foreign relations." The mistake may be
mine, but it seems that not only the politician and diplomat Rau wrote the this
almost evangelical welcome - but so did the theologian Dr. Johannes Rau, a man
of the church who wants to turn a world from a place where human beings are
wolves to human beings into a place where neighbors live in peace with each
other, where human beings are human beings to each other.
And neighbors - it is pointless to remind those who forget - are not people whom
you chose to live beside, but people amongst whom you live, whether you like it
or not. We are now trying to realize this idealization of good
neighborliness here, in the Middle East, through the peace process.
Germany is one of the enthusiastic supporters of the Middle East peace process
and we thank it for its willingness to help advance the peace process by all
Israel is committed to the peace process and is doing, and will do, everything
necessary to advance it simultaneously on both tracks: On the Palestinian track,
to determine the permanent settlement between us and the Palestinians; and on
the Syrian track, which is supposed to bring about the signing of a peace treaty
between us and Syria, as well as between us and Lebanon. We have no
illusions. Both tracks are full of obstacles, sown with difficulties and
crises, but we will make progress on them with determination and courage - while
jealously guarding Israel's vital interests and protecting the security of its
residents - and we will do this for as long as we find partners for genuine
dialogue on the other side of the table. The difficulties we are meeting
today are, naturally, not surprising. Some of them are the fruit of an
intentional effort by the enemies of peace - but the even greater part of them
are the fruit of the bitter feelings which have accumulated in the hearts of
both sides during the long decades of hatred that have existed between us and
It is not easy to overcome the traumas of the past, but if the President of
Germany can be received by the Knesset in the year 2000 as an old and dear
friend, as an ally, then there are no difficulties and obstacles in the present
that can stand in the way of worthy intentions and the determination of leaders
who know how to lead to a better, safer and freer future for the children of
Israel and the children of the entire region. This is the primary moral
responsibility of leadership, it is our obligation. And with the entire nation -
we will do it."
Comm. by the PM's Media
Office to haGalil onLine