German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) greets Israeli President Reuven Rivlin upon his arrival for a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on May 12, 2015..
(photo credit: ADAM BERRY / AFP)
Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Germany on Wednesday evening, a day after his comments linking the grand mufti of Jerusalem to the Holocaust sparked a furor.
As he boarded the plane for Berlin earlier in the day, Netanyahu clarified his remarks to the Zionist Congress a day before, stressing that Hitler was responsible for murdering six million Jews, but Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti at the time, had encouraged him. In his speech, the prime minister sought to draw a parallel between Husseini’s charges against Jews in the 1920s for endangering the Temple Mount to Palestinian incitement today that Israel was threatening al-Aksa Mosque.
Seventy years after the Holocaust ended, Netanyahu’s trip to Germany has powerful symbolic resonance, since it takes place during a year that marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and West Germany.
Back in May 1965, Dr. Rolf Pauls, the first German ambassador to Israel, was greeted with howls of outrage, rotten tomatoes and huge demonstrations. A picture symbolic of that period in Israeli-German relations shows Pauls kissing the hand of then-foreign minister Gold Meir after presenting his credentials to president Zalman Shazar. Meir’s expression is decidedly sour. The shouts of protesters outside the president’s residence were probably easily audible.
Afterward, Shazar was bombarded with mail from outraged citizens, many of whom Holocaust survivors.
But much has changed in the half century since. Germany is seen as Israel’s most important and closest ally in Europe. Merkel is very popular in Israel. In a speech before the Knesset in 2008, Merkel said that the existence of the Jewish state was part of Germany’s raison d’etat and nonnegotiable. Last month, in a rare interview with Yediot Aharonot ahead of Netanyahu’s visit, which was delayed from last week due to the ongoing terrorist attacks in Israel, Merkel made some important comments on Germany’s stance vis-à-vis Iran.As leader of one of the P5+1 nations that negotiated the nuclear weapons deal with the Islamic Republic, she made a case for the deal, claiming it “would help regional security more than a situation without an agreement.”
But Merkel went on to say that “Iran must change its unacceptable stance toward Israel.” Until politicians who rule in Tehran reach this conclusion, said Merkel, “I see it as the German government’s duty to repeat this demand again and again.” She was referring to comments made on numerous occasions by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah.
On September 7, Khamenei predicted that “there will be no such thing as a Zionist regime in 25 years.” He was referring to the length of time that the nuclear deal agreed upon with the P5+1 nations would supposedly restrict Iran’s nuclear weapons programs.
On September 23, Khamenei said that “the Zionist regime’s crimes in Palestine and repeated insult of the sacred sanctuary of the Aksa Mosque... are the foremost problem for Muslims.”
Hamas, a terrorist organization that has received extensive support from the Islamic Republic, was behind the despicable murder of Naama and Eitam Henkin on October 1, the first attack in the current wave of Palestinian terror.
The bloodbath in Syria was instigated in large part by Iran; the sectarian violence that continues to tear apart Iraq is perpetuated by Iran; the war in Yemen is yet another result of Iranian meddling. These are all minor matters, according to Khamenei. So what should really bother Muslims is that a few Jews would like to pray on the Temple Mount? After hearing all these comments and many more by Khamenei and other high-ranking Iranian officials, Merkel is rightly concerned. But what does she plan to do about it? Germans and Israelis have drawn diametrically opposite conclusions from the Holocaust. For Israelis the lesson to be learned is “Never again.” Never should Jews be the victims of another nation’s genocidal hatred.
Germans also have a “Never again” lesson that they learn from World War II – never again must Germany make war.
When pressured about what Germany was willing to do to stop Iran from harming Israel, Merkel replied, “I’m not interested in overstating Germany’s goal and abilities.”
Germany is one of Israel’s most important allies. Half a century of solid bilateral relations will be celebrated in Berlin next week. But ultimately Israel cannot rely on the Germans – or anyone else, for that matter – to protect it. We have to do that ourselves.