Israeli president in Germany to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations


BERLIN (JTA) — A state visit to Germany by Israel’s president marking 50 years of diplomatic relations has highlighted the countries’ deep ties and political differences.

After discussing with German President Joachim Gauck issues such as the threat of a nuclear Iran and the state of talks with Palestinian leaders, President Reuven Rivlin said that “friends can sometimes agree to disagree.”

Rivlin arrived in Berlin on Monday with his wife, Nechama, and they were received at Schloss Bellevue, the presidential residence, where the two presidents also discussed the importance of strengthening their nations’ ties.

Israeli flags are flying at the Reichstag during the three-day visit, which includes Tuesday’s visit with Chancellor Angela Merkel and a gala ceremony at Berlin’s Philharmonic. To mark the 50th anniversary, Tuesday’s edition of Bild Zeitung, Germany’s most-read daily newspaper, featured a front page in Hebrew.

On Monday, Rivlin walked with Berlin Mayor Michael Muller through Brandenburg Gate and met with a group of 300 Israelis and Germans aged 18 to 30 who had taken part in partnership projects in the arts and culture field. Security was visibly high in the German capital, with uniformed police patrolling in greater numbers.

Gauck said he and Rivlin talked about “aspects of policy where Germans and Israelis still differ,” including their assessments of the threat from Iran. The German president reiterated his country’s support for a two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but added that he took seriously the concerns of Israelis, especially when “coming from an independent person such as President Rivlin.”

For his part, Rivlin said he was convinced that their differences were those of friends who know the other is sincere in wanting to bring about peace. He also said that the strong relationship between Germany and Israel had gone well beyond “reparations” for the Holocaust — a point he reiterated when speaking to the young adults in the afternoon.

According to a statement from Rivlin’s office, the Israeli president said that the strong connection between the two countries “was made possible by Germany taking responsibility for the crimes of the past. … And so we made a decision that our relationship would never be compensation for that dark history, but that its lessons would guide us to a better future.”

On Wednesday, Rivlin is scheduled to visit with political leaders in Kiel, as well as the submarine manufacturer ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, which is to deliver Israel’s fifth of six Dolphin class submarines this year.

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