(photo credit: Associated Press)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won't be a welcome guest for June's World Cup soccer tournament, according to the prime minister of Germany's largest federal state.
"We don't want anybody to create trouble," Dr. Jurgen Ruttgers, minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia, said on Monday. "We want to have a nice and pleasant World Cup."
Germany would also not allow neo-Nazi or extreme right-wing demonstrations, Ruttgers told an audience at the Konrad Adenauer Center in Jerusalem, most of whose members were German-born and in several cases Holocaust survivors.
Asked how Germany would deal with Ahmadinejad in the event that he carries out his intention to attend, Ruttgers said that he was not in a position to make an official statement.
All he could say in general terms was that Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier who has called for the destruction of Israel, was persona non grata in Germany.
"He is not accepted," Ruttgers said.
Germany has not yet made an official decision, but Chancellor Angela Merkel has been placed under increasing pressure from political allies and Jewish groups to ban him.
Speaking later to The Jerusalem Post, Konrad Adenauer Foundation representative in Israel Lars Hansel said that even though Holocaust denial was illegal in Germany, he did not know how the law would be applied to Ahmadinejad, who might have immunity as a head of state.
In Ruttgers's address - given in German on the eve of VE Day, the 61st anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany -he made no attempt to escape responsibility for the Holocaust, nor did he ignore the suffering to which European Jews had been previously subjected.
Persecutions and pogroms escalated into the Holocaust, he said. After the liberation, he added, the Jews had to create their own state to ensure that what they had endured would never happen again.
Since then, Germany had paid a great deal in compensation to Jews and was committed to do all in its power to continue to be of assistance to Israel, he said. "If Israel fails, then we fail" was was not only Germany's attitude, he clarified, but the general attitude in Europe.
"Germany's responsibility for the Holocaust guides us in our political attitude toward Israel, and we will do all that is possible to enable Israel to live in peace," he pledged.
"Every decent German is ashamed of what was done by Germans in the name of Germany."
What was even more galling, he added, was that "Christians committed these outrages" even though Judaism and Christianity are so closely linked in so many ways.
Noting the evolution of reconciliation between Christians and Jews in recent years, Ruttgers cited the Evangelical Church, which brings groups to Auschwitz, and the Catholic Church, which has bridged most of its differences with the Jews.
In Ruttgers' view, although Israel was not quite in the right geographical location to merit membership in the European Union, the EU should not reject it were it to apply for membership because the struggle against anti-Semitism was a cardinal European mission.
Referring to the recent elections and the Kadima platform that included the ceding of additional territory and defining permanent borders, Ruttgers stressed the importance of the implementation of permanent borders so that the Palestinians could live in their state alongside Israel in peace and security.
But this final status should be accorded only on condition that the Palestinians recognize Israel's right to exist, Ruttgers stipulated.
He was convinced that if Europeans were to work together they would succeed in bringing peace to the Middle East. "But Europe cannot take the place of the United States, which must make its own contribution," he said.
Advocating a united foreign policy for Europe, Ruttgers insisted that all of Europe must adopt a policy against terror as well as a policy against globalization. "Only if we have a joint foreign policy can we succeed," he said.
In a reference to Germany's own special relationship with Israel, Ruttgers said that Germany gave no technological and scientific cooperation to any other country outside Europe.
"We want to include Israel in European programs and European markets," he said, emphasizing that Israel must have access to all relevant European programs, especially in the area of R&D.
On a local level, Ruttgers pointed out that the highest Jewish population in Germany was in his own region of North Rhine-Westphalia. "Every fourth Jew in Germany is with us," he said, adding that three new synagogues will be inaugurated this year.
Moreover, there are many cities within Westphalia that are twinned with towns and cities in Israel and there are frequent student exchanges.