German in the Knesset

Angela Merkel made a historic visit to Israel, speaking before its Knesset in full plenary session — in German.  The Israelis had to change their law to allow the occasion; prior to this, only heads of state and not heads of government could address a full session.  Some members boycotted the speech, declaring that it was given in the “language of the murderers”, but the German Prime Minister’s message was one of strong, unequivocal support:

But in the end only a handful of parliamentarians stayed away, because they perceived Merkel’s appearance as “insensitive.” The vast majority of the Israeli parliament, though, listened attentively and, after a final “Shalom!” gave the chancellor a standing ovation. It was probably the most convincing sign that the three-day visit to Israel by Merkel and eight German cabinet ministers marks a shift in the nature of German-Israeli relations.

Merkel’s address was anticipated with some apprehension, and not just by the Israeli press, which had speculated for days over what the chancellor was likely to say or ought to say. …

Germany, Merkel said, would “never abandon Israel, but instead will remain a loyal partner and friend.” As in the past, Merkel’s speech contained only homeopathic doses of criticism of Israel’s occupation policy and its hesitation to commit itself to the peace process. “One must also have the strength to make painful concessions,” the chancellor hinted, only to quickly dilute what had sounded like the beginnings of a rebuke. “In order to be a realist you must believe in miracles,” she said, quoting David Ben Gurion, the founder and first prime minister of the State of Israel.

The speech did not go far enough for some in the Knesset.  Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that Germany take a stronger stance against Iran.  Merkel avoided the issue, as might be expected.  Iran remains a trading partner of Germany and a key to its economy, although the relationship has grown strained by Iranian violations of export agreements on technology.  Merkel spoke instead about the necessity of Hamas to end its Qassam attacks on southern Israel and for the Palestinians to become honest partners in peace.

As expected, Merkel also addressed the Holocaust.  She expressed the great shame that Germany felt over the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis, and talked about her own experience with it growing up in East Germany.  Under the Communists, she and others were taught that the responsibility for the Holocaust belonged to the West Germans — and that since reunification, the former East Germans have had to struggle with acceptance of the stain on all Germany for the atrocities of the Nazi regime.

Der Spiegel believes that this marks the beginning of a new, closer relationship between Germany and Israel.  Given European indulgence of Palestinian terrorism for the last several decades and the insistence on prostrating Israel to appease Yasser Arafat and the Arab nations, it would be highly ironic if Germany became the Continental leader in recognizing that Israel cannot commit suicide for peace.