image Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO), Reuters

Herzog to Bundestag: World should confront Iran

Israeli President Isaac Herzog made the comments to the German parliament during his three-day visit to the country.

By Erin Viner

“Even in our generation, even right now, dark forces of hate, led by Iran, threaten not only Israel, and not only stability in the Middle East, but the global order itself. Here, at this important forum in Berlin, I call on the family of nations to work firmly and assertively against Iran and its plans to develop nuclear weapons,” stated the Israeli leader.

Stressing that the possession of weapons of mass destruction by one United Nations member state that calls on a daily basis for the annihilation of another UN “is simply inconceivable,” and that the “threats and endeavors to annihilate Israel are inconceivable,” President Herzog insisted, “The guideline must be clear: a state that denies the Holocaust, a state that acts out of hatred and belligerency, a state that threatens the State of Israel’s right to exist—is ineligible to sign deals that will only embolden it, is ineligible for kickbacks or funds, is ineligible for concessions, under any circumstances.”

The Ayatollah regime has repeatedly vowed to annihilate the Jewish State. Israel has consistently warned that its arch-enemy will try to secure a windfall in sanctions relief at the talks,  without sufficiently rolling back nuclear bomb-making potential through its accelerated enrichment of uranium.

Israel regards the prospect of Iran developing atomic weapons as a threat to its existence. Leaders of the Jewish State maintain that unilateral action could be undertaken to prevent Iran from developing the bombs should the international community fail to do so.

Iran, which has long denied wanting to develop a nuclear weapon, has warned of a “crushing” response to any Israeli attack.

Calling upon the international community to “stand on the right side of history, set clear conditions, impose fierce and essential sanctions, create an impermeable buffer between Iran and nuclear capabilities,” Herzog said the world “must act, and not back down” nor “don’t stand idly by.”

He then underscored the State of Israel’s adamant pledge to “defend itself and will fight by all means necessary against threats to it and to its citizens.”

After yesterday’s speech, President Herzog took part in a wreath-laying ceremony with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier just meters from the Bundestag at a memorial for the six million Jews murdered during the Nazi Holocaust. The two leaders then visited the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, which Herzog’s father helped liberate as a British soldier at the end of World War Two.

“Only the dead have the right to forgive, while the living have no right to forget,” Israel’s 11th President told the German lawmakers earlier, quoting remarks made 35 years ago by his father Chaim Herzog  – then serving as Israel’s 6th President – during an historic first visit by an Israeli head of state to Germany in 1987.

Herzog began the visit by holding talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, followed by commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the murders of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team on 5 September 1972 at the Munich Olympics by Palestinian terrorists.

Steinmeier has apologized for mistakes made during and after the attacks and asked for forgiveness.

Full text of Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address before the German Bundestag:

“A little less than a millennium ago, a violent tempest engulfed the ancient Jewish communities of Germany. The First Crusade gravely wounded these Jewish communities, leaving them in shock, in agony, and incomplete. That trauma shaped, here in Germany—or Ashkenaz, as the Jews called it—new practices of commemoration.

“The ancient wealth of Jewish liturgy was supplemented by a chilling prayer, which we still recite today, throughout the Jewish lifecycle: Yizkor. In its despair, in its anguish, the Jewish People turned to God and sought to task him—to task God—with the mission of memory. As if to declare: ‘You, God—remember that which we cannot forget!’

9-98“With your permission, I wish today, as President of the State of Israel, the state of the Jewish People, to begin my remarks with the Yizkor prayer, which I dedicate to the elevation of the souls of our brothers and sisters, who were killed, and massacred, and murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices. ‘May God remember the souls of our brethren, Children of Israel, victims of the Holocaust and its heroes, the souls of the six million of Israel who were killed, murdered, strangled, and buried alive, and the holy communities destroyed for the sanctification of the Name. May God remember their binding, with the binding of all of Israel’s other martyrs and heroes since time immemorial, and may He bind their souls up in the bond of life. Those gentle and beloved in their lives; in their deaths, not separated. May they rest in peace, and may we say Amen.’

“President of the Federal Republic of Germany, my good friend Frank-Walter Steinmeier; First Lady Elke Büdenbender; Federal Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz; President of the German Bundestag, Bärbel Bas, thank you for that moving speech; President of the German Bundesrat, Bodo Ramelow; President of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, Stephan Harbarth; German leaders, ladies and gentlemen.

“I stand here before you today, but I am not alone. I stand here as an emissary. I stand here as the President of the State of Israel, the sovereign and democratic state of the Jewish People, the fulfillment of the prayers of so many generations. I stand here as a proud son of the Jewish People, a ninth-generation descendant of Rabbi Shmuel Yitzhak Hillman, who served as a community rabbi in Germany, himself a descendant of Rabbi Ezekiel Katzenellenbogen, the rabbi of Hamburg and its surrounding towns. I stand here carrying with me dreams and nightmares, pain and relief, memories of interwoven destruction and rebirth.

“But above all, I stand here before you carrying a single imperative. One that alongside the Ten Commandments and ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ is perhaps the most sublime, ethical, and binding biblical injunction for all Jews: Remember. The Jewish People are a remembering people. This is an essential and inseparable part of our identity. And thus, treading on German soil, I cannot help but remember and retrieve the eternal photo album of my people, in which are scattered countless images from this land. Images of peaks. Images of voids.

“As I do so, I want to speak with you here today about the past and the future. ‘On my desk is a stone, inscribed with the word amen, a fragment of a headstone, a remnant of a Jewish graveyard destroyed a thousand years ago in the city of my birth. One word, amen, is engraved deep into this stone. Amen, harsh and final, for all that was and will never return; amen, soft and tuneful, as in prayer. Amen and amen, may it be His will.’ These words were written by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, a Jerusalemite, born Ludwig Pfeuffer in the town of Würzburg, Bavaria. Amichai seems to have sought, with these words, to tiptoe between the cracks of pride and grief, of Jewish history in this land, and perhaps to bridge the gulf between the land of his birth and his homeland.

“Germany was, for centuries and millennia, a glorious home for our people, a warm, good, and fertile home, a home in which Judaism flourished in every aspect: religion, culture, intellect, statecraft, science, and so much more. In Germany flourished some of the most significant and influential rabbinic leaders in our nation’s history. It was this land that shaped Rashi, the greatest of our biblical and Talmudic commentators; it was here that some of the Jewish People’s finest rabbis, from Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg to many of the Rishonim, as they are known, to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman, in more recent generations, received their education.

“Germany was home to Jewish titans of culture, intellect, and science, from Moses Mendelssohn and Abraham Geiger to Leopold Zunz and Gershom Scholem; from Albert Einstein and Paul Ehrlich to Emmy Noether; from Berthold Auerbach and Kurt Weill to Else Lasker-Schüler. To all these we must also add the pioneers of social work Siddy Wronsky and Cessi Rosenblüth, and of course also the influential Zionist leaders who grew up and developed in Germany, including Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, Moses Hess, and Otto Warburg. There were also so many other fine names, in all walks of life.

“Here they all grew up. Here they all were educated. Here they all spent their formative years. They contributed to the prosperity of the Jewish People; they contributed to the prosperity of Germany. So this land, your land, is most deeply and intimately present in my nation’s DNA.

“But, ladies and gentlemen, and this is no secret, this land—Germany—was home to the greatest atrocities ever inflicted on the Jewish People and humanity at large, throughout the ages. From pogroms, riots, and brutal acts of slaughter to the destruction of whole Jewish communities, recurring time and time again over the past one thousand years, and all the way to the darkest abyss in the annals of the family of nations: the Shoah. The Holocaust.

“Never in human history was there a campaign like the one the Nazis and their accomplices conducted to annihilate the Jewish People. Never in history was a state responsible, as Nazi Germany was responsible, for the loss of all semblance of humanity, for the erasure of all mercy, for the pursuit of the worldwide obliteration, with such awful cruelty, of an entire people.

“My father, of blessed memory, the Sixth President of Israel, Chaim Herzog, was among the first officers who liberated the death camps in Germany from the jaws of the Nazi beast. I shall never forget how he described to me the horrors he witnessed. The stench. The human skeletons in striped pajamas, the piles of corpses, the destruction, the hell on earth.

“In 1987, he conducted the first visit by an Israeli president to Germany and chose to open his visit at the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, four decades after he had first stepped into the heart of darkness there. During his visit he said, and I quote: ‘I bring with me neither forgiveness nor forgetfulness. The only ones who can forgive are the dead; the living have no right to forget.’ So he said, in a bequest that I bring here, etched on my heart, today.

“Thirty-five years have passed and I, about to conclude my state visit to Germany at Bergen-Belsen in a few hours, wish to repeat his remarks here, before you, representatives of the German people, from all factions, and I say: the Jewish People do not forget. Not just because of our debt to the generations of the past, but also because of our duties to the generations of the future.

“This is not easy. Grappling with memories is a horrible thing. It is fundamentally complex. It is complicated, difficult, and painful—for Germans, because some will always deny the past, feel personally blamed, or simply want to let bygones be bygones. And from the totally opposite end—it is also complicated, difficult, and painful in Israel. Because whether or not we desire it, the memory of the Holocaust is a profound part of our identity as a people; and a nation that carries around its historical memories, its experiences of such chilling and impossible depths, is unlike every other nation.

“But despite all this, ladies and gentlemen, even if we cannot meet on the plains of memory, we must meet on the plains of meaning and shared learning. Giving meaning to memory means treating memory as a binding imperative, as a moral burden, as a responsibility. The divides of our past cannot be bridged, but latent in our future is tremendous responsibility, and it must therefore be a shared endeavor; shared, for our sake and for yours; because only thus, only together, may we give meaning to memory. Only mutual exchanges, deeper relations, and enduring commitments to each other, to liberty, to humanity, to democracy, in addition to an eternal oath of loyalty to the independence and security of the State of Israel, to the flourishing of the Jewish people—only these will guarantee, for both nations, that memory will have meaning. May they be an exemplar for all humanity.

“Ladies and gentlemen, history has bound the Jewish People and the State of Israel to Germany indivisibly. In a bond of memory. A bond of meaning. A bond that must find expression in the realms of the past, the present, and the future.

“As for the past, we must continue learning and teaching about the Holocaust. Investigating it without fear or restriction, looking squarely at reality as it is. Waging an all-out war on Holocaust denial. Studying the conditions that led to it. Leaving no stone unturned. Trying to understand what the mind cannot comprehend.

“As for the present: the need of the hour, binding on us day in, day out, from morning to night, is that we not ignore voices that spew hate, be they online, on social media, in the streets, or in places of political power. We must declare all-out war on antisemitism and racism: stiff, clear, and unyielding. We must find a way to walk together, in light of the values of peace, justice, mutual respect, tolerance, and partnership.

“As for the future, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that our duty is also a privilege, in the full sense of the word. The partnership between Israel and Germany has achieved global renown, and we must continue deepening and cultivating it, for the benefit of a brilliant future not only for our countries but for the whole of humanity.

“The modern State of Israel is a wonder of revival and prosperity, of a momentous contribution to humanity in culture, medicine, academia, science, and so many other fields. Israel has established, over the years, a strong partnership with the nations of Europe, in a range of fields and issues; and it is a party to efforts to resolve global crises, including the climate crisis, where my country has played a highly significant role in developing technologies that will contribute to our confrontation with it.

“Israel has also become a powerful engine of pan-regional partnership in the Middle East. The Abraham Accords, joining earlier peace accords and endeavors for normalization, dialogue, and rapprochement, have made Israel a prime mover of close neighborly relations, of prosperity, and of unprecedented growth in our region. We have never feared criticism; we have never prevented criticism; but we shall always insist on one thing from our critics: to stick to the truth. Israel’s outreach for peace is genuine; our warm and deep relations with of our neighbors are genuine; and so is the great value that they are bringing our whole region and the world, this is genuine.

“Israel has always aspired, and will continue to aspire, to good neighborliness and peace with all states and nations in the Middle East, and of course also with our Palestinian neighbors. This is an objective, so full of hope and faith, that we have never relinquished, nor shall we ever relinquish. It requires us, and it also requires the Palestinians, to look directly at reality and to make every effort to change it for the better. Our Palestinian neighbors must, first and foremost, fight terror and stop it at once.

“Only yesterday, President Steinmeier and I, together with the bereaved families and other Israeli and German leaders, marked the fifty-year anniversary of the horrific massacre that took place on German soil, in which eleven Israeli athletes were murdered in the Munich Olympic village in 1972. Palestinian terrorist organizations bear responsibility for this nauseating murderous rampage, which violated the most fundamental values not only of human dignity and the sanctity of life, but also of sport in general, and of the Olympics in particular. They also bear responsibility for other no-less-gruesome acts of terror, which continue to be perpetrated, right into the present.

“At this opportunity, I wish to thank President Steinmeier, Chancellor Scholz, and the German Government and the Government of Bavaria for the efforts that led to the agreement with the victims’ families, taking responsibility, making a commitment to an objective historical inquiry, and promoting relief for the bereaved families, who will forever bear this awful pain in their hearts. I thank you for the moving ceremony yesterday at Fürstenfeldbruck.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Israel is a party to the international effort to block the radical forces sowing terror, grief, and devastation and seeking to menace everyone in the world. Even in our generation, even right now, dark forces of hate, led by Iran, threaten not only Israel, and not only stability in the Middle East, but the global order itself. Here, at this important forum in Berlin, I call on the family of nations to work firmly and assertively against Iran and its plans to develop nuclear weapons.

“The possession of weapons of mass destruction by a U.N. member state that calls on a daily basis for the annihilation of another U.N. member state is simply inconceivable. Threats and endeavors to annihilate Israel are inconceivable. The guideline must be clear: a state that denies the Holocaust, a state that acts out of hatred and belligerency, a state that threatens the State of Israel’s right to exist—is ineligible to sign deals that will only embolden it, is ineligible for kickbacks or funds, is ineligible for concessions, under any circumstances.

“The international community must stand on the right side of history, set clear conditions, impose fierce and essential sanctions, create an impermeable buffer between Iran and nuclear capabilities—it must act, and not back down. The State of Israel will defend itself and will fight by all means necessary against threats to it and to its citizens. I call on the whole world: don’t stand idly by.

“Distinguished audience, leaders and elected representatives of Germany—Germany and the German people built an exemplary state and nation after the Second World War and did so in an inspirational fashion. Germany has achieved renown and become a leading and responsible economic and security power; an engine of intellect and culture; a driver of unprecedented momentum in Europe and the whole world. Germany is a leading and central power in Europe and in NATO, a fact highlighted in its support for the peace and integrity of Ukraine. I am confident that Germany will be a leading actor in the departure from the terrible tragedy afflicting the people of Ukraine, and we all hope for their suffering to end as soon as possible and for stability and peace to return to Ukraine and the whole of Europe.

“Germany’s groundbreaking work in the field of social welfare, based on an advanced understanding of the world, and its contributions to equality, to care for the weak, and to developing impressive, respectful, and supportive social infrastructure for all those who need it steered an agenda of humanism and human dignity, which has swept Europe along with it and has won plaudits around the world. Democratic Germany’s dignified status in the family of nations, which have made it one of the predominant leaders of the free world, is the fruit of success and most importantly, of commitment—to the past, and no less so, to humanity’s future.

“Germany has demonstrably devoted mighty efforts to commemoration and remembrance, while at the same time working at full-steam in the fields of innovation, entrepreneurship, science, technology, and research—in every field on which our future depends. The State of Israel is proud of its partnership with Germany and greatly appreciates the deep friendship, the bold alliance between our countries, and Germany’s contributions to Israel’s security and prosperity.

“I am completely confident that our shared values, and the deep friendship between our countries, will contribute toward reinforcing our partnership further along the journey that Israel and Germany are making together, side by side, hand in hand, toward a prosperous future filled with hope.

“Distinguished audience, the Israeli poet I quoted earlier in my speech, Yehuda Amichai, whose surname literally means ‘my nation lives,’ ended his anthology by returning to that headstone fragment from the town of his birth in Germany, resting on his desk in Jerusalem. As I conclude, I want to quote once more from a poem of his and to offer a prayer, that his words may be a cornerstone for our partnership, nourished by the past and the future alike. Thus, he wrote: ‘This piece of stone on my desk gives me some comfort; a stone of truth that cannot be overturned; a stone of more wisdom than all other stones, a stone from a broken headstone, more complete than completeness itself. A stone of testimony to everything that has ever been and for the things that will always be, a stone of love and finality. Amen, amen, so may it be.’ Thank you all.”