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“The exchange is becoming more varied”

Travelling and meeting people: how the German-Israeli Youth Organization can help dispel the shadows of the past.

Christina Iglhaut, 15.11.2018
Making friends: young people from Germany and Israel
Making friends: young people from Germany and Israel © ConAct/Ruthe Zuntz

Our world is digital and networked. Young people can use social media to make contact with their peers around the world. But no WhatsApp message and no Skype call can replace a face-to-face encounter. This is especially true in the German-Israeli youth exchange. Understanding for one another is above all the result of direct experiences in the partner country – beyond all clichés and prejudices.

In future a German-Israeli youth organization is planned so as to deepen such contacts. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided on its foundation during the German-Israeli intergovernmental consultations in October 2018. The project is supported by the German Bundestag.

There are already many student and youth encounters between Germany and Israel; along with political dialogue and economic cooperation, they are an important part of the close relationship between the two countries. Since 2001, the ConAct coordination centre in Wittenberg and its partner organization the Israel Youth Exchange Authority have facilitated extracurricular exchanges for youth and youth education professionals. It is on this basis that the new youth organization is to be established.

ConAct director Christine Mähler is pleased with the government's decision. In an interview with she talks about the future of German-Israeli exchange and the overcoming of prejudices.

Christine Mähler
Christine Mähler © ConAct/Ruthe Zuntz

Mrs Mähler, what do you think of the decision to found a German-Israeli youth organization?
It’s really good news for youth exchange between the two countries. Such a youth organization means more opportunities for cooperation, more financial support and a strengthening of the German-Israeli youth exchange.

What tasks will the planned organization undertake?
ConAct is already doing the work that a German-Israeli youth organization would do on the German side. We help sponsors in finding a suitable partner organization in Israel. We offer seminars for team leaders and develop educational materials. We promote encounter programs for young people and youth work professionals with funds from the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. These would also be the main tasks of a youth organization.

If ConAct is already doing all this, why is a German-Israeli youth organization needed?
We believe that the youth organization will strengthen the bilateral exchange. Because at present our Israeli counterpart, the Israel Youth Exchange Authority, doesn’t have the resources and opportunities to do work similar to what we do. With more bilateral support we could reach more participants, more sponsors and new target groups.

I am convinced that youth exchange breaks down prejudices against Jews and Israel.
ConAct director Christine Mähler on a German-Israeli youth organization

Why is the exchange between young people important?
Youth means the future. They will shape life in our societies in the future. If you want to change something, you have to reach young people. Best of all at an age when they are forming their opinions and identity and their perception is keen. Through exchange, young people come to deal early with questions such as: Who am I as a German? Who am I as an Israeli? What binds us together? And what can we learn from our past?

Can anti-Semitism be combatted through youth exchanges?
In Germany, we often struggle with unconscious prejudices and false images of Jews and Israel. I am convinced that an exchange breaks down these pre-fabricated opinions. When young people travel to Israel, they learn how people live there, what their everyday lives look like, and how resemble or differ from their own. This then gives rise to complex questions instead of simple, negative answers.

So are Germans the main beneficiaries of the exchange?
It also has an added value for young Israelis to see first-hand what today's Germany looks like. More than 70 years after the history in whose shadow we all live. They too will see and experience things that are different from what they knew about Germany before. I believe that both sides benefit from a direct encounter.

What theme will shape the German-Israeli exchange in the next few years?
Diversity. In both societies there are many different identities, cultures, nationalities and religions. We therefore want to sharpen the awareness of the participants to this.

Since 2015, we’ve focused on "Living Diversity in Germany and Israel". We also have to try harder to reach people with different migration histories. This makes the exchange broader and more varied. That’s also an important task for a German-Israeli youth organization.


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