FRANKFURT, GERMANY | In case you missed it, the first-ever German-Israeli Friendship Day was launched this past April in Frankfurt. Of course, many “Israel Days” have been celebrated in cities throughout Germany. These celebrations are the brainchild of a non-governmental group called the Germany-Israel Friendship Organization. So the announcement that Frankfurt’s city government will, from now, on hold an official and annual German-Israeli friendship day, which will be held for the first time this year in June, is a novelty. The hope is that more German cities will follow suit.
Deputy Mayor and City Treasurer Uwe Becker, who initiated the friendship day, said that that many Jewish and non-Jewish people believe that a shared commitment to the memory of the Holocaust and to Israel’s right to exist has formed what he claims to be a “true friendship” between Germany and Israel.
“My idea was that Frankfurt,” Becker said in an interview he gave to Wilson Ruiz of JN1, has a very deep relationship with Tel Aviv over more than 30 years and it was my idea how we could strengthen the friendship, the friendship towards the city of Tel Aviv, but also towards the State of Israel and to express as a city officially solidarity with the State of Israel with the people, with the citizens of his great country.”
Other organizations have followed suit. Claudia Korenke of the German-Israeli Association, said, “Well, you certainly know that Israel has less and less friends in Germany so whoever and wherever somebody is openly describing and actively committed to Israel we have to be part of it.”
Peter Feldmann, the first German Jew to be elected mayor of Frankfurt since the Holocaust, is a strong advocate of Israel’s security and a firm supporter of Frankfurt-Tel Aviv partner city relations. That fact may have helped the introduction of this friendship day in that city. But it is also true that Germany has of late been openly reaffirming its support for Israel. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has reaffirmed Berlin’s support for the Israeli regime in what he calls “challenging times.” During a recent meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in al-Quds (Jerusalem), Westerwelle said, “I want to underline that in these challenging times, Germany stands alongside its Israeli partners.”
The German foreign minister, calling his host a “dear friend,” specifically used the word “friendship.” “I’m using the word friendship, which is from our understanding more than a partnership,” Westerwelle said. “This is not only a strategic alliance; this is a friendship between societies, between peoples, and between governments.”
In December 2012, despite recent differences between Germany and Israel over settlement construction plans on the West Bank, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also pledged friendship in Berlin. They have, said the chancellor, agreed to disagree. She praised the two countries’ collaboration when it comes to education and research. She extolled Israel as being the only democracy in the Middle East. The message was clear: The German-Israeli relationship is so solid that occasional differences of opinion are not a threat.
According to a 2013 BBC World Service Poll, only 8% of Germans view Israel’s influence positively, with 67% expressing a negative view, a more unfavorable rating than both Russia and China.
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