Merkel's speech stirs passions in Israel

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    By AMY TEIBEL, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 12, 10:38 AM ET

    JERUSALEM - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's upcoming address to the Israeli parliament has inflamed passions here, with one lawmaker threatening Wednesday to storm out of the session.

    Arye Eldad said he was furious Merkel has been allowed to address the Knesset at all because it is a privilege reserved for heads of state — presidents and monarchs. Allowing her to speak in German, instead of the more neutral English, makes it even more painful, he said.

    "German was the last language my grandmother and grandfather heard before they were murdered. The execution orders were given in German ... I plan to stand up and leave" before she speaks, he said.

    Eldad, a member of the hardline National Union party, said he was not trying to organize a parliamentary boycott of Tuesday's speech and he did not know if other lawmakers intended to protest it.

    His comments reflect the deep wounds that remain in Israel from the Nazi Holocaust, despite the cordial relations that have developed with Germany over the decades.

    Knesset bylaws allow only heads of state to address the parliament. A parliamentary committee on Tuesday gave Merkel special dispensation to address lawmakers, said Ilan Ostfeld, a spokesman for Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik. At Merkel's request, she will speak in her native language.

    "She is a very important European and world leader, and a great friend of Israel, and she asked to speak in German," Ostfeld said.

    The chancellor's spokesman, Ulrich Wilhelm, told reporters in Berlin that Merkel "has on various occasions expressed understanding for the particular sensitivity that there is in Israel on this question."

    However, she "also asks for understanding that she, as a representative of the German government and the German chancellor, speaks in her mother tongue, in German," Wilhelm said.

    Merkel is not the first German dignitary to address Knesset in German.

    In 2000, then-President Johannes Rau broke that barrier, delivering an emotional appeal "for forgiveness for what Germans have done."

    Current German President Horst Koehler expressed "shame and humility" toward Holocaust victims in a February 2005 Knesset speech marking 40 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

    Several lawmakers boycotted those sessions.

    Some 250,000 Holocaust victims live in Israel, having survived the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews.

    Although the state of Israel was founded in 1948, it agreed to diplomatic ties with Germany only in 1965, after a fierce debate. Even today, many Israelis refuse to buy German-made goods or to visit Germany.

    The music of Richard Wagner, whose works were played in the Nazi death camps, is barred from broadcast on state-run Israel Radio and informally banned in Israeli concert halls.

    Merkel is traveling to Israel with members of her Cabinet and German lawmakers to underscore the strength of the countries' relations.

    Germany is one of Israel's staunchest allies in Europe and a leading trade partner. It has paid an estimated $25 billion in reparations to Israeli Holocaust survivors, and provided more than $700 million in goods and services to the Israeli government.


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