German-Israeli relations: New youth work planned

Family Minister Paus signs an agreement on this in Israel. Chancellor Scholz reaffirms the fight against anti-Semitism.

Two women hold documents for the camera, the Israeli flag on the left

Lisa Paus signing the joint declaration with her Israeli counterpart Photo: Elad Malka

JERUSALEM/BERLIN taz | Your first trip abroad leads Lisa Paus to Israel. "That is definitely a statement," said the Green Federal Minister for Family Affairs, whose department also includes the fight against discrimination and anti-Semitism. Paus had the text for a declaration on a joint youth work of Germany and Israel with him. She signed the declaration together with the Israeli Minister of Education, Yifat Shasha-Biton, on Sunday evening in Jerusalem.

On Monday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Israeli Prime Minister Jair Lapid followed suit in Berlin. The goal: The founding of the youth organization and thus the intensification of youth exchanges between the two countries. This plan has a long history, maybe it is more important than ever and it is far from being implemented.

Israel is a close friend and partner, Scholz reiterated in Berlin on Monday. Lapid also emphasized the importance of the declaration of intent for such a youth work. In the afternoon, Scholz and the Israeli Prime Minister visited the House of the Wannsee Conference. A meeting was held there with Holocaust survivors who had traveled from Israel with Lapid. Such a meeting on German soil is "a moment of great victory for them," said Lapid, who is himself a descendant of Holocaust survivors.

Scholz assured Lapid that the fight against anti-Semitism was the most important task. "The Shoah must never be put into perspective," said the Chancellor. Anti-Semitic statements are not allowed to get away with anyone. Scholz also expressed himself in connection with a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Berlin in August. Abbas had caused massive criticism with statements relating to the Holocaust. Scholz had been accused of not reacting quickly and vehemently enough after the press conference. However, Lapid praised the Chancellor's subsequent reaction: It was obvious that Scholz had been surprised by the statements.

New German-Israeli initiative to promote exchange

So now a joint youth work further strengthen relations between the two countries. The idea: Especially in countries that are separated and connected by a common history, encounters between young people should ensure that there is a common future in mutual respect and understanding. The Franco-German youth organization founded in 1963 has a particularly long tradition with up to 200,000 youth encounters a year.

According to the Ministry for Family Affairs, up to 120,000 German and Polish young people come together every year with the help of the German-Polish youth organization founded in 1991. A German-Greek youth organization was also founded in 2021. There has also been an organized exchange between Germany and Israel for some time. But the numbers are comparatively low: around 6,000 young people visit one or the other country every year as part of encounters between sports, music, cultural clubs or voluntary services. There are also training courses and visits by professionals who work with young people.

In 2018, a German family minister tried to intensify this cooperation. At that time, too, Franziska Giffey (SPD) and the Israeli Minister of Education at the time, Naftali Bennett, declared their intention to set up a German-Israeli youth organization. The then German Chancellor and the Israeli President also signed a corresponding declaration. But in the government turmoil in Israel - currently the fifth new elections in three and a half years - happened little concrete.

In Germany, however, the German-Israeli youth work is in the coalition agreement and against the background anti-Semitic incidents the task of bringing together more young people from both countries is urgent. At the same time, there are almost no more contemporary witnesses who talk to young people about the consequences of hate and the horrors of the Shoah. A sad fact that calls for new educational concepts.

Against anti-Semitism, for democracy promotion

"We are deepening our cooperation and putting it on a new footing," said Minister for Family Affairs Paus at the signing of the joint declaration with her counterpart on Sunday evening in Jerusalem. In addition to remembering the Shoah, the encounters should also deal with projects such as climate protection. But at the meeting in the Israeli Ministry of Education, it also becomes clear: This youth work will be special, and that also requires the common history.

"We cannot take the previous youth works as a blueprint," said Paus. Her counterpart Biton made it clear that there will be no joint institution - as is the case, for example, in cooperation with Poland and France. Rather, the German-Israeli youth organization should only exist on the German side; on the Israeli side, a new unit should be established within the existing state structures for youth exchange. It also remains to be clarified whether the cooperation – as with France and Poland – should be financed in equal parts.

It is obvious that Germany in particular has to bring in more money than before in order not to end up having less money for the actual exchange in a new structure with more administration. It is clear that at some point the Federal Ministry of Finance will have to be involved, said Paus.

Hoping for concrete results soon

Since 2019, the federal government has already provided 5.5 million euros for the preparation and foundation, but only part of it has been used. The Federal Foreign Office is represented in working groups alongside the Chancellery and the Ministry for Family Affairs. At the moment, the extracurricular exchange – and this is the focus of the initiative – is running on the German side via the state-financed coordination center ConAct. It should be built on. The agency responsible for youth exchanges is already a partner on the Israeli side.

The will is strong on both sides, affirm all those involved. A German-Israeli working group is to meet in October. Minister for Family Affairs Paus is hoping for the most concrete results possible – before the elections in Israel are held again on November 1st.

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