BERLIN (JTA) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has renewed her pledge to stand up for Jewish life in Germany and for Israel’s right to self-defense.
Speaking Sunday night at the annual assembly of the Central Council of Jews in Germany — the first time a German chancellor had visited the assembly — Merkel reiterated her longtime commitment to Israel’s security, which she had stated during the recent Gaza conflict. She said it was not only Israel’s right but its duty to protect its citizens from rocket attacks.
"Germany also has that right," she added.
Merkel told a crowd of approximately 200, including the council’s 99 delegates, that she wanted the Jewish community to know that it is supported and cherished. Recent anti-Semitic attacks on individuals, plus months of debate over the right to ritual circumcision — a discussion often tinged with anti-Semitism — have put the Jewish community under stress, she acknowledged.
"There are still major indications of anti-Semitism here," said Merkel, who shared the podium with Central Council President Dieter Graumann.
Merkel said she hoped a bill designed to protect the right to religious circumcision of boys by Jews and Muslims would be passed before the end of December. Observers have suggested that opponents might challenge the law all the way to Germany’s Supreme Court and even to the European Court.
Graumann, who is in his third year as head of the umbrella organization, praised Merkel’s courage in standing up for Israel and for religious freedom in Germany. He said the community had a difficult summer, including the brutal attack on a rabbi in Berlin, the debate on circumcision and "countless thousands of hateful Internet entries that shocked all of us."
"We experienced many fanatical finger waggers, people who express a profound lack of understanding," he said, adding that "it really hurt us."
Merkel said she also noted the negative tone in the ritual circumcision discussion.
"It reminds us to think again about the meaning of religious tolerance," she said, adding that all basic rights have to be balanced so as not to infringe on each other. It is clear, she said, that the rights of children are just as important to Jews as to any other community in Germany. "But the respect for and practice of religious rituals are also a higher good because evidence of religious freedom is also the fact that it can be practiced."