1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Merkel Soothes Jewish Ire After Minister's Cluster Bomb Remark

DW staff / AFP (kjb)August 31, 2006

A cabinet minister recently ruffled feathers in the Jewish community by calling for a UN investigation into possible Israeli "carpet bombs." Merkel and the Jewish council president met Wednesday to clear things up.

Israel's use of cluster or "carpet" bombs in Lebanon has been widely condemned

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Charlotte Knobloch, the president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Wednesday to address Jewish anger over remarks made by overseas development minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul about Israel's offensive in Lebanon.

Merkel and Knobloch, in the first meeting of its kind since the council's president took office, discussed the situation of the Jewish community in Germany, the state of affairs in the Middle East and Germany's cooperation with the United Nations in stabilizing Lebanon for over an hour.

The meeting concluded with the chancellor reaffirming that the German government and the Central Council of Jews had "a positive and trusting friendship."

Minister called for UN investigation of Israel

The meeting was deemed necessary after Wieczorek-Zeul came under fire from Knobloch and the council when, during a visit to Lebanon, she called for a UN investigation into claims that Israel used carpet bombs in the campaign.

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul
Wieczorek-Zeul has defended her comments on IsraelImage: AP

"I pointed out -- and all the aid organizations and even the UN also point out -- that there are carpet bombs in southern Lebanon," the minister told German broadcaster ZDF on Thursday. She has continued to defend her comment and repeated her appeal for a general ban on carpet bombs.

The Central Council of Jews has accused Wieczorek-Zeul of stirring up anti-Jewish sentiment in Germany.

Jewish council critical of Beirut visit

Knobloch has also attacked the development minister for visiting Beirut last week as part of Germany's pledge to help rebuild Lebanon following the devastating 34-day-long Israeli offensive to rout Hezbollah militia.

"The least she could have done was to visit Israel first. She should have reached out first to the attacked, not the attackers," said the council president.

The council's vice president, Salomon Korn, told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau, "The call for a UN probe was another knee-jerk reaction from the minister towards Israel."

If Wieczorek-Zeul wanted a UN probe this should also take into account the fact that Israeli citizens have for years come under rocket fire from Lebanese soil, he added.

The development minister said Thursday on ZDF's "Morgenmagazin" that she traveled to Lebanon last weekend because Germany is participating in rebuilding the country's infrastructure. Israel, she said, wants to use its own resources to repair damage within its borders and therefore a visit was not necessary.

Internal differences on Middle East policy

Charlotte Knobloch Zentralrat der Juden
Knobloch became council president in June 2005Image: AP

The row has highlighted differences of opinion in Merkel's power sharing left-right government on the Middle East.

When the war in Lebanon erupted, the conservative Merkel pointed out that Hezbollah had started the trouble by seizing Israeli soldiers. Though Merkel urged restraint she did not join calls by other European leaders for an immediate ceasefire or criticize Israel's use of force as excessive.

Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said Wednesday that Germany believed it carries a historical responsibility towards the Jewish state because of the Holocaust, and said all government ministers respected this policy.

Wieczorek-Zeul had not broken with it by calling for a UN probe, nor was she anti-Israeli, he added.

She is a member of the Social Democrats, like Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and is known for lashing out at human rights abuses regardless who may have committed them.

Steinmeier, who would like to help broker a long-term peace deal in the Middle East, came in for criticism from the Jewish council at the start of the war when he suggested that Israel's offensive might be disproportionate.