TEL AVIV — President Chaim Herzog announced today that he will go to West Germany in April, the first such visit by a president of the Jewish state. The announcement touched off fierce criticism from Israeli legislators who survived the Holocaust.
Herzog's spokesman, Ami Gluska, said on Israel Radio that the trip "would be a memorial (to the Holocaust) with educational and symbolic meaning," and would heighten "awareness of the Holocaust, which is being forgotten."
Gluska said the highlight of the trip would be a visit and memorial ceremony at the Bergen-Belsen site used by the Nazis for a concentration camp. Herzog, 68, whose position is largely ceremonial, will also meet with Jewish communities.
Gluska's statement followed outraged protests from members of parliament who lived through the Holocaust, in which 6 million European Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II.
"I don't believe my ears," one of them, Eliyahu Ben Elissar, said on Israel Radio. "I hope it's not true. I definitely think he shouldn't go."
Ben Elissar said if Herzog made the trip, Israel would no longer be able to complain about what it considered insults to the memory of the Holocaust, like President Reagan's visit to the Bitburg cemetery, where members of the Nazi SS guards are among those buried.
"We will no longer be able to say anything. We will be giving final, real and total legitimacy (to such visits)," Ben Elissar said.
Israel and West Germany established relations in 1965, and Gluska said the visit was in return for West German President Richard von Weissaecker's visit last year. The president's office said his trip had been approved by the Cabinet.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said today that "it is customary that when a president comes here, our president visits that country."