Associated Press Wednesday February 16 6:56 AM ET http://dailynews.yahoo.com/htx/ap/20000216/wl/israel_germany_3.html German President Addresses Israel By KARIN LAUB Associated Press Writer JERUSALEM (AP) - Addressing Israel's parliament in German - a historic first - Germany's president today asked for forgiveness for the Holocaust and said he bowed his head in humility before the six million victims. Legislators showed little emotion during Johannes Rau's speech, but they applauded politely at the end and stood respectfully as he left the plenum. Several legislators stayed away in protest, including Danny Naveh from the opposition Likud Party. Naveh's parents survived the Holocaust. Others, including Speaker Avraham Burg, whose father fled Berlin in 1939, said they had mixed feelings about hearing German in the Knesset. Former Speaker Shevah Weiss, who accompanied Rau on a tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial earlier today, said the first German word he heard was ``Achtung,'' or attention, when Nazi troops rounded up Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. ``It was both the language of Satan and also the language of intellectuals,'' Weiss said, adding he felt legislators should not boycott Rau. Rau, who has served as president since May and is a longtime friend of Israel, began his speech with an emotional apology for the Holocaust, the Nazi genocide in World War II during which 6 million Jews perished. ``With the people of Israel watching, I bow in humility before those murdered, before those who don't have graves where I could ask them for forgiveness,'' said Rau. ``I am asking for forgiveness for what Germans have done, for myself and my generation, for the sake of our children and grandchildren, whose future I would like to see alongside the children of Israel.'' Rau then raised familiar themes, such as the need to teach the younger generation about Germany's troubled past, and the special relationship between Israel and Germany. Referring to Germany's drawn-out debate over a Holocaust memorial - a site was dedicated in Berlin last month - Rau said it was a sign of a sincere attempt to find the right way to remember. The president referred only indirectly to Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider, saying Europe would not allow racism and hatred of foreigners to take root again. Israel recalled its ambassador to Austria in protest after Haider's Freedom Party became a member of Austria's government earlier this month. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said he was pleased Germany, as part of the European Union, had taken steps against ``the coalition of shame.'' Barak said the Israeli-German friendship could serve as an example for leaders of the Middle East seeking to overcome decades of hostility. ``It is not easy to overcome the traumas of the past,'' Barak said. ``Buf if the president of Germany can be received in the year 2000 in the Israeli Knesset as an old friend, then present difficulties and obstacles should not deter leaders'' of the region. Barak has pledged to complete peace treaties with Syria and the Palestinians this year and withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon by July. However, negotiations are stuck amid mutual recriminations. Rau's Knesset speech was one of the highlights of his four-day trip to Israel, followed by a three-day tour of the Palestinian areas, and a stopover in Egypt. At Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Rau toured an exhibit of drawings and puppets made by children in Nazi death camps and laid a wreath. Quoting German clergyman and Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, Rau wrote in the guest book: ``Perhaps, Judgment Day will be tomorrow. In that case, we would happily stop to work for a better future, but not before.'' Los Angeles Times Thursday, February 17, 2000 German President Visits Israel, Seeks Forgiveness http://www.latimes.com:80/news/nation/20000217/t000015688.html By REBECCA TROUNSON, Times Staff Writer JERUSALEM--In an address as significant for the language in which it was uttered as for its conciliatory tone, German President Johannes Rau on Wednesday asked Israel's parliament to forgive his nation for the Holocaust and pledged to fight a resurgence of anti-Semitism and far-right extremism in Europe. Rau's speech, the first ever delivered to Israel's Knesset in German, was greeted politely by lawmakers, many of whom praised his efforts to strengthen the sturdy ties between Israel and Germany and to express public responsibility for his nation's Nazi past. But several legislators boycotted the session, with one, Likud Party lawmaker Danny Naveh, calling it "premature" to allow such an address to a body that still includes Holocaust survivors. Other Israelis, including Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, admitted to feeling some discomfort at listening to German in an official address before parliament. Burg, whose father fled Berlin in 1939, said he had deliberated long and hard before allowing the speech but did so after reflecting that German was the language not only of the Nazis but of "philosophy and sublime poetry." "It's the language of the murderers and the language of the murdered," Burg said. "I decided that today this double language will be heard here because it isn't the language that is the main thing, but the speaker and his words." Rau has served as German president, a largely ceremonial role, since July. Considered a longtime friend of the Jewish state, he has visited Israel many times and chose to return to the country in his first official visit abroad. He opened his speech with an emotional apology for the Holocaust, the genocide of 6 million Jews by the Nazis during World War II. "With the people of Israel watching, I bow in humility before those murdered, before those who don't have graves where I could ask them for forgiveness," said the 69-year-old Rau. He said he sought Israel's pardon for himself and his generation in order to enable coming generations of Germans and Israelis to forge a future together. Introducing Rau as an "old friend" of Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Barak acknowledged that it isn't easy to overcome the two nations' shared, traumatic history. "But if in the year 2000 the German president can be accepted by the Knesset of Israel as an old friend and an ally, there are no difficulties and obstacles that can withstand worthy intentions," Barak said. In September, underscoring the increasingly close relationship between the two countries, Barak became the first foreign leader to visit Berlin after the city was restored as the capital of a united Germany. But Rau's speech and Israeli leaders' reactions to it also served to underline Israeli and European disapproval of the participation of a far-right party in the government of Austria, Germany's neighbor. Rau referred only indirectly to Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider, promising that half a century after the Holocaust, Europe would never allow racism and xenophobia to grow in its soil again. Israel recently recalled its ambassador to Austria in protest after Haider's Freedom Party became a member of the governing coalition. In his speech, Barak praised Germany for its leadership role in the European Union's decision to take steps to isolate what Barak called Austria's "coalition of shame." Unlike Austria, the Israeli leader said, Germany has confronted its past and tried to ensure that extremist groups cannot rise to power again.
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