‘I entered politics because of Auschwitz,’ says new German FM

Germany’s new foreign minister said Wednesday that he entered politics because of the Holocaust.

“For me, German-Israeli history does not only entail a historic responsibility. For me personally, it is a deep motivation of my political activity,” Heiko Maas said at his inauguration at the German Foreign Office headquarters in Berlin.

“With all due respect, I did not enter politics because of [former chancellor] Willy Brandt. I also didn’t go into politics because of the peace movement or ecological issues. I entered politics because of Auschwitz. And that’s also why this part of our work is especially important to me,” he said.

Maas, who served as justice minister in the last German government, used the event to announce that he would be visiting Israel “soon.”

The 51-year-old Social Democrat had been scheduled to speak at the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s 6th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, which is taking place next week in Jerusalem. But organizers said Wednesday that it was still unclear whether Maas would be able to attend the conference.

Maas last visited Israel in February 2017.

On the eve of Israel’s 70th birthday, “the fateful connection [between Germany and Israel] is becoming especially palpable to us, just as the miracle of friendship that has developed between us,” Maas said in his speech Wednesday, before departing Berlin for his first foreign trip, which took him to Paris.

In 2015, Maas addressed the 5th Global Forum in Jerusalem, revealing that important parts of Germany’s legal code as they are used today date back to the Nazi era, vowing to change that.

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Earlier on Wednesday, Germany’s new coalition government, headed for the fourth time by Chancellor Angela Merkel, was inaugurated at the Bundestag in Berlin, some six months after the election. The coalition agreement struck last month between Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats reiterated Berlin’s commitment to Israel’s security and recognized the country’s Jewish nature, but also for the first time included explicit criticism of the settlements.

“Israel’s current settlement policy contradicts applicable international law and is not supported by us because it impedes a two-state solution,” the contract reads.

Previous coalition treaties between the two parties have included an endorsement of a two-state solution, but stopped short of condemning the settlements.

The contract, which was formally signed on Monday, also for the first time takes a position against recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital before a final-status peace agreement with the Palestinians has been reached. Also unprecedented is its pledge to support UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinians refugees, and a call for “democratic progress” in the Palestinian territories.

The passages were likely written in response to recent moves by the US administration. On December 6, Washington recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and in response to vehement opposition from Ramallah threatened to cut or withhold funding to the Palestinians.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and German Economy Minister, Peter Altmaier, front row from right, and, second row from right, Helge Braun, Head of the Chancellery,, German Labor Minister Hubertus Heil, German Agriculture Minister, Julia Kloeckner, and German Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Franziska Giffey take their seats in the government bench after Merkel’s new government was appointed in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The new German coalition agreement also reiterates Berlin’s commitment to Israel’s security and recognizes its character as a Jewish state.

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“We commit ourselves to Germany’s special responsibility toward Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and its security. Israel’s right to exist and its security are non-negotiable for us,” the agreement reads.

“Germany will continue to work for a solution to the Middle East conflict based on a two-state solution,” the text continues. “The status of Jerusalem, as well as other final status issues, will only be settled in the course of negotiations in order to be permanently accepted and durable.”

“At the same time we condemn any calls for violence and incitement. Israel’s right of existence must not be called into question. We demand that any actions — by either side — that are opposed to a final peace agreement be ceased immediately. In the Palestinian territories democratic progress is needed at all levels.”

This file photo taken on February 27, 2018, shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a press conference at the Chancellery in Berlin. (AFP Photo/Tobias Schwarz)

The new coalition agreement also includes several passages devoted to the fight against the hatred of Jews and support for local Jewish communities.

Most noteworthy, the new government vows to install a special commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and for combating anti-Semitism.

The coalition partners promise to “fight decisively against anti-Semitism and likewise confront anti-Islamic streams,” it says. “We are committed to supporting the Jewish communities. We are grateful that after the Holocaust a rich Jewish life has developed in Germany. After the deprivation of rights and the murder of six million European Jews, we Germans have an everlasting responsibility in the fight against anti-Semitism.”

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