Merkel makes landmark speech to Jewish group
5 May 2006, WASHINGTON - Chancellor Angela Merkel became the first German leader to speak at the annual gala of one of the largest US Jewish groups, in what was seen as a symbolically important event.
5 May 2006
WASHINGTON - Chancellor Angela Merkel became the first German leader to speak at the annual gala of one of the largest US Jewish groups, in what was seen as a symbolically important event.
Merkel's appearance Thursday at the 100th anniversary of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) brought an affirmation of Germany's unique postwar ties with Israel, shaded by the shared history of the Holocaust.
"I dare say that they could have hardly imagined that 100 years later we would be welcoming the elected leader of Germany as the keynote speaker for this auspicious occasion," said AJC executive director David Harris. One of the AJC's founders was a German immigrant.
Merkel, a centre-right Christian Democrat, received a warm welcome from 1,500 people in the audience, who rose to their feet and enthusiastically applauded at the end of her speech.
Harris said the strides Germans and Jews have taken since the end of World War II had made his organization "so eager" and "so determined" to invite Merkel to address the gala. She was joined by US President George W Bush and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The AJC was created following the large-scale repression of Jews in Russia and has offices around the world, including in Berlin, dedicated to stopping anti-Semitism.
The AJC viewed the invitation to Merkel as a further step toward reconciliation between Germany and Jews 61 years after World War II and the Holocaust ended.
Merkel directly confronted the "reign of terror" of Nazi Germany, saying that the Holocaust made it Germany's duty to combat anti- Semitism, racism and xenophobia. She also praised the AJC for building bridges between American Jews and her country.
"Through the Holocaust, Germany deprived itself of an important part of its cultural and intellectual identity," Merkel said.
Merkel also used the high-profile appearance before the American Jewish community to underscore Germany's commitment on foreign-policy issues important to Israel.
She said Iran cannot be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and that Hamas must recognize Israel's right to exist and renounce terrorism.
"The decision lies with Hamas," she said, adding that Germany will not relent on the importance of a safe, secure Israel - a commitment shared by German chancellors of the left and right since 1945.
"It's an immovable underpinning of German foreign policy," she said.
Harris praised Merkel, who grew up in then-communist eastern Germany before east and west reunited in 1990, as a "cherished friend" of the US Jewish community.
"Who could have foreseen even a few years ago against the tragic backdrop of the history of the 20th century that a new chapter in German-Jewish relations would be written in the inspiring way it has?" Harris said.
Subject: German news