BUDAPEST, Hungary — German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle won a standing ovationat the World Jewish Congress on Monday for an address in which he asserted that Israel has an absolute right to defend itself against its enemies and that anti-Semitism needed to be attacked at its roots.
Westerwelle said fighting anti-Semitism entailed not only preventing physical attacks and racist laws, but required tackling the roots of the problem, changing education curricula and strengthening historical research and democratic values.
“First Jews and other minorities are attacked, but at the end evil targets all of society,” the German minister told the World Jewish Congress.
“Anti-Semitism has no place, neither in Berlin, nor in Budapest, nor in any other place in the world,” Westerwelle said. “We have to attack the root causes of anti-Semitism, educate about the Holocaust and promote research. This fight is about preserving our common values, about standing up for freedom, for human rights, for our dignity.”
The bond between Israel and Germany is historic, but also based on shared values. “We must not forget that Israel is the only sustainable and functioning democracy in the Middle East.”
Recalling his first trip to Israel, as a student in his 20s, Westerwelle said that while “standing on top of Mount Tavor, overlooking the country, I realized just how small Israel is, and I came to understand what security means for Israel.”
Westerwelle said that those who would opine on Israel’s security need to ask themselves: “If 1,500 rockets were fired at you… how would you react?”
“Germany stands by its commitment to the security of Israel, and, let me add, Israel has the legitimate right to defend itself,” he stated. “We cannot, and we will not, accept an Iranian nuclear weapon.”
A nuclear Iran “is a threat for the stability of the entire region. It could spark a nuclear arms race and it endangers the global nonproliferation regime,” the German minister said, noting that the sanctions put in place by the international community are showing results. “We will not accept talks for the sake of talks,” he said.
Westerwelle said the Arab Spring and revitalized US involvement in brokering between Israel and the Palestinian Authority could present “a historic opportunity for peace.”
“We strongly support renewed efforts toward a two-state solution,” he said, adding that the solution “needed to be a negotiated one. Unilateral steps only harm the progress and prospect of a real solution.”
Westerwelle acknowledged that there were risks involved, but warned that “the longer the conflict takes, the harder it will become to reach a solution.”
Westerwelle’s speech came the morning after the WJC said Prime Minister Viktor Orban did not go far enough in condemning the anti-Semitism that has reared its head in Hungary, shortly after Orban called for zero-tolerance of anti-Jewish activity at the opening address of the group’s annual meeting in Budapest.
Orban “said what he said, [WJC president Ronald] Lauder made his point and we made it clear that there was a huge gap between the two,” a senior WJC official told The Times of Israel Sunday.
Orban spoke of his government’s efforts to protect Jewish rights and Hungary’s role in stopping anti-Semitism, on the heels of a march by far-right demonstrators the day before.
Speaking to the roughly 600 delegates and observers, Orban said many had come from places where anti-Semitism was a real threat, but that was not the case in Hungary.
“I ask you to help us prevent it from happening,” he said. “Anti-Semitism is not a natural disaster, but the work of men.”
“We welcome that the prime minister made it clear that anti-Semitism is unacceptable and intolerable,” a WJC spokesperson said. “However, the prime minister did not confront the true nature of the problem: the threat posed by the anti-Semites in general and by the extreme-right Jobbik party in particular. We regret that Mr. Orban did not address any recent anti-Semitic or racist incidents in the country, nor did he provide sufficient reassurance that a clear line has been drawn between his government and the far-right fringe.”
The WJC is this year holding its annual assembly outside of Israel for the first time in 15 years in a show of support to Hungarian Jewry, which suffered dozens of anti-Semitic attacks in 2012.