German president contradicts Merkel on Israel

Jewish NGO calls on Gauck to "clarify his stance on Israel" after he apparently undercut Merkel’s pledge to the Jewish state regarding its security concerns.

June 1, 2012 04:15
3 minute read.
PM Netanyahu and German President Gauck

Gauck and Netanyahu 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

BERLIN – German President Joachim Gauck sparked controversy on Tuesday during his visit to Israel because he apparently undercut Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pledge to the Jewish state regarding its security concerns.

When asked whether Israel’s security relates to national security interests of the Federal Republic, Gauck answered that this policy position could create “enormous difficulties” for a crisis situation in Germany.

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In a statement on Wednesday, the Berlin-based office of the American Jewish Committee called on Gauck to “clarify his stance on Israel.”

The NGO wrote, “Gauck declined to express support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s position that the defense of Israel is a [raison d’etre] for Germany.”

“Recent polls show an increasingly negative climate toward Israel in Germany,” said Deidre Berger, the director of AJC Berlin.

She added that “the timing of President Gauck’s visit is of particular importance, given the threat to Israel of Iran’s secret nuclear program. We urge President Gauck to clarify that his statements do not indicate a shift by the German government in its position on Israel. We are concerned the comments, without reaffirming the position of the German chancellor, will have a further negative impact in Germany on support for Israel.”

Leading German commentators quickly seized on Gauck’s efforts to play down Merkel’s security pledge toward Israel. Malte Lehming, a popular columnist and opinion page editor with the daily Tagesspiegel in Berlin, wrote that Angela Merkel had once stressed in Jerusalem that the security and the right of Israel to exist are integral to Germany’s national security interests. Lehming continued that “Gauck wanted to distance himself from this dictum without directly contradicting the chancellor. That was not successful.”

Lehming noted that there is now a fatal impression that Merkel and Gauck have differences in connection with their relations to Israel.

In a separate editorial in the Tagesspiegel, the paper noted that Gauck should have used his first state visit as president to only visit Israel as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish state during crisis times.

Gauck followed the lead of Germany’s political class, which aims to show neutrality in the region, and visited the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Chancellor Merkel, who is from the conservative Christian Democratic Union party, had opposed Gauck’s candidacy on two occasions for the largely ceremonial position. The Social Democrats, the Green Party and Merkel’s coalition partner, the Free Democrats, supported him.

Writing in the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, also known as the FAZ, Berthold Kohler wrote a column titled “The avoidance of the raison d’etre” regarding German-Israeli relations. Kohler said Merkel’s commitment to Israel with the phrase “raison d’etre” signifies support for Israel in the event of a military conflict with Iran. The FAZ article placed a question mark over Gauck’s position toward Israel’s security in connection with Iranian jingoism.

Dr. Dieter Graumann, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, told the Die Welt online that Gauck delivered “wonderful words” for the German-Israeli relationship.

Graumann, who accompanied the president on his trip to Israel, added in connection with the row over Merkel’s security pledge to Israel, “ I do not see any difference between the federal chancellor and the federal president.

We should not construct any differences here.”

Dr. Clemens Heni, a German political scientist who analyzes German-Israeli relations and modern anti-Semitism in the Federal Republic, wrote to The Jerusalem Post by email on Thursday that Chancellor Angela Merkel said in 2008 in the Knesset that the “historical responsibility” of Germany is a part of the national interests of my country. Heni wrote that “Gauck consciously avoided this phrase” and damaged the chancellor’s stature and office.

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