German President Horst Koehler has given a speech to the Israeli parliament, where he acknowledged his country’s responsibility for the Holocaust. On a special visit to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two nations, Koehler started his speech in Hebrew and then continued in German. “I bow my head in shame and humility before the victims and before those who helped them, at the risk of their own lives,” he said.
Several parliamentarians said earlier that they would boycott the address, amid concerns that Holocaust survivors could be offended at German being spoken in the Knesset. Koehler recognised that anti-Semitism still existed in his country. But, despite a recent survey which found that just one in five Germans feel personal guilt for the Holocaust, the president maintained that responsibility for it is part of the German identity.
Israel’s premier Ariel Sharon urged Europe to conduct what he called a “never-ending war” against anti-Semitism and racism. Outside the parliament building, Israeli far-right activists gathered to show their displeasure at Horst Koehler’s presence. They burned the German flag and held banners aloft. “We will not forgive and will not forget,” were among the messages written.