Edelstein: The focus is on exchanging views

He hadn’t wanted to come here, not ever. Not to Germany, not to Berlin, not to this city from which National Socialism ate away at the world like a cancer and the madness of the Holocaust took its fateful course.

Yet now he was here. Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, 57 years old, the child of Holocaust survivors, a Likud politician and Speaker of the Israeli Knesset. Why, then, had he come here after all? “Because it’s right,” Edelstein said, succinctly and with conviction. And because he wanted to play his part in further cementing, particularly at parliamentary level, the diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel, which were established 50 years ago this year. That was why the Knesset Presidium travelled to Berlin for its second joint meeting with the Presidium of the Bundestag this year, as Edelstein explained to German and Israeli journalists on the eve of the meeting.

The relations between the two countries have developed promisingly over the past half century. But they are still of a special nature, certainly a challenge, and not normal by any means. Then again, in view of the Shoah, which after 70 years has lost none of its horror and never will, what constitutes normality?

EU rule “not necessary or wise”

On the morning of Wednesday, 2 December 2015, Edelstein appeared in front of the press in the Reichstag Building with the President of the Bundestag, Professor Norbert Lammert. The joint meeting of the two Presidiums had just ended. The agenda had included a discussion on the current situation in the Middle East, and on the peace prospects for the region. The controversial issue of labelling products from Israeli settlements was also discussed at the meeting.

Lammert was critical of this EU rule: “It is not necessary or wise, but it has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.” He said that he could well understand the Israeli irritation after a Berlin department store removed products from its range which had not been labelled as “settlement products”. The products were only returned to the shelves following vehement protests by Israel.

Annual parliamentary meeting

It was agreed at the joint meeting of the Presidiums that an annual parliamentary meeting about important and topical issues would be held in future. The next meeting will take place in May 2016. According to Knesset Speaker Edelstein, the focus is less on agreeing on common positions than exchanging views. Edelstein said, “I look forward to our future cooperation with great hope.”

Hope – which, despite occasional differences of opinion, has not been dashed in the past 50 years – was also at the heart of a political keynote speech that Edelstein gave to members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Defence Committee on 2 December.

“Global cultural and religious war”

He described German-Israeli relations as “a shining example of the fact that even a deep ravine between two nations can be overcome”. And the Speaker of the Knesset offered a reminder that the world is engaged in a global cultural and religious war; “Islamic State” (IS) is threatening to impose Muslim rule on western democracy, he said.

Prior to this, Lammert recalled the historic anniversaries that have taken place over the past year: the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the 50th anniversary of the establishment of German-Israeli relations and the 25th anniversary of German reunification. None of these events should be seen in isolation, he said. That is why the relationship between Germany and Israel will “always be characterised by our consciousness of a past without parallel” and is thus “one of history’s rare gifts”, the President of the Bundestag said.

Exhibition featuring works by Israeli artists

Following the discussion, as a sign of the close ties between the two countries, Lammert and Edelstein opened an exhibition in the Reichstag Building featuring works by Israeli artists from the German Bundestag’s collection. The title of the exhibition is: “No distant land – Israeli artists in the German Bundestag”.

The parliamentary Art Council has marked the anniversary of the establishment of German-Israeli relations by purchasing works by Israeli artists for the Bundestag’s collection, which are now on display on the building’s plenary level.

Wreath-laying at the Track 17 memorial

On Tuesday, 1 December, Lammert and the Israeli delegation laid a wreath at the Track 17 memorial at Grunewald station in Berlin. The memorial is a reminder of the systematic deportation of Berlin’s Jews and their murder in the Nazi concentration camps.

The first meeting of the German and Israeli parliamentarians this year took place in Jerusalem in June. During that visit, following introductory remarks in Hebrew, Lammert delivered a widely noted speech to the Knesset in German, i.e. the language which, for many older Jewish people in particular, is still the language of the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

“One of history’s miracles”

In this speech, Lammert lauded the development of the relations between the two countries as “one of history’s miracles”. In reference to the Palestinian conflict, however, he also suggested that, with similar good will, other problems could undoubtedly also be resolved.

During the Israeli delegation’s three-day visit to Berlin, which ended on Thursday, 3 December, the Knesset parliamentarians were also received by Federal President Joachim Gauck and Federal Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel (CDU). This honour is not a matter of course and represents an exceptional gesture of hospitality. For the relations between Israel and Germany are not normal; they are very special. And especially precious.