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Associated Press

Wednesday February 16 6:56 AM ET

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

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

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

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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