David Harris Interview in Berlin


Der Taggespiegel
David Harris
June 30, 2014


1. Mr. Harris, recently there has been heavy fighting on the border between Syria and Israel. Islamists are on the march in Iraq. Iran and Jordan have put their armies on the alert. What consequences do the conflicts in the region hold for the Jewish State?

These conflicts are graphic reminders of several key points. First, as AJC has long said, those who believe the Israeli-Arab conflict is the real key to understanding the Middle East are wrong. The Sunni-Shiite divide, for example, is an overarching factor. So, too, for that matter, are the democracy, gender, and knowledge deficits that the UN-sponsored Arab Human Development Report has been citing for years in the Arab world. Second, for Europe, it should serve as a reminder that there is one reliable, steadfast, and like-minded democracy in the Middle East, Israel, and that's something to be valued and never taken for granted. And third, it is a stark lesson about Israel's real-life neighborhood, especially for those who tend to ignore or minimize the threats on and near Israel's borders. Syria shares a border with Israel. So does Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon. And all that divides Israel from Iraq is Jordan. No one today can safely predict what the region will look like, say, 12 months from now, a fact Israel must take into account in assessing its geopolitical situation and security needs.

2. This week you are holding talks with representatives from the Federal Government. What can Germany do for the security of Israel?

Germany has already done a lot for Israel's security and will, we trust, continue to do more. As the most powerful country in Europe, Germany has an essential role to play in the life of Israel, both from the perspective of bilateral relations and ties between the European Union and Israel. Moreover, as a member of the P5+1 group negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, Germany is a key player on an issue of existential importance to Israel (and not only Israel, I would add, but the Arab world and southeastern Europe). After all, Iran has called for a world without Israel and is a leading supporter of Hezbollah and Hamas, both terrorist groups committed to Israel's total destruction.

3. There is disgruntlement between Berlin and Jerusalem: Germany no longer wants to give Israel a discount when purchasing Warships. Is the Federal Republic abandoning its Reason of State, according to which the security of Israel is a reason of state?

No, I don't believe that Germany is abandoning this cornerstone of its foreign policy. We shouldn't confuse daily policy differences with fundamental policy shifts. What we're seeing is the former, not the latter. By the way, it happens between many close allies. Look at Germany and the U.S. and the challenges to their relationship over the past year. Yes, those challenges are significant, but no, they do not call into question the underlying -- and enduring -- national interests in both countries to maintain essential partnerships. So, too, with Germany and Israel.

4. The German and Israeli governments also do not see eye to eye on other issues, for example the building of settlements. How resilient is the relationship?

It's no secret that settlements have been a sore point in the relationship. But does that call into question Germany's understanding of the sustained need for a Jewish state, or Germany's recognition that Israel continues to face extraordinary security threats in a turbulent region, or Germany's enduring historical responsibility for the well-being of Israel? No, not for a single moment, I believe. There is so much to the mutually beneficial relationship between Berlin and Jerusalem -- it's both wide and deep -- and there's still much room for further growth.

5. In the coming year there will be many events to commemorate 50 years since the start of diplomatic relations between the two countries. What is there to celebrate?

A great deal. For starters, this has been a unique relationship, one unlike any other in the world. So much has happened between the two countries, and societies, in the past 50 years that it could fill entire books, and not just newspaper columns. It's a testament, above all, to the vision and courage of two great leaders -- David Ben-Gurion and Konrad Adenauer. And it's proof that, as the expression goes, "It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." These past 50 years have generated a lot of light, hope, and promise against the backdrop of the most horrific crime in human history -- the organized, industrialized, and unparalleled machinery of genocide known as the Nazi Final Solution.

6. There has been some turbulence in transatlantic relations. You and AJC are known as long-time transatlanticists. Do you believe the relationship can be sustained?

Not only do I believe it can, but I believe it must be sustained. Our world is becoming more, not less, turbulent. There are ominous clouds on the horizon. Perceived or real vacuums in power are being filled by irresponsible state and non-state actors, creating new waves of violence, extremism, and suppression of human rights. The greatest hope for our world is the united and sustained alliance of democratic nations, led by Europe and the U.S. Together, they represent not only a core of common interests, but also of common values -- protection of human dignity, peaceful conflict resolution, rule of law, and respect for minorities. AJC will continue to be a loud and clear voice in stressing these points, as we believe the very future of our world depends on a robust and determined transatlantic partnership.

7. What else is at the top of your agenda as you conduct your meetings in Berlin?

We are deeply concerned about what U.S. President Barack Obama has called the "rising tide of anti-Semitism" in Europe -- and the high tide of anti-Semitism in the neighboring Middle East. Most recently, the murder of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May underscores the danger. Let's remember the suspect in custody easily crossed borders in Europe, was radicalized in French prisons, and traveled to Syria for training, combat and, the burnishing of his jihadist credentials. Meanwhile, the new European Parliament will have openly anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi, and xenophobic members. We count on Germany, which knows all too well the slippery slope of anti-Semitism, to be the leader in Europe in combating these phenomena, both in word and deed. And let me stress -- anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem alone. It may begin with Jews, but it never ends there. As history has amply shown, its ultimate target is to undermine the very essence of societies built on democracy and mutual respect.