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Contentions

Merkel Comes to the Knesset

This week, Angela Merkel becomes the first German chancellor to address the Israeli parliament. This is as it should be. Germany has become one of Israel‘s staunchest supporters in the world, and is a major player in the effort to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Never in human history, perhaps, has a nation repented so much for its wrongdoings as has Germany since Hitler.

And yet, one cannot really blame those few members of Knesset who have threatened to walk out in protest. There are certain things that neither time nor reason overcome. Nothing can ever make up for the Holocaust. The Jews are a people of exceptionally long memory, and we should be more surprised by the Knesset’s willingness to host Merkel than by the few who oppose the visit.

On this issue, ambivalence is the only reasonable posture. The Jewish state is not terribly good at building and keeping international alliances, probably because for millennia it has had good reason to be suspicious of other peoples. Inviting Merkel is the right move at the right time: under the leadership of Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, the Continent has shifted to its most pro-Israel stance since at least the 1950’s. Yet the Holocaust will forever be there, with all its lessons for the world, and it is right for the Jewish people, and the Jewish state, to make sure it is never forgotten.

In 2000, Germany‘s president (largely a figurehead position) visited Israel and addressed the Knesset, asking the Jewish people for forgiveness. It is not clear what that forgiveness really means. But what is clear is that Israel should embrace the friendship Germany has offered, while at the same time continuing to study the Holocaust, hunt down the remaining Nazi criminals, and bring foreign dignitaries to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, to reinforce the lessons of what humanity is capable of, of modernity’s darker side, and of Jewish powerlessness.

Forgive, but never, ever, forget.



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