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Merkel affirms German commitment to Israel

“Every government in Germany will have to side with Israel, and I believe that every government will indeed feel a commitment to your security,” vowed outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a state visit to Jerusalem, in reference to the nuclear threat posed by Iran.

By Erin Viner

The German leader made the pledge during her eighth and final visit to Israel as she concludes her 16-year term. The 67-year-old Chancellor plans to retire as soon as a new government is formed amid current efforts by Germany’s Social Democrats to build a coalition to replace the conservative government led by Merkel’s Christian Democrats in the wake of an inconclusive 26 September election.

“I want to use this opportunity to emphasize that the topic of Israel’s security will always be of central importance and a central topic of every German government,” she stressed, according to an Israeli government transcript at Merkel’s private morning meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett yesterday.

“It is fair to say that I continue to consider it a stroke of good fortune given to us by history that after the crimes against humanity of the Shoah (Holocaust), it has been possible to reset and to reestablish relations between Germany and Israel to the extent that we have,” she said.

We very much appreciate your ongoing friendship and commitment to the people of Israel. The relationship between Germany and Israel has been strong, but in your term, it has never been stronger; it has become more than just an alliance. It has become a true friendship thanks to your leadership. We’re looking forward to strengthening it even more in business relations, science, education, health and of course, in security,” Bennett told Merkel during their talks at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

“Sometimes a leader makes a profound difference and I think your leadership paved the foundation for an ongoing commitment of Germany to Israel’s security and we very much appreciate it. We certainly remember history and we look optimistically to a brighter future. My government will continue the ongoing relationship, but our new government also brings a new spirit, a new spirit of goodwill,” he added.

Chancellor Merkel was hailed as a “special guest” and “true friend of the State of Israel” while attending a later festive session of Bennett’s cabinet, where she again referred to the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II.

“It is a gift of history, to which Israel contributed much, that Germany can sit here at a table with you today since the history of the Shoah is a singular event for which we continue to bear responsibility in every phase of history, including in the future,” she said.

After acknowledging the diversity of his Cabinet, which he said reflects “the true face of Israel: Men and women, left and right, Jews and Arabs” that not only “works for the welfare of its citizens but also aspires to contribute to the world,” Prime Minister Bennett said there was certain consensus on “the importance that we all ascribe to relations with Germany, the need to maintain and improve them, and the high regard that everyone here has for the special role that you have played over the years in strengthening this bond, which sits on an immense historical wound.”

He also said that during Merkel’s working visit, bilateral discussions would be advanced on assistance to Holocaust survivors, the strengthening of bilateral economic ties particularly in innovation and preservation of the future of the planet, as well as deepening national relations particularly among youth.

Quoting the Chancellor’s statements that, ‘Israel is still the only state in the region that has democracy and has the rule of law, freedom of opinion and pluralism. The security of Israel is part of Germany’s national interest. We are not neutral,” Bennett praised praised his guest for having “served as the moral compass of all of Europe and have taken an uncompromising line in supporting Israel.”

“In this very important sentence, there is a moral stand that is so important to hear, especially in Europe: We are not neutral. Not because of the moral debt and the special relationship between the two countries, but because the State of Israel is truly, as I said at the UN, a lighthouse in a stormy sea. Whoever maintains neutrality in the conflict between Israel and countries like Iran and organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah has lost their moral compass,” he asserted.

Reiterating his vow that “the responsibility on Israel is to make certain – in actions, not speeches – that Iran will not have nuclear weapons, ever,” the Premier stated, “Nuclear weapons in the hands of such an extremist and violent regime will change the face of the region and the world. For us this is not a strategic problem, but an existential issue.”

“The world is currently sitting and waiting for a decision in Teheran, whether or not to return to the discussion table in Vienna and to reenter the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) nuclear agreement,” said Bennett, adding that, “Unfortunately, in the last three years the Iranians have taken a giant leap forward in their ability to enrich uranium. The Iranian nuclear program is at its most advanced point ever. The world is waiting, the Iranians are playing for time, and the centrifuges are spinning.”

At a later joint press conference, Bennett insisted that “the Iranian nuclear program has reached a stage that requires leadership. Acceptance of Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state will be a moral stain on the free world and – even more so – will threaten world peace.”

“We see how the Iranians are acting at the moment without a nuclear umbrella in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Gaza and the Gulf,” he charged, adding, “One can only imagine the extent of the damage they would cause if the world knew that behind this bullying there was also a nuclear weapon.”

“There is no point in trying to appease the Iranians; they interpret conciliation as a weakness. They continue to thrive in the international community, playing for time while constantly advancing uranium enrichment and destabilizing the region,” said the Israeli leader, arguing that, “This is a critical point, and Germany’s position is particularly important.”

During her visit, Chancellor Merkel was hosted for lunch by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who presented her with an honorary fellowship in her name for outstanding female scientists at the Weizmann Institute.

“There could be no more fitting tribute to Angela Merkel, a scientist by training and leading advocate of women’s advancement in the world of science, than this honorary postdoctoral fellowship in her name for outstanding female scientists,” said President Herzog, elaborating that, “Over her 16 years as Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel has been a formidable leader, whose core commitment to statesmanship based on moral values will be her enduring legacy. One expression of her deep principles has been her personal devotion to Israel’s security and Holocaust remembrance.”

At the conclusion of the visit, Prime Minister Bennett escorted Chancellor Merkel to the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, where the two leaders participated in a state memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, and met with museum officials and Holocaust survivor Dr. Henry Foner.

Following is a transcript of Israeli Prime Minister Bennett’s remarks at the Yad Vashem ceremony:

“The Hebrew word ‘Shoah’, which has also become established around the world and serves to describe the destruction of the Jewish people during World War II, comes from Psalm 63:10, ‘But they seek my soul to make it desolate.’

The original meaning of the word is ‘desolation’. The Nazis’ goal was to leave behind them a desolation – the complete erasure of our people. One-third of it was lost, six million men, women and children.

But honored guests, when one leaves Yad Vashem and sees the words of the prophet Zechariah 8:5, ‘And the streets of the city shall be filled, with boys and girls playing in its streets’, one understands the enormity of the disaster, and one also understands the enormity of the miracle: Only a few decades separate between the strong, prosperous and optimistic Israel of our days and the Shoah, the most massive genocide in history, and the most difficult, darkest and most painful chapter in the annals of our people.

The Shoah has many lessons. Even decades later, the Jewish people have yet to comprehend the depth of the disaster that befell it. In my view, the most important lesson is the simplest and most self-evident: The place of the Jewish people is on its soil, here in the Land of Israel.

The Shoah is not the reason for the existence of the State of Israel. The connection of the Jewish people to its land did not start at Auschwitz. But Auschwitz – our brothers and sisters who were lost there – strengthens our determination to never again be defenseless, far from our homeland.

 For me, as a believing Jew, as an Israeli, in whom is etched the history of our people, and is with him wherever he goes, as someone with family roots that were cut off in the Shoah and which are commemorated here by name, as the Prime Minister of Israel, the future of which is entrusted in his hands, all roads lead to Jerusalem.”