Israeli president Moshe Katzav warned on Tuesday that terrorist groups may be planning to use expanding neo-Nazi groups to carry out attacks in Europe.
Katzav, in a speech to the German parliament, expressed concern over “the growing legitimisation of neo-Nazi forces” which he said were “increasingly anchored in the German public.”
“Let’s not be surprised if terror organisations use neo-Nazis for carrying out terrorist attacks,” said the Israeli president.
Katzav underlined that radical Islamist forces based in Europe were “in alliance” with right-wing and left-wing extremists fuelling both anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
“We are today witnessing a wave of resurgent anti-Semitism not seen since the end of the Second World War,” said Katzav.
The number of anti-Semitic crimes rose in Germany last year to 1,346 reported cases, up from 1,226 in 2003, according to the German Interior Ministry. So far, however, there is little public evidence of links between Islamist terrorists and neo-Nazis in Germany.
“Every expression of neo-Nazi teachings must be fought in the beginning stages before it can spread and settle down,” said Katzav in a apparent reference to the German far-right parties the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and the German People’s Union (DVU).
A bid by Berlin to ban the NPD was struck down by Germany’s highest court and both parties scored election victories last year, with the NPD winning seats in Saxony and the DVU in Brandenburg. Both states are in economically hard-hit eastern Germany where neo-Nazis and skinheads have had success recruiting members.
While welcoming moves to combat anti-Semitism in Germany and other European countries, Katsav bluntly told the German parliament that more needed to be done.
“The measures are indeed not enough. Laws and their enforcement are vital as well as education and public information,” he said.
Katzav said Israel could never forgive the Holocaust.
“I, the president of the State of Israel, stand here in the name of the Jewish people and weep for the murder of my people.”
The Israeli president underlined that the “absolute majority” of Germans rejected neo-Nazism. According to Germany’s domestic security agency there are about 40,000 members in right-wing extremist groups out of a total population of 82 million.
“We have the moral right to insist … that no neo-Nazi philosophy ever be allowed to gain ground in Germany,” said Katzav.
Katzav also said in his speech to the German parliament that his country had “no conflict of interest” with Iran and that Tehran had no need for nuclear weapons because it had no enemies threatening its existence.
“Nuclear weapons for Iran mean a direct threat for Israel and the Middle East – but also for the states of Europe,” said Katzav.
Katzav, who was born in Iran, underlined his appreciation for Iran’s culture and history. “My family lived for 100 generations in Iran after we were driven out of Jerusalem,” he said.
But Iran had chosen to remain Israel’s most decisive enemy and supported terrorism in the Middle East, Katzav said.
Holding out an olive branch, Katzav added: “Israel has no conflict of interest with Iran. We have no common border.”
Tehran is suspected of gearing up for a bid to produce nuclear weapons after Iran’s conservative Guardian Council’s recent approval on resuming uranium enrichment and the failure of the European Union trio of Britain, France and Germany to secure a compromise nuclear deal.
Israel has never admitted to possessing nuclear weapons but is widely believed to have had the bomb in its arsenal since possibly as early as the 1970s.
Katzav, who is on a state visit to Germany, has met with German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Federal President Horst Koehler and leaders of the German-Jewish community. Germany’s Jewish population has tripled in size since 1990, thanks to immigration from the former Soviet Union, and now numbers over 100,000.