Welcome, President Kohler (JERUSALEM POST EDITORIAL) 02/01/05)
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As if to bridge the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz,
which took place last week, and the 40th anniversary of the
establishment of diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Berlin,
to be marked in May, German President Horst Kohler arrives today for
a four-day visit.
The highlight of his trip is an address to the Knesset, in German, on
Health Minister Dan Naveh argued that "as long as there are still
Holocaust survivors among us, the German language should not be
spoken" in the Knesset.
Kohler is not unsympathetic to this stance. "I don´t know what I
would feel in their place. But as this is a state visit, and I was
invited by the Speaker of the Knesset, it is appropriate I speak in
German," he said
Correct. As the president of Germany´s Bundestag, Wolfgang Thierse,
argued last week in his own address to a special session of the
German parliament commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz, "The
true language of the murderers is not German. The true language of
the murderers is murder."
Moreover, former president Johannes Rau set a precedent in 2000, when
he gave the first address by a German head of state to the Knesset –
It´s time to move beyond stereotypes, and for Israelis to understand
that the current generation of German leaders is innocent of the
crimes perpetuated by the Nazis. Kohler´s parents, for instance, were
uprooted from their home in Moldova by the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact
and forced to resettle in Poland, where Kohler was born in 1943.
After World War II, he lived in East Berlin until he was 10, when his
family fled to freedom in West Berlin.
No European country has been more sensitive to the enormity of the
Shoah than Germany, for good reason. Its cities are replete with
memorials, monuments and museums; the country´s educational curricula
reflect a political culture that inculcates tolerance and assumes
full collective responsibility for the crimes against the Jewish
With all that, according to a recent Bielefeld University study, two-
thirds of Germans consider Israeli conduct vis-a-vis the Palestinians
the same as the Nazis´ conduct toward the Jews.
Moreover, following economic and social dislocation, far-right
extremists, such as the National Democratic Party (NDP), have made
gains in places like the former East German state of Saxony. Granted,
the denunciations from the German elite and media have been swift and
uncompromising, and politicians are actively considering a ban on the
NDP to block it from achieving a national presence. Chancellor
Gerhard Schroeder warned: "No strong democracy should tolerate the
enemies of democracy and tolerance."
So sensitivity toward Jews and a commitment to Israel´s security are
basic, unalterable tenets of today´s German leadership. But where is
this leadership when there is a desperate need to explain to average
Germans that Israel´s cause is just?
Looking to the future, Kohler sees his visit as a backdrop for
opening a "new era" in German-Israel relations; one of "tremendous
potential" for enhancing the "partnership." But how can relations
overshadowed by a great evil – and today constrained by Berlin´s
overriding commitment to EU multilateralism – evolve in a way that
pleases both countries?
Strangely, the German elite´s hyper-empathy for all things Jewish
seems compartmentalized. For Germany, a unified EU foreign policy,
developed together with France and Britain, takes precedence over
whatever special sensitivities Berlin decision-makers feel toward
Israel. The result is that Germany, over the past four years, was
party to a European policy that isolated and condemned Israel while
we were under vicious terrorist onslaught.
Similarly, on Iran, German officials say they will spare "no effort"
to prevent Teheran from developing nuclear weapons. Yet it is Europe
that is protecting Iran from a much tougher US policy, again with
Whether it is Iran´s nuclear threat, the security fence or the
conduct of the war against Palestinian terror, German policymakers
say they can´t be expected to routinely agree with Israeli policies.
And yet we cannot help but think – looking to the future – that
Berlin should feel an obligation to distinguish its policies
affecting Jewish continuity from those of London and Paris. Empathy
for Jews cannot excuse policies that, wittingly or not, are harmful
to the only Jewish state. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 02/01/05)
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