At Yad Vashem, Merkel says Germany has ‘everlasting’ duty to fight anti-Semitism

German chancellor, visiting Israel with her cabinet, says Nazi violence and persecution of European Jews ‘broke with civilization’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel lays a wreath during a ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on October 4, 2018 (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel lays a wreath during a ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on October 4, 2018 (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel continued her 24-hour visit to Israel on Thursday with a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, and said Germany bore an “everlasting responsibility” to remember the tragedy and oppose anti-Semitism.

“Nearly 80 years ago, on the pogrom night of November 9, the Jewish people in Germany faced unprecedented hate and violence,” she said after her visit, reading out the message she wrote in the museum’s guestbook.

Merkel was referring to the Night of Broken Glass. or Kristallnacht, pogroms on November 9, 1938.

“But what followed were the unprecedented crimes of the Shoah and its break with civilization,” Merkel added. “From this comes the everlasting responsibility of Germany to remember this crime and to oppose anti-Semitism, xenophobia, hatred and violence.”

Later on Thursday, Merkel was meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, and will also receive an honorary doctorate from Haifa University.

Merkel, who is accompanied by much of her cabinet, a large business delegation and her new czar for combating anti-Semitism, arrived in Israel on Wednesday night for the latest in a series of joint government consultations highlighting the countries’ close bond seven decades after the Holocaust, even as recent developments have tested the ties.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet with Israeli and German businessmen at the Israel Museum Jerusalem on October 4, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / ABIR SULTAN)

Her two-day visit is expected to focus on bilateral economic issues, with an emphasis on innovation, technology and development projects. But looming in the background will be sharp differences in Israeli and German policies toward Iran and the Palestinians.

Germany is Israel’s largest trading partner in Europe and for the past few decades has been one of its strongest allies. Israel was established three years after the end of World War II, and the German government has paid billions in reparations to Holocaust survivors and positioned itself as a leader in combating anti-Semitism.

But differences have been exacerbated following the election of US President Donald Trump.

Netanyahu has been one of Trump’s staunchest international supporters, lauding him for pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal that Merkel and other world leaders helped negotiate in 2015. Netanyahu says the deal, which curbed Iran’s nuclear program, does not include enough safeguards to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Trump also has largely refrained from criticizing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank — a subject of frequent European complaint — and has recognized Jerusalem as its capital and moved the US embassy there. He also has cut funding to the Palestinians and fully pinned the blame for stalled Mideast peace talks on them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on October 3, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Netanyahu’s rapport with Merkel has been cordial though cool at times. Merkel has continued to champion the traditional approach to the Middle East peace process, calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Germany, for instance, has been among the European countries calling on Israel to refrain from carrying out its plans to demolish a West Bank hamlet it says was illegally built.

Israel has offered to resettle the 180 Bedouin Palestinian residents of the Khan al-Ahmar encampment a few kilometers away. But Palestinians and their European backers say the demolition is aimed at displacing Bedouins in favor of settlement expansion and would deal a devastating blow to hopes for Palestinian statehood.

Children from the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan Al Ahmar hold signs with the slogan “Save my school” as they protest outside President Reuven Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem during his meeting on October 4, 2018 with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who arrived the previous night on an official visit to Israel. (AFP PHOTO / Ahmad GHARABLI)

The Supreme Court recently rejected a final appeal against the plans and residents are bracing for the move any day. Israeli forces are unlikely to carry it out during Merkel’s brief stay though, for fear of sparking a crisis.

Regardless, Israeli officials say they don’t expect that issue — or Merkel’s long-held preference for maintaining the Iran deal — to overshadow the visit, which is expected to bring about new economic agreements, the creation of a formal youth exchange and a renewed commitment to combating anti-Semitism, after Israel raised alarm over several recent cases in Germany.

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