German-Israeli relations 'Merkel Should Get More Engaged in the Peace Process'

This week Guido Westerwelle makes his first visit as German foreign minister to Israel. Next week the Israeli and the German cabinets are meeting in Berlin. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE Dalia Itzik, floor leader for Kadima, the biggest opposition party, says she wants Germany to take a bigger role in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dalia Itzik at the Yad Vashem memorial, on Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2007.
AFP

Dalia Itzik at the Yad Vashem memorial, on Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2007.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: When Germany's new Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle arrives in Israel this week, his first visit will be to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem. Are German-Israeli relations focusing too much on the past?

Dalia Itzik: I know that there have been complaints in the past from German politicians regarding us taking them to Yad Vashem. Sometimes we do not explain that every visiting leader is taken there and so German leaders think that this is something we do just with them. We do so not for etiquette reasons. This is not an obsession but a real need based on our history. We are the only country in the world surrounded by enemies, some of which say openly that they aim to destroy us.

SPIEGEL ONLINE : Israeli politicians often compare current threats to the Holocaust. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked about parallels between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler. Do such comparisons not relativize the Holocaust?

Itzik: Nothing is like the Shoah; nothing. As hard as I try, I cannot comprehend how it happened. Of course it is incorrect to compare everything to the Shoah. But we are a country which is still licking its wounds, and the man in Tehran dares, 60 years later, to say: "It did not happen; there was no Shoah!" It is shocking.

SPIEGEL ONLINE : References to the Nazi era are also used in the Israeli-Palestinian context. For example, Netanyahu told former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Westbank must not become "judenrein" ("clean of Jews".)

Itzik: As I said, comparisons to the Shoah are incorrect: historically, factually and also in terms of disrespecting this charged and awful term. Regarding the Israeli-German relations: On the one hand, there is almost no family in Israel which is not related somehow to the Holocaust; I myself have "inter-married," so to speak. My father-in-law is a yekke (a Jew from Germany) receiving compensation from Germany. But on the other hand, I do think it is important that our relations are not based solely on the past.

SPIEGEL ONLINE : What do you mean?

Itzik: I see a different Germany, a new Germany. A Germany with which the dialogue revolves also around issues of culture, education, literature, technology. This is very important to me because I think that our existing common ground could expand greatly were we to focus also on other elements. A new generation of Israelis is growing up here, just like a new generation of Germans who are saying: The history was terrible. But if we build our present and our future only on the past, it will be bad.

SPIEGEL ONLINE : How is German Chancellor Angela Merkel viewed in Israel?

Itzik: Personally I admire her. The feeling of the Israeli public is that under Angela Merkel Germany has become a guarantor for Israel. Ok, also past German leaders said: "We have a responsibility for Israel, we understand what happened and we are acting accordingly on the most practical level; for example when we are going to vote for the State of Israel in international institutions." But many times in politics, especially in complex international relations, one needs to say one thing or another. With Merkel I think she really believes in what she says. I think she is very familiar with our problems. She is aware of the complexities and sensitivities.

SPIEGEL ONLINE : Would you support a larger involvement of Merkel in promoting a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict?

Itzik: I would ask her for deeper involvement. I would like to see her as a mediator. It is important that Angela Merkel gets more engaged in the peace process. I think she has the brains to do it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE : Is Germany doing enough to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb?

Itzik: I am certainly impressed by the way Angela Merkel is dealing with Iran. I would have liked the international community to express itself in a similar clear way.

SPIEGEL ONLINE : But Germany is still Iran's second largest trading partner in the European Union.

Itzik: I think Germany should have screened much more thoroughly to find those companies who still today have commercial ties with Iran. The significance of sanctions on Iran should carry much greater weight. Was I asked to grade the international community in this regard, I would grade them extremely poorly. Iran poses a threat not only to the State of Israel but really to the entire Western world. Mainly, I think Iran threatens Germany because it shares the same values as us: democracy, human rights, freedom, gender-equality; values which are condemned in Iran.

Interview conducted by Christoph Schult

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