Merkel Meets German Jewish Leaders Deplores anti-Semitism

Merkel's visit to the Central Council of Jews, which represents 120,000 registered Jewish community members, comes days after Israel and Hamas agreed on a cease-fire to one of their bloodiest conflicts in years.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday deplored the "high level of anti-Semitism" in her country, speaking after a meeting with the Central Council of Jews.

Touching on a heated debate on male religious circumcision, she stressed the importance of religious tolerance, while also reiterating Berlin's support for Israel in the recent Gaza conflict.

Guaranteeing the freedom to perform religious rituals is a "valuable" right said Merkel, the first chancellor to ever address the council, which represents 120,000 Jewish community members.

Earlier this year, Jews and Muslims living in Germany were angered when a Cologne district court ruled that the religious circumcision of young boys amounts to bodily harm.

The council's president, Dieter Graumann, in a statement called the ruling "an outrageous and insensitive act," saying "circumcision of newborn boys is an inherent part of the Jewish religion and has been practised worldwide for centuries."

Germany's government has pledged to guarantee the right to perform the ritual. The legislature is expected to pass a law to that effect, likely before Christmas, said Merkel.

The German leader also reiterated support for Israel in its recent conflict with Hamas militants in Gaza. Both sides agreed a ceasefire last week after trading deadly airstrikes and rockets.

"Every country has the right to defense, self-defense and the protection of its citizens," said Merkel, adding that the latter was not just the right, but the duty, of every government.

Germany's Jewish population, decimated by the Holocaust, grew only slowly after World War II, until the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

The collapse of the Soviet bloc sparked an influx of about 220,000 Russian Jews and their spouses to Germany. About half of them are practicing Jews, the remainder of Jewish descent.