Israeli president warns of hatred during Berlin school visit

BERLIN (AP) — Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited a centuries-old Jewish high school in Berlin on Tuesday, telling students from a mix of religious and ethnic backgrounds about the importance of learning about diversity and different identities in order to counter hatred.

Sitting alongside German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and surrounded by a semicircle of students at the Moses Mendelssohn high school in the historic heart of Berlin, Rivlin said that “connections between people all over (the world) is the most important thing.”

“Unfortunately politicians in our day (are) using hatred in order to gain political power,” he added, without elaborating.

Rivlin’s visit to the school came on the second day of a three-day visit to the German capital that will also see him deliver a speech during a session in parliament commemorating the victims of the Holocaust — the organized mass murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis under Adolf Hitler.

Founded in 1778, the Moses Mendelssohn high school was named after the 18th century German-Jewish philosopher considered a leading figure of the Enlightenment. The school currently has 414 students, about 60% of whom are Jewish, many with roots in Eastern Europe.

The school was used by the Nazis as a deportation center for Berlin Jews from 1942-1945, and then as a vocational school during the communist period in East Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was returned to the Jewish community and has been used as a high school again since 1993.

Rivlin’s visit to Germany comes after he and Steinmeier both attended Monday’s commemoration at Auschwitz-Birkenau of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp. They flew to Berlin together on a Luftwaffe plane. Last week, Steinmeier became the first German president to speak at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem during a ceremony attended by dozens of world leaders.

In his speech, Steinmeier had warned that the “spirits of evil are emerging in a new guise, presenting their anti-Semitic, racist, authoritarian thinking as an answer for the future.”

The German president returned to that theme on Tuesday, telling students in Berlin of his concern about the negative influence that social media has on its users.

“Information is not enough. We have to accompany information with experiences,” he said, urging students to travel, especially to Israel.

Some in the audience spoke of their personal encounters with anti-Semitism and racism, while others reflected on what it means to reconcile their German, Jewish and other identities.

Rivlin said that despite some differences, Israel and Germany today have “a real partnership” based on shared values of democracy and human rights.