Israeli Diplomat in Berlin: Maintaining German Guilt About Holocaust Helps Israel

In off-the-record comment to journalists, embassy spokeswoman Adi Farjon said Israel had no interest in full normalization of relations with Germany.

Nir Gontarz
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, February 25, 2014. The countries celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations in 2015.Credit: Emil Salman
Nir Gontarz

A spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy in Berlin recently told Israeli journalists it was in the country’s interest to maintain German guilt about the Holocaust, and that it isn’t seeking full normalization of relations between the governments.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, February 25, 2014. This photograph created a stir online at the time.Credit: Twitter

Embassy spokeswoman Adi Farjon made the comments in a closed briefing session with journalists at the embassy.

“We were all in shock,” said a female journalist present at the briefing. “The spokeswoman clearly said it was an Israeli interest to maintain German guilt feelings. She even said that without them, we’d be just another country as far as they’re concerned.”

Others present at the event confirmed the journalist’s account.

Some added that the Israeli ambassador himself, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, was present for some of the briefing, as were other embassy workers who don’t speak Hebrew. Another journalist commented, “It was so awkward. We couldn’t believe our ears. We’re sitting there eating peanuts, and behind the spokeswoman there are two German women sitting there who don’t understand a word of Hebrew – and the embassy staff is telling us they’re working to preserve the German guilt feelings and that Israel has no interest in normalization of relations between the two countries.”

“I don’t remember saying that,” Farjon told Haaretz in response. “I can’t vouch for any particular quote, she added. “It was an off-the-record conversation, a briefing talk. The way I speak with Israeli journalists is a little different. These things aren’t intended to get out. I can’t reveal the principles I work by. For example, I don’t say who I go to in order to get good stories out here, or who I pay for things like that.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said Farjon’s comments had been taken out of context. “These are tendentious quotes ... from an off-the-record briefing for Israeli reporters who were visiting Berlin. At this briefing, there was an open and critical discussion in which the invited Israeli journalists took an active part, and it’s regrettable that someone decided to violate the rules of journalistic ethics and take selected statements out of their broader context and distort them in a way that alters their meaning.”

This year is a special one for the German and Israeli governments, with Berlin and Jerusalem marking 50 years since the start of diplomatic relations between the two countries. German support for Israel also appears to be at an all-time high – particularly in light of Israel’s ongoing battles with the European Union over labeling of products from West Bank settlements and its troubled diplomatic standing in the world.

This week, as part of the 50th-anniversary celebrations, Bundestag President Norbert Lammert visited Israel. In his speech to the Knesset on Wednesday, Lammert said that the “intensive friendship between our two countries is a historic miracle.” In his speech, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein praised the special and extraordinary” relations of the two countries, calling Germany “a true friend of Israel.”