World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder on Monday honored Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Angela Merkel with the 2019 WJC Theodor Herzl Award, which recognizes outstanding individuals who work to promote Herzl’s ideals for a safer, more tolerant world for the Jewish people. The award ceremony was held at the Jewish community center in Munich, co-hosted by President of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria & WJC Commissioner for Holocaust Memory Dr. Charlotte Knobloch.
Thanking WJC President Lauder, Chancellor Merkel expressed her heartfelt gratitude for the honor of being chosen as the recipient of this award, saying: “It is humbling for me that I, as a German chancellor, can receive the Theodor Herzl Award today. Jewish life in Germany must be supported – and protected.”
Recalling the attack on the synagogue in Halle over Yom Kippur, a “heinous crime that fills us with utmost shame,” Chancellor Merkel said: “These are deeply troubling developments; they are directed at Jews in our country, but by no means only them. Because they attack us all: Jews and non-Jews alike, everything that our country stands on, our values and our freedoms. They hit at the core of our shared existence, because they flow from a deep hatred of democracy. We must never accept the fact that people in Germany have to live in fear because of their religious convictions. We must do everything in our power to make sure they can live their lives free and safe. Antisemitism and racism do not begin with violent acts; it is much subtler. We must make sure not to wake up only after words have become deeds.”
The Chancellor underscored the fact that hatred proliferates not just on the streets, but also online, a distinct catalyst to her government’s decision to pass a series of regulations later this week to ensure that incitement and aggressive hate speech are punished more severely.
“I regard this award that carries the name of Theodor Herzl as an obligation never to be content with what has been achieved but to continue striving toward a better future in unison with our partners,” Chancellor Merkel said. “I want to encourage all of you to continue working towards a diverse and secure Jewish life in Germany – just as I will continue to do myself.”
In presenting the award to the Chancellor, WJC President Lauder underscored the progress made in post-war Germany to rebuild itself and eradicate its dark past. “You, Chancellor Merkel, are the icon of this incredible success. You are the symbol of all that is good in post-war Germany,” WJC President Lauder said. “You are the guardian of democracy, the guardian of civilization and the guardian of Europe… you have always supported the Jewish community in this country. You have always stood by Israel … you are a German leader who has become a one-person dam. A dam against instability. A dam against irrationality. A dam against extremism. A dam against hate. A dam against racism. A dam against antisemitism.”
But amid this great progress, WJC President Lauder said, “the ancient hate against the Jews is rearing its ugly head again all over Europe,” at violent levels unprecedented since 1945 – a hatred that demonstrated itself just 19 days ago in Halle, with the deadly Yom Kippur attack. “The problem is not a Jewish problem,” WJC President Lauder said. “It is a German one.”
“We must stand united against antisemitism, racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and homophobia. We must fight the haters of every people and of all people. And it’s up to all of us to take action, now,” WJC President Lauder said, laying out a number of steps that should be taken including police protection in all synagogues in school, increased and substantial penalties for anyone who commits an antisemitic attack, prohibition against hate speech of any kind against any group on the Internet, commitment by political parties to expel any member who engages in antisemitism, and the outlawing of all political parties that espouse a neo-Nazi ideology. “The German democracy must defend itself, defend its citizens, and defend its Jews from the dark forces now rising, on the extreme right and the extreme left,” WJC President Lauder said.
In her welcoming remarks to the Chancellor, Munich Jewish Community President Dr. Charlotte Knobloch said to the Chancellor: “With your commitment to Jewish citizens in our country, to Europe, and to Israel as a Jewish state, I could not imagine an individual more worthy of this award than you,” adding that this honor gives Jews “a reason for optimism” amid rising levels of antisemitism. “Against the ever-same, old-new hatred of anything Jewish, and against the enemies of democracy, freedom and tolerance, we must stand united, from ordinary citizens to the highest levels of government, Jews and non-Jews alike… The values of this prize must remain our guiding light in the future as well. Making the world a better place for the Jewish people must remain our goal… it must be a hope that we express always, not just in the aftermath of terrible attacks against us. ”
Previous recipients of the Theodor Herzl Award include the Rothschild family, former Secretary of State General Colin L. Powell, former US Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Elie and Marion Wiesel, former secretaries of state Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz, and, posthumously, Ronald Reagan and Axel Springer.