New German FM rejects apartheid slur, set to repair relationship with Israel

Newly sworn in German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas prepares to turn a corner in relations with the Jewish state, walking back his predecessor’s anti-Israel rhetoric.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Heiko Maas, the Justice Minister in German Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s third cabinet, was promoted to foreign minister when her new government was sworn in on March 14.

He replaces Sigmar Gabriel, who had rubbed Jerusalem the wrong way a number of times during his tenure. He remained a critic of what he deemed Israel’s lack of effort in the peace process, and went as far as saying that Israeli security measures reminded him of “what was seen during apartheid.”

In April 2017, he was publicly disinvited from a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when, on a visit to the country, he decided to meet with the extremist left-wing Breaking the Silence group, which vilifies the IDF in international forums.

Meanwhile, in his inaugural speech at his Foreign Office last week, Maas said that German-Jewish history was his “deep motivation” for entering politics.

“With all due respect, I did not enter politics because of [former chancellor] Willy Brandt. I also didn’t go into politics because of the peace movement or ecological issues. I entered politics because of Auschwitz. And that’s also why this part of our work is especially important to me,” he said.

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Maas also called the relationship between Germany and Israel “the miracle of friendship,” and said that he hoped to be visiting Israel again soon. He had been scheduled to speak at the Sixth Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, hosted by Israel’s foreign ministry in Jerusalem, but it is as yet unclear if he will be able to come.

When he does come, it is very possible that he will hear a frank message from Prime Minister Netanyahu, since the new German coalition agreement contains anti-settlement condemnation for the first time (along with standard support for Israel as a Jewish state).

The statement, “Israel’s current settlement policy contradicts applicable international law and is not supported by us because it impedes a two-state solution” may be disputed directly by Netanyahu.