New center for European-Israeli relations in Potsdam
Last night, AJC’s Deidre Berger was present when Matthias Doepfner, CEO of Axel Springer Publishing House, opened an exciting new center for European-Israeli relations in Potsdam in the beautifully renovated Villa Schöningen, once owned by a Jewish banker before the Nazis seized power. He announced that the center will regularly sponsor high-level political discussions and cultural events to improve European-Israeli understanding.
At the opening event, moderated by Matthias Doepfner, German-born EU Parliament President Martin Schulz spoke about his upbringing by parents who were both in resistance to the Nazis. He emphasized the importance of all EU member states fighting anti-Semitism. In this regard, he said that we should not underestimate the problem of refugees coming from countries with an anti-Semitic climate. He underlined the importance of underlining to the refugees that anti-Semitism has no place in Germany. He defended his much criticized speech at the Israeli Knesseth in 2014, explaining that his comments about the water situation between Israel and the Palestinians was referring to someone else’s comment. He stressed his own close feelings to Israel. Regarding the new EU labelling directive, he said he opposed this regulation because it is a political and not an administrative issue. Those most affected, he said, are Palestinian workers.
Knesseth President Yuli Edelstein said it is easy for European leaders to denounce anti-Semitism but they often don’t see a problem denouncing Israel, overlooking the link between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. He noted that Israel has been balancing democracy and the fight against terrorism for 67 years, pointing out that it will take time in Europe to find the right balance. This could create more empathy for Israel’s security needs, he said, arguing for greater understanding. For instance, when Israel is pressured to give up the Golan Heights, he asked to which terrorist entity it should be returned. He asked Europe to become more active encouraging democracy in the Mideast. He said he doesn’t want to hear anymore that Israel is the region’s only democracy and hopes that the situation will not remain so but that other democratic neighboring states will emerge. As a successful immigrant to Israel from Ukraine, Yuli Edelstein said Israel has experience on immigration it can gladly share with Germany and Europe.
Despite differing perspectives on the same issues, the dialogue was friendly and engaged. Good luck to Villa Schöningen with its exciting new European-Israeli dialogue program!