JERUSALEM – In an emotional tribute to victims and survivors of the Holocaust, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that the Nazi genocide “fills us Germans with shame” and pledged to stand by Israel’s side against any threat, particularly from Iran.
“This historic responsibility is part of my country’s fundamental policy,” Merkel said in a speech delivered in German to a special session of the Israeli parliament. “It means that for me, as a German chancellor, Israel’s security is nonnegotiable.”
The address capped a three-day state visit in which the German leader, a staunch ally, marked the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding by formally upgrading an already warm relationship between the countries.
Merkel’s visit, as did previous ones by German leaders, stirred traumatic memories. Six million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis during World War II, and about 250,000 elderly survivors live in Israel.
It took 20 years after Germany’s defeat in 1945 for the two countries to establish full diplomatic relations. Even today, many Israelis refuse to buy German-made goods or visit Germany.
Seven of the 120 members of parliament boycotted the session, saying they could not bear to join in an event with a German official or hear the German language. “This is the language my grandparents were murdered in,” said Arye Eldad, a right-wing lawmaker.
But the protest was overshadowed by a standing ovation for Merkel by lawmakers and about 1,000 invited guests, including Holocaust survivors and Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders.
Lawmakers changed their rules to allow her to address them, even though she is not a head of state. She opened her speech in heavily accented Hebrew, thanking her hosts for “the great honor” of addressing them. Then she switched to her native tongue.
“The mass murder of 6 million Jews, carried out in the name of Germany, has brought indescribable suffering to the Jewish people, Europe and the entire world,” she said.
“The Shoah fills us Germans with shame,” she added, using the Hebrew word for Holocaust. “I bow before the victims. I bow before the survivors and before all those who helped them survive.”
Merkel is not the first German leader to stand before the parliament here and voice such regrets; Johannes Rau, then Germany’s president, became the first to do so in 1990.
Israeli leaders were more attentive to Merkel’s remarks on Iran, whose president has called for Israel’s destruction.
They have been urging Germany to take the lead in diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Parliament speaker Dalia Itzik urged the chancellor to “remove this death sentence from the world.”
Merkel, whose government has joined in U.S.-led sanctions by reducing its trade with Iran, promised to be vigilant and skeptical about Tehran’s claims that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
“It is not up to the world to prove that Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb, but rather up to Iran to prove that it is not,” she said. “If Iran does not accept this, Germany will push for further sanctions.
“If Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons, it would have disastrous consequences,” she added. “We have to prevent this.”