Koehler: Germany must deal with anti-Semitism (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Aluf Benn, Arnon Regular and Amos Harel 02/03/05)
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When a foreign visitor addresses his hosts in the local language,
it´s considered either a gimmick or a handsome gesture. When the
president of Germany speaks from the Knesset podium in Hebrew, it
carries deep meaning. The Knesset and the hundreds of guests to the
plenum were dumbfounded when Horst Koehler began his speech yesterday
in Hebrew. "I was invited here to deliver a speech to the Knesset in
Jerusalem," Koehler said in Hebrew. "I thank you for this day and
this hour, which move me greatly."
After this greeting, he switched to German for the rest of the speech.
Koehler devoted part of his speech to xenophobia and anti-Semitism,
which "have not disappeared from Germany." He declared that Germany
must contend courageously with the extreme right and combat anti-
Semitism, and conceded that normal relations will never be possible
between Israel and Germany, despite the many achievements of the past
Afterward, he told Haaretz that he had decided on the dramatic
overture in Hebrew when he learned of the controversy in Israel
surrounding his German-language address. "I understand those who take
offense at that," he said. "I practiced the Hebrew sentences all
Nonetheless, Koehler´s insistance on delivering his speech in German
prompted protest from some lawmakers. The special session marking the
40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between
Israel and Germany was boycotted by Health Minister Danny Naveh and
MKs Hemi Doron (Shinui), Avraham Ravitz (Degel Hatorah), Aryeh Eldad,
Zvi Hendel and Yitzhak Levy (National Union), Gila Finkelstein
(National Religious Party) and Haim Katz (Likud).
MK Yosef Lapid, who spoke as both chairman of the opposition and "the
last of the Holocaust survivors in the Knesset," said, "There are
those among us Holocaust survivors for whom the sound of the German
language arouses in their memory monstrous echoes," but that 60 years
after the Holocaust and 40 years after establishing bilateral ties,
it was time "for us, as Jews and Israelis, to conduct a soul-search
regarding our attitude to Germany and to everything German."
On the wall behind the podium hung the portrait of Theodor Herzl, who
wrote his "Der Judenstaat" (The Jewish State) in German.
Despite the time elapsed, there is still nothing "ordinary" about
this visit. The German reporters who accompany presidential visits
around the world also sense this.
"Just yesterday we were at Yad Vashem," a reporter for the ARD
television network said. "After that, there can be nothing routine
about this visit."
The timing of Koehler´s visit is particularly charged. Just six
months ago French President Jacques Chirac welcomed German Chancellor
Gerhard Schroder with open arms at the 60th anniversary celebrations
of D-Day; a week ago the United Nations held its first commemorations
of the liberation of Auschwitz, which became the site of
international ceremonies last week. Beyond the desire to remind, one
gains a sense from these events that the world wants to wrap the
Holocaust up into the package of history. The Jewish people and the
German people must contend alone with the past and the future.
On an intimate note, Koehler shared with his Israeli listeners the
personal journey he made this week from Auschwitz to Jerusalem. "I
walked through the gate. I saw the barracks, the railway tracks and
the ramp. I walked from the gas chambers to the crematorium. The
survivors were by my side. They helped me, a German, at this site."
He also spoke about his visit Tuesday to Yad Vashem: " I bow my head
in shame and humility before the victims and before those who risked
their lives to help them."
Koehler said that "responsibility for the Shoah is part of Germany´s
identity. Ensuring that Israel can live within internationally
recognized borders, free of fear and terror, is an incontrovertible
tenet of German policy. My country has proven this time and again
through its actions."
"I see in Israel a partner with whom we share values and interests.
There is great potential for cooperation between us now and in the
future," he said.
In closing, Koehler sharply condemned terrorism: "In the past four
years terror and violence have banished people´s hopes of peace to a
distant future. Many Israelis ask themselves whether they will ever
live in security. That is an alarming development. And in my opinion
even more unbearable when we remember that some of these people are
survivors of the Shoah. I do not think that we in Germany really
understand what it means to live with the fear that those we love
could at any time fall victim to a terrorist attack. [...] The terror
must end. Suicide bombings are crimes for which there can be no
excuse or justification."
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also dwelt on current events. With
reference to new anti-Semitism in Europe, Sharon spoke
of "hypocritical leaders who condemn hatred of Jews, condemn the
Holocaust, but at the same time question the legitimacy of the State
of Israel, the right of Jews to self-defense and to combat states and
organizations that support terrorism, like Iran, Syria and Hezbollah."
"Assuming moral responsibility for sins of the past does not relieve
Europe´s current leadership from responsibility to prevent future
crimes against the Jewish people," Sharon said.
Koehler met later privately with Lapid and Knesset Speaker Reuven
Rivlin. He asked Lapid what Germany could do to promote Middle East
peace. Lapid said Germany could balance France´s negative impact, so
Israel could depend more on the European Union.
Kohler told Rivlin that he doubts it would be legally possible to
outlaw the German neo-Nazi National Democratic Party. The concern,
Koehler said, is that even if they decide to outlaw the party,
Germany´s Supreme Court would annul the decision, exacerbating the
situation. He said Germany needs to be educated to spew neo-Nazis
from its midst. (© Copyright 2005 Haaretz. 02/03/05)
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