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May 26, 2021 4:37 pm
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Armin Laschet, Candidate to Lead Germany as Chancellor, Affirms Support for Israel’s Security and the Protection of Jewish Life

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Leading German politician Armin Laschet lays a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Photo: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun.

Armin Laschet, the conservative frontrunner to succeed Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel this year, has made it a priority to make clear the country’s support for its Jewish population and the State of Israel — even more so following the recent Gaza conflict and the outburst of antisemitic attacks that followed.

Laschet has repeatedly reaffirmed in recent weeks that the security of Israel and the protection of Jewish life remain German priorities. Laschet — who is currently the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous federal state in the German Republic — has frequently expressed his affinity for Israel and has a long tradition of fighting antisemitism.

The chancellor candidate, a Roman Catholic from the western German city of Aachen, last week called for the banning of the Hamas flag on Germany’s streets following a series of anti-Israel demonstrations and antisemitic acts in several cities, including in North-Rhine Westphalia, which saw the throwing of stones and the burning of Israeli flags outside synagogues. The rising anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment seen around the world has been triggered by the recent round of fighting in the Gaza Strip between the Jewish state and the Hamas terrorist organization.

“We have banned the flag of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Germany because it is a terrorist organization. Therefore, the Hamas flag which stands for terrorism needs to be banned as well and should not be allowed to be shown on German streets,” said Laschet, addressing the state parliament in a debate on antisemitism on May 20. “Hamas is turning Gaza citizens into hostages for their terrorist activities and is weakening the Palestinian Authority.”

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Like other political figures in Germany, Laschet condemned the recent wave of demonstrations for being inherently anti-Israel and antisemitic. According to the chancellor candidate, German antisemitism now has three main sources — the far right, the radical left, and some Muslim immigrants — with each needing attention.

“You have to name that and make that clear. The demonstrations were not about critically discussing Israeli politics,” Mark Speich, state secretary for federal, European and international affairs of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia and a close associate of Laschet, told The Algemeiner. “Many demonstrations took place in front of synagogues so it is absurd to pretend that they criticized Israeli politics. Then you have to do it before the embassy.”

“Once the sentiment of a demonstration turns from political criticism into antisemitism, there must be ways to dissolve this by the police force. Laschet is very clear about that,” Speich said.

According to Ran Ronen, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Community in Düsseldorf, one third of the Jewish population in Germany lives in North Rhine-Westphalia.

“Even before he became Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet showed that the Jewish population means a lot to him. He has proven that he is committed to the Jews in NRW,” Ronen told The Algemeiner. “It is of importance to us that words are backed up with deeds. We need strong politicians who on the one side make sure that the past will never be forgotten and on the other ensure, that Jewish life is protected and that the Jewish population in Germany can live safely.”

“We see that Laschet is making great efforts to protect Jewish institutions. We are very optimistic that this will continue to be the case. Particularly in these difficult times, when hatred of Jews has once again become acceptable on German streets, politics must counteract this and further intensify the protection of Jewish institutions,” Ronen said. “Jews in Germany must no longer have to fear going out onto the street with a kippah or a Magen David necklace. But that is unfortunately the reality at the moment.”

“We consider it extremely positive that Laschet has suggested banning the Hamas flag on German streets. That shows that we can count on him and that he stands by Israel as well as by the Jewish population,” he added.

According to Speich, Israel has for many years been close to Laschet’s heart. The head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) developed a special relationship to the country after his first visit as an 18-year-old, and he has since travelled to Israel many times, strengthening the bond throughout his political career, Speich recalled.

Speich told The Algemeiner that in his previous role as a European Parliament rapporteur on the Middle East, Laschet already made clear his political stance backing Israel.

In March 2020, Laschet last visited Israel to open an office in Tel Aviv for North Rhine-Westphalia, to foster closer cooperation in the fields of business, innovation, science, culture and education. Israel is the only country in the world where the state operates such an office, according to Speich.

“If we want Germany and the citizens of North Rhine-Westphalia to stand behind Israel, then it is no longer enough to just recuperate the past, even if it is very important. That must and will always remain an issue, but we also need to expand the future aspect, to anchor it more firmly especially within the younger generation. To this end the office will also contribute,” Speich explained. “We want to shape this relationship not only rhetorically but also factually through joint projects, exchange and cooperation. We have to make cooperation concrete just as our solidarity with Israel has to become concrete.”

Speich explained that Laschet’s solidarity with Israel during the recent hostilities with the Hamas comes out of deep conviction and is not out of an obligation, Speich added.

“Germany’s position on Israel is clear. If Israel needs German support to maintain its security we must offer it. It doesn’t mean that we are going to interfere in internal affairs but without any reservation we are always going to be there for Israel to support it and together with other Europeans we are going to make our contribution to a peace process in the Middle East,” Laschet said on May 20, at a conference held by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a political foundation associated with his CDU party.

Commenting on this month’s clashes in Gaza, Laschet blamed the start of the “aggression” on Hamas and emphasized that it was important to stop that violence.

“Since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, many things can be said about Israel. But what has been going on now for two years, is the firing of thousands of rockets at Tel Aviv and southern Israel by a terrorist organization. This is not a state organization. In such a case our position has to be crystal clear in solidarity with Israel. We also need to look at the internal Palestinian conflict. We need a strong Palestinian Authority and we need to strengthen President Abbas,” Laschet said.

There is one topic on which Laschet and Israel are likely to disagree: a nuclear deal with Iran. Laschet supports the return to the accord, while the Israeli government has consistently opposed the talks to revive a deal, now unfolding in Vienna.

Looking ahead to the next few months, Laschet emphasized at the Adenauer Stiftung conference that the “goal has to be to continue the work on a two-state solution to de-escalate the conflict and to develop a perspective for the region. For decades this has been the core conflict in the world and has led to terrorism in many parts around the world. But we have seen that the world around Israel has changed. What has been going on in Syria, the ISIS represent new dangers and it would be in the interest of Israel to put an end to the conflict soon so that they can deal with all the other challenges,” he said.

Germans will head to the polls on September 26, in parliamentary elections that will decide the successor to Merkel, who has served as chancellor since 2005.

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