"We must keep democracy alive"

February 1, 2013

The petite, delicately-framed woman knows them all – the influential and the important: Deidre Berger has been the head of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office for 15 years. A portrait.

In moments like these, Deidre Berger beams even more than usual: when members of the German parliament, journalists and scientists acknowledge her arguments, when Angela Merkel quotes from an American Jewish Committee brochure during a speech. She then has the feeling that the many phone calls, debates and roundtable discussions, the salon conversations, background reports and research have made a difference. A few more people have come to understand why the political situation in the Middle East is so complex, why Jews are hurt when they are collectively condemned for the policies of the Israeli government, and why it is worth fighting for democracy.

Deidre Berger is the director of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee, a US lobbying organization established more than a hundred years ago. This Friday the AJC is celebrating the 15th anniversary of its Berlin office. To mark the occasion, Deidre Berger invited 300 prominent guests to the Hotel Adlon, the welcoming speech was made by Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (FDP).

The petite, delicately-framed woman knows them all –the influential and the important, and all they know her. She is well informed and networked, diplomatically skilled and charming to boot. And who can resist her energy for making things happen?

Deidre Berger grew up in Missouri. She is the eldest daughter in her family and studied at a women’s university, an experience that boosts self-confidence and the courage to have an independent opinion. In the 1970s she actively campaigned for more democratic rights, for diversity, for freedom of expression. "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country," said John F. Kennedy. Deidre Berger lives according to this motto. After graduation, she worked as a journalist and in 1984 she came to Germany as a correspondent.

She experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall first hand and all the twists and turns of Germany’s process of reconciliation with its difficult past. "People have become much more sensitive about this," she says. Which is why she was especially surprised at how bitter the debate on circumcision became, how much hate surfaced along with ancient prejudices against the Jewish community. She collected information in order to be able to clarify and explain the issue, she did research and made arguments. Anti-Semitism, she says, has always existed, sometimes more, sometimes less. But when Diedre Berger says this, it does not sound the least bit resigned.

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