Israel and Germany are to create a fund to promote improved relations, German President Horst Koehler said on Monday as he and Israel's President Moshe Katsav took stock of a relationship where the Holocaust has never been more than a thought away.
Katsav was in Berlin at the start of a three-day state visit to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel.
The joint "fund for the future" will encourage better relations, Koehler said. A certain amount would additionally be appropriated to assist exchanges of scientists, artists and young people.
Katsav rounded off his first day in Berlin by meeting German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the leader of the opposition Christian Democrats, Angela Merkel, for talks that mainly focused on the Middle East peace process.
Schroeder said Germany would continue to contribute to the new fund, which will especially promote science and youth exchanges. The two countries have a special relationship where Germany has sought to make amends for Nazi genocide.
At a news conference, the two presidents said the Holocaust must never be forgotten. Katsav said the future relationship would continue to be shaped by the Holocaust, adding that the trauma of the past must be the fundament for building a better future.
Asked if German criticism of Israel was legitimate, Katsav replied that constructive criticism was only possible if there was an understanding of regional realities.
"But the German politicians, the German Government, they have the right to criticize government policies," said Katsav.
Asked if he would initiate as president a sort of "examination of conscience" in Israel over its relationship with the occupied territories since 1967, he replied, "That will happen, I am sure.
"It is already perceptible that Israel has moved to the left in recent decades regarding these areas and its readiness to make concessions. But as in relations with Germany, the feelings of the first generation after 1967 were quite strong.
"The status of the West Bank was unsettled. The Jordanians had occupied it since 1948. We have historic rights there. And we are not being asked to hand it back to Jordan but to create a Palestinian state, which even the Arab states could not resolve to do earlier.
"That is still important today. However, 12 years ago the Oslo principles came along, and now there is the roadmap peace plan where Israel for the first time voluntarily supports the creation of a Palestinian state. The closure of the (Jewish) settlements is the next step."
Signs of anti-Semitism
He praised the resolve of German politicians to fight anti-Semitism but said he saw signs that gave cause for concern, including polls suggesting 50 per cent of Germans under the age of 24 did not know the meaning of Shoah (Holocaust).
The highlight of the Israeli president's visit was his speech to the German Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, an honor recalling the address to the German parliament by Israeli President Ezer Weizman in 1996. Koehler addressed the Israeli parliament in February.
Addressing German parliamentarians, Katsav warned that terrorist groups might be planning to use expanding neo-Nazi groups to carry out attacks in Europe.
He expressed concern over "the growing legitimization of neo-Nazi forces" which he said were "increasingly anchored in the German public."
"Let's not be surprised if terror organizations use neo-Nazis for carrying out terrorist attacks," said the Israeli president.
"We are today witnessing a wave of resurgent anti-Semitism not seen since the end of the Second World War …" said Katsav.
The number of anti-Semitic crimes rose in Germany last year to 1,346 reported cases, up from 1,226 in 2003, according to the German Interior Ministry.
So far, however, there is little public evidence of links between terrorists and neo-Nazis in Germany.
But two major trials of extremists that concluded earlier this year revealed home-grown violence.
In the first trial, a German neo-Nazi was convicted of plotting to bomb a building site for a new synagogue in Munich and given seven-year prison term. The attack had been planned for November 9, 2003 during a ceremony attended by both German-Jewish and national political leaders.
Another neo-Nazi gang, calling itself "Freikorps Havelland," was declared a terrorist organization by a German court and its members were given prison and probation terms for arson attacks on foreign-owned restaurants in a region near Berlin.
"Every expression of neo-Nazi teachings must be fought in the beginning stages before it can spread and settle down," said Katsav in an apparent reference to the German far-right parties the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and the German People's Union (DVU).
A bid by Berlin to ban the NPD was struck down by Germany's highest court and both parties scored election victories last year with the NPD winning seats in Saxony and the DVU in Brandenburg. Both states are in economically hard-hit eastern Germany where neo-Nazis and skinheads have had success recruiting members.
While welcoming moves to combat anti-Semitism in Germany and other European countries, Katsav bluntly told the German parliament that more needed to be done.
"The measures are indeed not enough. Laws and their enforcement are vital as well as education and public information," he said.
Katsav said Israel could never forgive the Holocaust.
"I, the president of the State of Israel, stand here in the name of the Jewish People and weep for the murder of my people."
The Israeli President underlined that the "absolute majority" of Germans rejected neo-Nazism. According to Germany's domestic security agency there are about 40,000 members in right-wing extremist groups out of a total population of 82 million.
"We have the moral right to insist ... that no neo-Nazi philosophy ever be allowed to gain ground in Germany," said Katsav.
(China Daily June 1, 2005)