Koehler opens his address in Hebrew (JERUSALEM POST) By NINA GILBERT 02/02/05)
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German President Horst Koehler, addressing the Knesset on Wednesday
to mark the 40th anniversary of ties between Israel and Germany,
stunned the parliament when he began his speech in Hebrew.
Several MKs had called on Koehler to deliver his remarks in any
language other than German out of consideration for the memory of
Holocaust victims, but Koehler declined.
Koehler, speaking in Hebrew, said he was "grateful" and "deeply
moved" to have been invited to address the Knesset in Jerusalem. He
then continued his speech in German, detailing the ties between the
"Germany will always stand by Israel and its people," he said in a
gentle voice that shook when he spoke about the victims of the
Holocaust. He said Germany would ensure that Israel can "live within
internationally recognized borders, free of fear and terror."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said the occasion was "not easy" for
many members of Knesset. He termed the relations between the
countries as "complicated, warm, and close."
The German president noted that there could never be "normality" in
ties between the two countries.
The visit by Koehler comes only a week after the 60th anniversary
commemoration of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp,
where Kohler took part in the ceremonies.
Rivlin warned that after 40 years, there are now voices that are
being heard not only in Europe, but also in the German parliament,
of hate slogans and conspiracy theories. He called on Germany to
outlaw the "neo-Nazi party in Germany," saying that it has "no place
in German democracy." He was referring to the far Right National
He said he was sure that a condemnation of anti-Semitism in German
by Koehler would be "more resounding and convincing."
Several MKs decided to boycott the session, including Health
Minister Dan Naveh, Gila Finkelstein, Aryeh Eldad, Zvi Hendel, Hemi
Doron and Avraham Ravitz. But many MKs whose relatives perished in
the Holocaust did attend the session. Dozens of MKs were absent out
of disregard for their parliamentary duties.
A group of right-wing activists held demonstrated outside the
Knesset to protest Kohler´s address, and burned German flags. The
group held banners reading: We will never forgive and never forget.
Koehler´s predecessor, Johannes Rau, was the first German leader to
address the Knesset, and his speech in German also sparked
Shinui leader Yosef Lapid, a Holocaust survivor, said that when he
was liberated from the Budapest ghetto 60 years ago by Russian
soldiers, he would have never believed that one day he would "stand
in the parliament of the Jewish people and welcome the German
He noted that many MKs did not want a German president to speak to
the Knesset in German. But he noted that while Adolf Hitler´s Mein
Kampf was written in German, it was also the language of the father
of modern Zionism Binyamin Ze´ev Herzl and his work Der Judenstat
that was the basis of Zionism. "A language is not to blame, but
those who misuse it," he said.
Lapid said that it would be an injustice if Israel would not
recognize that Germany has changed, and it is democratic and free.
Germany has learned lessons better than other peoples in Europe who
took an "active part in the extermination of their Jewish
communities and are not willing to take responsibility for it."
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon delivered a somber speech, calling on
Germany and Europe to launch an "uncompromising war on anti-
Semitism," adding that they have a responsibility to prevent future
crimes against the Jewish people.
Sharon also said that there cannot be a pardon or forgiveness for
what the Jewish people "suffered at the hands of the Germans."
At the same time, he thanked Germany for its commitment to Israel´s
security and welfare and aid in solving the problem of Israel´s
MK Naomi Blumenthal (Likud), who chairs the Knesset´s German
friendship committee, said Koehler had made a beautiful gesture by
speaking to the Knesset in Hebrew.
MK Colette Avital (Labor) said she was "totally surprised," by
Koehler´s move, which she said she believed came in response to the
MKs who were wary of him addressing in German.
Finkelstein gave Koehler an information pamphlet financed by the
publicly funded Friedrich Ebert Foundation which she said encourages
Palestinians to fulfill their Right of Return and return to their
homes in Israel. She said he promised to check into the matter.
(© 1995-2004, The Jerusalem Post 02/02/05)
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