German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave two important speeches toward the end of January. The first was delivered at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem at Yad Vashem on 23 January. I heard from several people unfamiliar with the German reality that they found it impressive.
The second took place on 29 January in the Bundestag, the German Parliament.
At Yad Vashem, Steinmeier said about the Holocaust: “Germans have tattooed numbers on lower arms. Germans have tried to dehumanize humans and make them into numbers and in the extermination camps to wipe out all memory of them… The perpetrators were human. They were Germans. The murderers, the watchmen, the helpers of the helpers, the collaborators were German. The industrial mass murder of 6 million Jews, the greatest crime in human history, was committed by my compatriots… We Germans have learned forever from history.”
Steinmeier added: “Yet I cannot say that when hatred and incitement are expanding. I cannot say that when Jewish children are spit at in the school courtyard. I cannot say that when under the cover of so-called criticism of Israeli politics, crude antisemitism comes up. I cannot say that when only a heavy wooden door prevents the right-wing terrorist on Yom Kippur from creating a bloodbath in a synagogue in Halle.”
A week later Steinmeier welcomed Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the German parliament, the Bundestag. They had visited Auschwitz together. Steinmeier said to him: “Your presence is a sign of solidarity between our countries, between Israel and Germany. Even more than that: I see it as an obligation--an obligation to show ourselves worthy of the hand Israel has reached out to us. Reconciliation is a grace which we Germans could not hope for.”
Steinmeier concluded: “President Rivlin, we want to show Israel and the world that our country lives up to the newly bestowed confidence. That is the task given to us by memory. So that what can happen will not happen again.”
These two speeches have drifted far from reality. German Jewish historian, Michael Wolffson, wrote critically after the Yad Vashem speech: “Always the same words. Not a surprise that nearly nobody listens.”
He added: “About a quarter of Germans have a migration background. Many are Muslims. The current memorial culture of Germany addresses only the descendants of those Germans who lived through the Nazi regime, carried it, and suffered it. As if the Muslim world in the murder of Jews in the Second World War did not collaborate with Hitler gangs…” Wolffson remarked also: “As hardly anybody mentions this fact, German Muslims think that all of this does not concern them. That is false.”
Jewish journalist Henryk Broder wrote about Steinmeier: “In May 2017 he laid a wreath on the grave of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah and bowed before the Fatah leader, whose politics have cost the lives of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians. Now he bowed down in Jerusalem before the Jewish victims of the Nazis.”
Broder added: “Remarkable in this ‘gesture’ was not only the ice cold chutzpah with which it was executed, more surprising was that all German media resisted the temptation to combine these events photographically even though there are enough good pictures of both.”
The criticism of Steinmeier’s speech at Yad Vashem by non-Jewish journalist, Stephan Frank, was harsher. He quoted on the important website, Achse des Guten, that Steinmeier had said at Yad Vashem: “We fight antisemitism! We resist the poison that is nationalism! We protect Jewish life! We stand with Israel!”
Frank continued: “No, Germany does not stand with Israel. Who keeps voting for almost every resolution against Israel in the United Nations, thus taking care that this institution is abused by the dictators of the world to put a single country to the pillory, while the worst tyrants of the world are being granted a clean bill? Germany.
"Who voted against the liberal party FDP application in the German houses of parliament, calling upon a change of voting behavior of the Federal German Government? Who sends a ‘from Germany, with love’ to Teheran for the anniversary of the ‘Islamic Revolution?’ The German Federal President.
"Who founded an interest corporation in the interest of enforcing regime trade interests of Iran with the European Union? The German Federal Government.
"Who bows to the grave of arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat, twining wreaths for a terrorist? The German Federal President.”
Frank’s entire text is worth reading, but can only be partly reproduced here. In conclusion, he writes: “Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier bows to the murderers of Jews. The Federal Government broadly supports them and pays their pensions. Even if an MP inquires about the Near-East policy of the German Federal Government, she does not receive answers, neither comprehensive nor truthful. The Federal Government and the Federal President keep talking about the protection of Jewish lives and standing with Israel, but in the face of truth, they always stand with the foes of Israel and keep supporting the murderers of Jews. They help to make out of murderers respectable partners on diplomatic parquet, and to make the extermination machinery more effective by means of German money. At the same time, they mimic Israel’s best buddies….”
Steinmeier’s speech at the Bundestag was the introduction for a much longer one by Israeli President Rivlin. Steinmeier had said that Germany wanted to show Israel and the world that it lived up to the newly bestowed confidence.
Rivlin could have, in a diplomatic way, touched upon most of the points Frank made in his article. Yet among them he only mentioned the Hezbollah issue. Rivlin’s speech unfortunately pales in comparison with Frank’s article. I am not suggesting that he should have hired Frank as his speech writer. Yet Rivlin, President of the State of Israel, would have served Israel's interests much better if he had at least used a reasonable percentage of the facts in Frank’s remarks quoted above. Why didn't he?