German Chancellor Angela Merkel, addressing the opening plenary of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Virtual Global Forum, praised the leading global Jewish advocacy organization as a "strong partner" of Germany over many decades.
"I wish I could welcome you to Berlin in person. Unfortunately, that is not possible," said Merkel, who originally was set to host AJC's signature annual event. What was supposed to be the largest gathering in Germany of a global Jewish advocacy group since World War II was, due to the pandemic, changed to an online event, June 14-18.
"I was deeply moved that AJC was planning to hold its Global Forum 2020 in Berlin, and, moreover, in the 75th year after the end of the Shoah – the betrayal of all civilized values. What a generous gesture of trust and ever-greater closeness," Merkel told the worldwide audience of thousands.
The chancellor noted that "AJC was the first Jewish organization to seek contact with the recently founded Federal Republic of Germany" following the Holocaust, "the most terrible crime ever perpetrated against humanity."
"This willingness to engage in dialogue and seek reconciliation has long since developed into a close partnership" between Germany and AJC, said Merkel. "I am exceptionally grateful to you for your tireless and diverse efforts to promote peace and interfaith understanding."
The chancellor spoke about "the responsibility" of the German government and people to remember the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, to actively combat antisemitism, and to support Israel. "In awareness of our responsibility, we are neither able nor willing to be neutral," she said.
"We are aware of our responsibility to remember the many millions of Jewish children, women and men who were robbed of their rights, persecuted and murdered by Germans during the Shoah," said Merkel. "And we are also aware of our responsibility to take resolute action against antisemitism in all its forms. I see this as part of our national ethos."
Merkel emphasized that "Jews should feel free and safe in Germany, they should be able to practice their faith and culture openly."
Despicable acts such as the Yom Kippur attack on the synagogue in Halle last October "target the very heart of our democracy," she said. "The government and civil society must do everything in our power to counteract such bigots."
Turning to Germany's close ties to Israel, Merkel declared that "standing up for Israel's security is non-negotiable."
In conclusion, Merkel spoke about German responsibility in the face of history. "We cannot allow ourselves to waiver in our endeavors to foster security, active democracy and human rights, both here in Germany and around the world," she said.
This is the second time that Chancellor Merkel addressed an AJC Global Forum. The first time was in 2006, alongside U.S. President George W. Bush and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, to mark AJC's centennial anniversary. In 2010, AJC honored Chancellor Merkel with its prestigious Light Unto the Nations Award, at a ceremony in Berlin. There have also been several private meetings between the German leader and AJC delegations since she became Chancellor in 2005.