"We are witnessing the birth of a new liberal camp in Israel"
On 18 June 2023 an important event marked the 75th birthday of Israel and the 40th birthday of the FNF office in Jerusalem, celebrating "40 years of liberal dialogue". Over 100 liberal partners and friends from Israel and the Palestinian territories gathered at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation to listen to the speeches of Tzipi Livni, former Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, Deputy-Chair of FNF and former German Minister of Justice, and Steffen Seibert, the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in Israel.
The event was intended to further strengthen dialogue and collaboration between Germany and Israel, as well as foster dialogue within Israel and with its neighbors. The Jerusalem office of the foundation, with its unique mixed Israeli-Palestinian team, creates opportunities for exchange and wants to be a liberal platform of innovation both within society and for Israeli-Palestinian relations.
"All German political foundations in Israel act out of friendship"
After a welcome address by Yarden Leal-Yablonka from the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation and a video presentation on the foundation's work in Israel, the German Ambassador Steffen Seibert inaugurated the event and strongly emphasized the importance of German-Israeli dialogue. "All German political foundations in Israel act out of friendship and are commitment to the State of Israel", he said, before acknowledging that the Friedrich Naumann Foundation had made a special impression on him in the promotion of bilateral relations over the cooperation with liberal partners. He mentioned the close contact with Yesh Atid – the party of former Prime Minister Yair Lapid – the same as projects in the area of startup innovation, especially with participation of Arab society in Israel.
The Ambassador highlighted the Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s uniqueness within the foundations because it is working with a mixed Israeli and Palestinian team. He added: "We firmly believe that the Palestinian people also deserve the right to live in dignity and self-determination, and that the State of Israel will one day find a lasting peace of coexistence. That is our sincere hope."
Strengthened German-Israeli relations
Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger expressed that Israel and Germany are "close and strong partners today. We became partners and friends despite the terrible crimes the Germans committed against the Jews during the Shoa."
"After our dark past, we promised 'never again'. The establishment of human rights and a liberal democracy led to our peace doctrine.” Foremost, she wished this peace for Israelis and Palestinians as well. However, she then pointed out that there was also a naive pacifism in Germany. Only the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine had "opened the eyes of many" and "brings democracies worldwide together". The new clarity in German foreign policy “strengthens German-Israeli relations. We are all learning that we must continue to strengthen our cooperation as our biggest threats – Iran and Russia – become close strategic allies.” She expressed gratitude that “our liberal friend Yair Lapid is also constantly raising this point.”
Referencing the specific work of the foundation, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger remarked: “Promoting the logic of innovation to solve problems. We're trying to create opportunities for dialogue in all directions." It is important to remain "open, creative and courageous" in order to bring liberal dialogue to fruition over the next 40 years." Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger then presented "liberal friend and former Deputy Prime Minister Tzipi Livni" as a representative of liberal Israel.
"The Current Israeli Government Delegitimizes Liberal Forces"
Tzipi Livni then spoke about what it means to be liberal in today's Israel. Characterized by the Israeli government's current plans "to abolish the separation of powers under the pretext of judicial reform". For a long time a government representative herself, also as a minister under the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, she said that it is unfortunately clear to liberals today: "The current Israeli government delegitimizes liberal forces that work for human rights and democracy in Israel".
The current government understands “democracy to mean the rule of the majority”. But "for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been demonstrating in Israel for months" democracy also means that the power of the majority must be limited by the judiciary: "The red lines are: human rights, civil rights and minority rights". According to Livni the population is experiencing a change of heart: "We are currently witnessing the birth of a new liberal camp in Israel". She said that people became proud to be committed to democracy and liberal values. "And I'm proud to be a part of this group."
In the second part of her speech, Tzipi Livni also emphasized that many in Israel should not forget the importance of continuing to pursue reconciliation with the Palestinians to achieve a "peaceful coexistence" between the two peoples.