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Koehler opens his address in Hebrew (JERUSALEM POST) By NINA GILBERT 02/02/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1107314589867 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 countries.

"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 Democratic Party.

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 controversy.

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 president."

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 missing soldiers.

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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