Merkel: Iran’s stance on Israel ‘unacceptable’

In highly empathetic interview to Israeli paper to mark 50 years of ties, chancellor cites Germany’s ‘constant responsibility’ for Holocaust, ‘fundamental commitment’ to Israel’s well-being

German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes a statement after a visit at a branch of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees and a camp for asylum-seekers in Berlin on September 10, 2015. (AFP / DPA / BERND VON JUTRCZENKA)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes a statement after a visit at a branch of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees and a camp for asylum-seekers in Berlin on September 10, 2015. (AFP / DPA / BERND VON JUTRCZENKA)

Iran’s ongoing hostility toward Israel and its frequent calls for the destruction of the Jewish state are “unacceptable,” and Tehran must change its stance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday.

In an interview published Saturday on the English website of Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations, Merkel said Germany will keep repeating this message “loudly and clearly” until the Iranian regime understands.

“Iran must change its unacceptable stance towards Israel. I hope one day politicians who rule in Tehran will reach this conclusion. Until then, I see it as the German government’s duty to repeat this demand again and again,” she said.

Merkel admitted that the nuclear agreement signed with Iran in July to curtail its atomic program was not perfect, and said she understood Israel’s opposition to the deal. But, she said, mechanisms were in place to reimpose the tight sanctions on Iran should it violate the terms of the agreement.

Germany was one of the six countries that negotiated and penned the agreement with Tehran.

“I am mindful of Israel’s sensitivity about this topic and its lack of faith in Iran. After all, it is Israel that is directly threatened – but really all of us, the free world, are threatened by Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons,” she said.

“Even if I, like other partners, reached the conclusion that the pros outweigh the cons – I still cannot ignore the criticism leveled at the agreement. We do not have absolute certainty that Iran will truly take the path of transparency. In the event that Iran does not adhere to its commitment, the agreement allows for us to reinstate the sanctions.”

The German leader acknowledged that the Holocaust casts a shadow across the relationship between Germany and Israel, and said that she herself feels personal responsibility toward the Jewish state. As such, she said, she was conscious of her own efforts to maintain good ties between Jerusalem and Berlin.

“We are doing this out of an awareness for Germany’s constant responsibility for the fracturing of civilization in the time of the Holocaust and an awareness for the shared values and interests,” she said.

“Israel’s security was and is a very important matter for every German chancellor – and so it will be in the future, too,” Merkel stated. “My statement must be understood in a very comprehensive way. It is frequently reduced to the military aspect, but it refers to an entirely fundamental commitment to Israel’s security. We are certainly not neutral.”

The chancellor also acknowledged — and lamented — the poor image that Israel has in Germany, and was fiercely critical of any comparison between Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians and the Nazis’ determination to eradicate the Jewish people.

“The Holocaust as a systematic attempt to wipe out the Jews is a unique crime,” she said. “This kind of comparison is totally wrong and incomprehensible.”

While she acknowledged that her country and the Netanyahu government may not see eye to eye on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she also said that “German-Israeli relations keep developing” and that “every time, we learn all over again that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. That’s the crucial point – even if we’re split on a few issues that have to do with the settlement policies, and even if we would have liked there to be a negotiation toward a two-state solution.”

Merkel repeatedly praised Israeli innovation, and recalled trying to access Israeli scientific research in East Germany, in the days before the Iron Curtain fell and the country was reunited.

Germany and Israel, she said, have shared values that provide common ground between the two nations.

“First and foremost, the values that Germany and Israel represent in the world unite us: Freedom, democracy, and human dignity – which apply to every man and woman,” Merkel said. “[T]he most important thing that unites us is of course the basic understanding of the individual’s dignity and his right to self-actualization.”

Merkel is set to host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several Israeli government ministers next week in Berlin for an annual consultation meeting, which the chancellor initiated in 2008 in an effort to improve ties and ensure dialogue.

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