Over 1000 Visitors Learn about Coexistence at the KKL-JNF Naturally for Israel Conference in Cologne

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Jews, Moslems, Christians and Druze living peacefully, side by side – this is what daily life is about in Israel.

BILD newspaper publisher Kai Diekmann honored with the Golden Olive Branch Award

Jews, Moslems, Christians and Druze living peacefully, side by side – this is what daily life is about in Israel’s Galilee region, and it came as a surprise to many of the participants at the second Naturally for Israel Conference that took place at the Flora building in Cologne on September 11, 2016.

Unfortunately, people’s knowledge about Israel is mainly from news broadcasts, and the conference exposed participants to Israel’s multifaceted reality. The Cologne conference was an opportunity for Germans and Israelis to learn from each other about peaceful coexistence and how to integrate people from different religious or cultural backgrounds. In addition to lectures, a panel discussion and discussion rounds, the conference offered a colorful program including music, Israeli food, dances, and a large raffle, all of which were enthusiastically received by the audience.

The highlight of the conference was the awarding of the KKL-JNF Golden Olive Branch prize to Kai Diekmann, the publisher of the BILD newspaper in Germany The Israeli ambassador to Germany, His Excellency Yaakov Hadas-Handelsman, said that for many years, “Kai Diekmann has been committed to German-Israeli friendship. We wish to thank him from all our hearts, and we are happy that KKL-JNF chose to award him with the Golden Olive Branch this year.”

In his acceptance speech, Kai Diekmann emphasized the special responsibility that the legendary publisher Axel Springeras conveyed to the editors of the publishing house - the unconditional support of Israel’s right to exist. Mr. Diekmann expressed his gratitude for being awarded the honorary prize, saying that “the close and trusting relationship that exists today between Israel and Germany is nothing less than a miracle. It is for me both a joy and a great honor to contribute my small share to helping sustain and maintain this deep connection.”

KKL-JNF Germany President Sarah Singer began the conference with a minute of silence to mark the fifteenth anniversary of September 11 tragedy in 2001. “Those terrible terror attacks in the USA that cost so many human lives changed the world. It is therefore all the more important today that we remember, and, at the same time, look towards the future. The purpose of the conference is to exchange ideas on peaceful coexistence, and how we can learn from one another.” She welcomed the participants in the large banquet hall of the Flora in Cologne. Other participants who greeted the guests were Carina Gödecke, President of the State Parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia; Abraham Lehrer, Vice President of the Central Council of the Jews in Germany; and KKL-JNF World Chairman Danny Atar.

One of the examples of coexistence in the Galilee that was described at the conference is the region’s largest hospital, the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, where Jews, Moslems, Christians, and Druze work together. This hospital is responsible for providing medical care to approximately 600,000 citizens. Dr. Masad Barhoum is a Christian Arab and the General Director of the hospital. “The minute people step through the gates of our hospital, they stop being Arabs or Jews, soldiers or civilians, left or right - they are either medical personnel or patients”, he said. He noted that approximately 1200 Syrians with severe or life-threatening injuries have been treated in the Galilee Medical Center. “Injured people from Syria arrive here after living through hell on earth, and they come with complex problems, both physical and mental. To provide them with care is a moral obligation and a great privilege.” During the conference, KKL-JNF raised money that will be allocated for a new garden in the entrance to the Galilee Medical Center, where people will have a venue for meeting each other. Money was also raised for landscape development around the Keshet Alon School of Music in the Northern Galilee.

Another guest from Israel was Raya Strauss Ben Dor, a philanthropist who is involved in various initiatives leveraging tourism and the economy. She is also a supporter of the Galilee Medical Center. “I feel honored to be here,” she said, “and I am grateful for the efforts made by KKL-JNF in this region. Change can only happen by working together in the spirit of partnership, and I am happy to be a partner of KKL-JNF in the Galilee.”

The subject of the afternoon panel discussion was “Daily coexistence in Germany - Ticking bomb or cultural enrichment?” The panel, which was moderated by RTL Television’s Lothar Keller, included Stephan Kramer, President of the Authority for the Protection of the Constitution in Thuringia; Armin Laschet, Federal Vice Chairman of the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) party; Ahmad Mansour, Palestinian-Israeli expert on Islam and the program director of the European Foundation for Democracy; and Sylvia Löhrmann, Education Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia. Everyone agreed that there are some great examples of peaceful coexistence, but they receive much less media exposure than news like the Sylvester events in Cologne. In respect to Israel, media reports tend to prioritize expressions of conflict rather than areas of agreement. All the panel participants agreed that the positive stories of peaceful coexistence are foundations that can be built upon.

The conference featured a number of different programs on the topic of coexistence, including a discussion between Dr. H. C. Joel Berger, the retired Rabbi of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, and Manfred Rekowski, Chairman of the Protestant Church in the Rhineland, on the issue of Christian-Jewish coexistence today. An exhibition featured information on Israel in the fields of tourism, art, science and more. Johannes Guagnin, Foreign Relations and Research Coordinator for KKL-JNF’s Afforestation Department, delivered a fascinating lecture on afforestation in semi-arid regions.  Musical accompaniment was provided by the Epstein Klezmer Tov trio and Israeli performers Galit Giat and Moshe Becker, who had everyone on their feet. Conference participants had a lot of new information to absorb, and the sentence “we learned a lot about Israel, it was a really intense day” was something one could hear everywhere in the Flora.
Watch the coexistence film in German