Remarks by Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director (as prepared)
Berlin, Germany, March 19, 2014
Madame Chancellor, I have the great honor and pleasure of presenting you with the ADL Joseph Prize for Human Rights in recognition of your abiding commitment to promoting and protecting human rights at home and abroad.
As head of government, the pursuit of human rights is not your only responsibility. Concerns about security, economic growth, social cohesion, foreign relations, and domestic politics all coexist with – and sometimes compete with – concerns about human rights. For that very reason, your clear commitment to promoting human rights and the privileged position you accord to their protection distinguishes you and makes you a highly deserving recipient of this prize.
Internationally, we have seen you, time and again, speak frankly to other leaders on human rights issues. On your first visit to Moscow as Chancellor, you made a point of inviting human rights campaigners to a reception at the German embassy. And since then, you have raised your voice publicly when meeting with Vladimir Putin on behalf of those on the receiving end of his arbitrary exercise of power.
We saw the same commitment when you met with Prime Minister Erdogan last year and publicly criticized his actions against protesters, saying “our European values -- the freedom to demonstrate, the freedom of speech, the rule of law, the freedom of religion -- they apply always. They are non-negotiable for us."
It is clear to all that your actions are based on deep personal convictions. We are fortunate that someone with such convictions leads one of the most important countries in the world, and that you have made clear to other leaders that their records on human rights play a weighty role in determining Germany’s relations with their nations.
And here in Germany, when a fundamental Jewish observance -- newborn male circumcision – was cast into legal limbo, you made clear that religious freedom would be protected. Though polls showed that a majority of Germans disapprove of the circumcision, you stood by your conviction and your commitment. For as you knew, without the right to perform this ritual, one that is central to Jewish faith and universally practiced by Jewish communities, there would be no future for Jews in Germany.
We honor you as well for protecting the human rights of Jews – in the most comprehensive manner – through your commitment to the security of the State of Israel. Under your leadership, Germany has supported Israel’s security in word and in deed. The deeds include providing submarines to Israel’s navy, a unique contribution that critically enhances Israel’s defense capabilities.
But your words are no less important. When you spoke in the Knesset and declared that Israel’s security is a “staats-raison,” a core state imperative of Germany, you sent a reassuring message to Israelis that they will never face a hostile world alone. Perhaps more importantly, you sent the same clear message as a warning to those who seek to destroy the Jewish state.
In both word and deed, you have been a constant ally to Israel and to the Jewish people.
Of course, you need not take my word for it. Shimon Peres wisely chose you to receive Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction during your recent visit.
On a personal note, I remember fondly back in the early 1990s during an ADL mission meeting a certain up and coming young woman member of the Bundestag. A child of a minister and a physicist, you impressed us all with your intelligence, your pragmatism, and your historical perspective.
One of our group then asked you if growing up in East Germany, they ever took you to the camps? As a survivor of the Holocaust, I'll never forget your answer. You said, “in fact, they took us to the camps even more than they did the young people in West Germany. The only problem was that they never once mentioned that Jews were held there.”
Madame Chancellor, the ADL Joseph Prize for Human Rights was established in 1975 by ADL past national chair Burton Joseph through a grant from the Joseph Foundation. The award celebrates the efforts of leaders who champion the cause of human rights and freedom through word and deed, those who have helped achieve and maintain democratic ideals, and who understand that freedom leads to the fullest flowering of the human spirit.
You join an extraordinarily distinguished group of past recipients including such American and international luminaries as Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, Israeli Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Menachem Begin, King Hussein of Jordan, German Presidents Richard von Weizsaecker and Roman Herzog, Soviet prisoner of conscience Natan Sharansky and President George H. W. Bush.
The Joseph Prize medallion says in Hebrew, “B’nai Chorim Nishaar” which translates “We Shall Remain Free Men” and it carries the emblem of Masada, that great fortress in the Judean desert where the last holdouts against the might of the Roman army took their own lives because without freedom, they could not live.
And we have something else for you today. We also wanted you to have this very special paper cut which speaks to what we at ADL are all about. It says in several languages the Hebrew phrase “V’ahavta L’reakha Kamokha,” which translates “Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself” which is one of the most sacred admonitions of the Torah, which is our bible. It goes on to ask that we love and respect one another. That is the essence of ADL, it is the meaning of human rights and it is the lasting obligation for us all – mutual respect.