Merkel knesset 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Knesset on Tuesday that her countrymen's hearts were filled with shame over the Holocaust, and that her government would stand with Israel against any threat - especially a nuclear Iran.
Knesset members responded with a standing ovation, despite the absence of four MKs who refused to attend Merkel's address because she spoke in German.
"Especially in this place, I emphasize: Every German government and every chancellor before me was committed to the special responsibility Germany has for Israel's security," she said. "If Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons, it would have disastrous consequences... We have to prevent this."
She added that it was not up to the international community to prove that Teheran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program, but rather for Iran to prove that it was not.
"If Iran does not accept this, Germany will push for further sanctions," she said.
Merkel repeatedly spoke of her country's "historic responsibility" to Israel, adding that as the German chancellor, she felt Israel's security was "non-negotiable."
"I say it in a clear voice - the Kassam fire must stop," Merkel said. "Terror attacks are a crime, and do not resolve political disputes."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert praised Merkel's "strong and determined position against the horrific calls from the president of Iran to wipe Israel off the map and against Teheran's trickery and deceit."
"The close bonds of friendship between Germany and Israel are not ordinary relations between two nations," Olmert said. "They carry the heavy weight of historical memory to which we are obligated. But this is exactly why they [also] contain power, sensitivity and substance that are unparalleled between any two nations in the international arena."
Merkel grew up in East Germany, the daughter of a Protestant pastor. In her speech, she referred to her former country's refusal to take responsibility for the Holocaust; until unification in 1990, that burden was shouldered by West Germany alone.
Communist East Germany considered the Nazi past as a West German problem, Merkel said. "It took 40 years until the entire Germany... acknowledged its responsibility for history and for the State of Israel," she said.
"The Shoah fills us Germans with shame. I bow before the victims. I bow before the survivors and before all those who helped them survive," she said.
The address capped Merkel's three-day visit to Israel, in honor of the 60th anniversary of the state's independence. German and Israeli flags were raised above the Knesset, as more than 1,000 guests attended a special lunch and Knesset session in honor of the chancellor.
Merkel opened her speech with a Hebrew sentence, thanking the Knesset for giving her the "great honor" of addressing them in German.
MKs Arye Eldad (National Union-National Religious Party), Shelly Yacimovich (Labor), Yisrael Katz (Likud), and Ya'acov Cohen (United Torah Judaism) left the plenum before Merkel's speech.
Eldad protested the address by reading poems by the late Uri Zvi Greenberg about the Holocaust, in a room two floors below the Knesset chamber.
"The last words my family heard were in German, and those were the orders to shoot them," Eldad said. "My protest is against the State of Israel and the Knesset, who invited her to make an address inside [the Knesset] when protocol does not require it."
Yacimovich said that while Merkel was a true friend to Israel, "allowing her to speak in German in the Israeli Knesset is utterly insensitive to Holocaust survivors. Germany is our ally, but in our generation we must respect the wounded psyches of survivors."
MK Moshe Sharoni (Gil Pensioners), a Holocaust survivor who was in a forced labor camp in Germany during the war, said Tuesday morning that he had no objection to hearing the language of his "former oppressors" spoken in the Knesset.
"It was not the language that destroyed us, but rather the people in command who change everything," Sharoni said. "When our president travels abroad he also speaks Hebrew. We cannot forbid them from speaking their language. I mean, the British also caused us trouble, would we forbid them to speak English?"
Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu said it was "possible to understand" the MKs who absented themselves from the plenum, but it was important to note that their protest did not stem from personal opposition to Merkel.
The Knesset House Committee approved the speech last week. The chancellor is not the official head of state in Germany, thus Merkel did not qualify to address the plenum until the legislature's bylaws were amended.
At a gathering in the Knesset earlier Tuesday, Merkel said her country would do its best to assist in freeing the three IDF soldiers abducted in 2006, Gilad Schalit, held in Gaza, and Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, taken to Lebanon. The soldier's families passed letters to her urging Germany's continued involvement in the issue.
Merkel expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also said Israel did not need unsolicited advice from outsiders. She is not meeting with Palestinian leaders during her current trip to Israel.
MK Taleb a-Sanaa (United Arab List-Ta'al) criticized Merkel for the itinerary of her trip, saying "The Palestinian people shouldn't have to pay the price for the Germans' crimes against the Jews."
"Germany must not try to make up for the past by committing new crimes against the Palestinian people... Germany should go for a fair policy in regards to the Middle East, one that recognizes that the Palestinian people are the victims in this conflict," Sanaa said.
Germany is trying to help set up an industrial park near Jenin that would create thousands of jobs for Palestinians. Merkel said she would follow the project very closely.
Prior to Merkel's visit to the Knesset, she met with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who repeated what she has been telling foreign leaders for weeks: Negotiations with the Palestinians will be conducted in parallel with a war against terrorism. Livni also stressed that Israel's goal in Gaza was not only to stop the rocket attacks, but also to halt Hamas's military buildup.
"In dealing with Hamas, and also in relation to Iran, hesitation creates an impression of victory, and that will lead to a strengthening of the extremists at the expense of the moderates," Livni said in the meeting, according to a press release put out by her office.
Merkel, on the third and final day of her visit here, also met with President Shimon Peres, who said at the outset of their meeting that Europe and the US needed to work together and present a common front against Iran's attempts to become a nuclear power.
Peres said that Teheran constituted a real threat to world peace, and that Iranian oil revenue was funding world terrorism - including Hamas and Hizbullah.
Regarding the Palestinian issue, Peres said Israel could not allow the establishment of an independent Palestinian state or make concessions as long as the security of Israel's citizens was not ensured. For that reason, he said, it was important to strengthen the Palestinian moderates, who he said wanted peace with Israel.
Praising Germany's investment in an industrial park that is planned for Jenin, Peres said that only improving the living standards of the Palestinians by creating jobs and improving education and infrastructure will further peace, not sending weapons or money to the PA, which led to an increase of corruption and bureaucracy.
Merkel said Germany was interested in taking an active role in furthering economic cooperation between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians, according to Peres's office.