merkel - Reuters - Sept 21 2010
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is awarded the Leo Baeck Medal by CEO of the Jewish Museum in Berlin W. Michael Blumenthal. Photo by Reuters
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel was recognized Tuesday for her work in German-Jewish reconciliation with an award from a US group founded by a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust.

The Leo Baeck Institute presented its first medal ever to a presiding German head of state for Merkel's work in cultivating a good relationship between Germans and Israel, and Germans and global Jewry.

At the award ceremony, Michael Blumenthal, president of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, saluted Merkel for her support of Jewish cultural life and the integration of minorities in Germany - and particularly for her condemnation of a book by a top German central bank executive.

The award comes just weeks after Merkel rebuked Thilo Sarrazin for lashing out against Arab and Turkish immigrants by saying they reduce the value of Germany's "gene pool." The book by Sarrazin, who was forced to step down, awakened haunting memories of Hitler's elimination of Jews for their alleged racial impurity.

Merkel said the medal was an inspiration for continuing the work of integration and cooperation with the Jewish community.

"That work, unfortunately, entails going against the anti-Semitism that crops up on a regular basis," she said.

Merkel said Germany was prepared to use all of its leverage to help along the peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. She met with Abbas Tuesday in New York, and spoke on the telephone with Netanyahu last week.

Merkel also urged Iran to clear up any doubts about its peaceful intent with its nuclear program and to stop threatening Israel with annihilation.

"Iran must know that the existence of the state of Israel will never be negotiable for Germany," she said.

The institute was founded by Leo Beck in 1947 to study the history of German-speaking Jewry, which it notes on its website is "inextricably linked to Europe's cultural, intellectual and political history over the past 500 years."

Beck was a rabbi and scientist who survived the Holocaust despite severe deprivations. Many of his family members were murdered. He died in 1956.