Merkel cited for commitment to Jews, Israel


BERLIN (JTA)  — German Chancellor Angela Merkel, honored for her commitment to Jewish life in Germany, vowed to keep up the fight against anti-Semitism.

In ceremonies Tuesday, Bernhard Blum, the president of the New York-based Leo-Baeck Institute, presented the institute’s annual award to Merkel for her commitment to Israel and Jews around the world.

Merkel is the first German chancellor to receive the Leo Baeck Medal, named for the liberal German rabbi who presciently warned — after the Nazis took power in 1933 — that "the thousand-year history of German Jews [had] come to an end." Baeck narrowly escaped death at the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Jewish life in Germany is blossoming today thanks to the arrival of some 175,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union since 1990. In all, there are about 200,000 Jews here now, only half of whom are affiliated with congregations.

Michael Blumenthal, director of Berlin’s 9-year-old Jewish Museum, praised Merkel for her dedication to Israel and to building bridges between Germany and Jewish people around the world, according to Focus magazine. Blumenthal also lauded the chancellor for supporting Jewish cultural life in Germany.

Blumenthal, the U.S. treasury secretary under President Carter, also thanked Merkel for condemning the outspoken ex-Berlin finance minister Thilo Sarrazin for his book and comments blaming Germany’s problems on Muslim immigrants, and claiming that Jews possess superior genes. Sarrazin was forced to resign his position on Germany’s central bank over the issue.

Merkel said at the event that she would continue to press for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that she had renewed her offer of help in recent phone conversations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Focus report said.

She also said that "Iran must understand that Israel’s right to exist is non-negotiable for Germany."

The Leo Baeck Institute has presented its award since 1978.

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