For her last trip abroad as Germany’s leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel chose to visit Israel, a clear indication of her unequivocal commitment to this country. The trip was cancelled at the last minute because of the government collapse in Afghanistan and the urgent need to evacuate refugees, but in this, too, Merkel recognized Germany’s debt to history.
On Sunday there will be elections for the German parliament, the Bundestag, and for the first time in 19 years Merkel will not be at the helm of the Christian Democratic Union. Thus, an exceptional term of office that began in 2005 comes to an end.
Merkel, the first German chancellor born after World War II and the only one who grew up in what was the communist eastern part of the country until the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, was well aware of her country’s complicated legacy.
In an address to the Knesset in 2008, she said, “The Shoah fills us Germans with shame. I bow my head before the victims. … The break with civilization that was the Shoah has no parallel. … I most firmly believe that only if Germany accepts its responsibility for the moral disaster in its history, will we be able to build a humane future.”
And indeed, Merkel proved that she had learned the lessons of history, when in 2015 she declared, “We can do this,” and despite heavy criticism, Germany absorbed a million refugees from the Syrian civil war.
Throughout her years in office, Merkel kept her word. This was not just with regard to the defense ties between Israel and Germany, which was expressed in the sale of military equipment and joint military exercises, but also in bilateral civilian cooperation and the important contribution Germany has made toward strengthening Israeli democracy and civil society. Merkel tightened diplomatic cooperation, and even started the annual joint meetings of both countries’ cabinets.
But for all that, she never hesitated to voice courageous criticism in her personal conversations with Israeli leaders - particularly with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - when she felt that Israeli policies were undermining democratic values and the two-state solution.
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During the chaotic years of populism led by U.S. President Donald Trump, she was the anchor who preserved stability in Europe and the democratic world. For the past 16 years, Germany has had an extraordinary leader, and Israel has enjoyed a true friend, who will be very much missed.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.