JERUSALEM (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel, addressing Israel’s parliament in German and a smattering of Hebrew, said on Tuesday she bowed in shame to Holocaust victims and spoke of the danger of a nuclear Iran.
Five legislators in the 120-member Knesset stayed away in protest, saying they did not want to hear German spoken. But those who heard Merkel open and close her speech in Hebrew applauded her.
“To speak to you in this honourable assembly is a great honour for me,” Merkel said in Hebrew.
“I thank you all that I am allowed to speak to you in my mother tongue today,” Merkel continued in German.
“The Shoah fills us Germans with shame,” she said, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were killed. “I bow to the victims. I bow to all those who helped the survivors.”
Merkel, 53, the first German chancellor to be born after World War Two and the first to be invited to speak to Israel’s parliament, was ending a highly symbolic three-day visit to mark the country’s 60th anniversary year.
She won more applause when she closed her speech by saying in Hebrew: “Congratulations on the State of Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations. Shalom.”
Iran’s nuclear programme was high on the agenda of her discussions with Israeli leaders.
“Germany is setting its sights on a diplomatic solution, together with its partners. The German government will, if Iran does not give in, continue to resolutely defend sanctions,” Merkel said in her speech, broadcast live on two Israeli television channels and three German networks.
Oil producer Iran, one of Israel’s enemies, denies it is seeking atomic arms and says it is pursuing its nuclear programme and uranium enrichment for power generation.
Iran’s president has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has described Tehran’s nuclear programme as a threat to the existence of the Jewish state.
“The threats the Iranian president is launching against Israel and the Jewish people are without doubt a particular cause for concern,” Merkel told the parliament.
“His repeated vilifications and the Iranian nuclear programme are a danger to peace and security. If Iran gained access to the atomic bomb, this would have devastating consequences ... This must be prevented.”
Israel, which is thought to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal, believes Iran could have a nuclear bomb by 2010.
“It’s not the world that must prove to Iran that Iran is building the nuclear bomb. Iran must convince the world it does not want the nuclear bomb,” Merkel said.
Olmert has previously said Israel would consider “all options” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but Israeli leaders have stopped short of any direct threat of military action against the Islamic Republic.
Among Israel’s strategic military assets are three Dolphin-class submarines supplied by Germany.
In her address, Merkel, who visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Monday, said every German chancellor felt Germany’s “historical responsibility” for Israel’s security.
“I am deeply convinced that only if Germany avows itself to its everlasting responsibility for the moral disaster in German history, we can build the future humanely, ” she said, describing Israeli-German relations as excellent.
Olmert, who addressed the session, called Merkel a “constant friend” and said Israel’s “ties with Germany have transcended grim and dark events”.