In presenting the prize, ADL cited a number of accomplishments and actions that it said showed Chancellor Merkel’s unwavering commitment to human rights.
"They include Merkel’s efforts to protect the human rights of Jews through her commitment to the security of the State of Israel; raising her voice against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his arbitrary exercise of power; her defense of Jewish religious freedom in Germany, including the protection of the right to male circumcision; and her courageous public criticism of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s actions against protestors last year, in which she stated that '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.'"
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The prize was presented at the German Chancellery in Berlin by members of a leadership delegation currently traveling in Germany, headed by ADL National Chair Barry Curtiss-Lusher and ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman.
"As the head of government, the pursuit of human rights is not your only responsibility,” Foxman said in his remarks to Chancellor Merkel.
"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 targeted by his arbitrary exercise of power.
"It is clear to all," Foxman added, "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."
'Sign of confidence in me and our country'
Angela Merkel has been chancellor of Germany since 2005 and the leader of the Christian Democratic Union since 2000, and is the first woman to hold either office. The daughter of a Lutheran pastor and a teacher, she grew up in a rural area north of Berlin in what was then East Germany. She studied physics at the University of Leipzig, earning a doctorate in 1978, and later worked as a chemist at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry, Academy of Sciences.
"I appreciate this award as a sign of confidence in me and our country, as evidence of a close and reliable transatlantic partnership, and as an incentive to continue to stand up for humanity and the rule of law, just as the Anti-Defamation League has done for over 100 years and around the world," Merkel said in accepting the award.
The ADL Joseph Prize for Human Rights honors distinguished individuals who have worked on behalf of human rights and helped to achieve and maintain democratic ideals for all. The prize medallion says in Hebrew, "B’nai Chorim Nishaar" which translates to "We Shall Remain Free Men," and it carries the emblem of Masada, the fortress in the Judean desert where the last holdouts against the Roman army took their own lives instead of sacrificing their freedom.
As a recipient of the ADL Joseph Prize, Chancellor Merkel joins a 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 Dr. Roman Herzog, Soviet prisoner of conscience Natan Sharansky, South African President F.W. de Klerk, and President George H. W. Bush.
The Joseph Prize was established in 1975 by ADL Past National Chair Burton Joseph and his sister Betty Greenberg in memory of their parents.
The delegation also presented Chancellor Merkel with a framed paper-cut that repeats, 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.