Germany seeing Israel-Gaza conflict through ‘prism’ of Holocaust, Tánaiste says

Micheál Martin calls on Israel to focus on ending conflict quickly and says Hamas must ‘lay down their arms’ during visit to Berlin

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has described Germany’s position on the Israel-Gaza conflict as “evolving” but “still constrained by the historical prism” of the Holocaust.

He was speaking in Berlin where his German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, praised the two countries’ “close and deep” bilateral relationship but acknowledged that each had “because of its own history, its own particular gaze” towards the Middle East conflict.

At a joint conference Mr Martin insisted that Israel must “focus on how you end this as quickly as possible” and Hamas must “lay down their arms”.

“The danger is you create so much hate ... which does not augur well for the future and trying to build peace,” said Mr Martin. “We are horrified to see the children of Gaza dying in this manner.”


Ms Baerbock agreed that everything must be tried to “end the suffering on both sides” but that 130 Israeli hostages – including children and people with disabilities – remained in the hands of Hamas.

“At the moment we are in a terrible dilemma in which one’s suffering can only end when the other’s ends,” she said. “If we are to reach peace it can only come when Hamas lays down its weapons so the people of Israel are safe and such terror can never recur.”

Using the friendly “du” form with her guest, the German foreign minister recalled with “heartfelt thanks” Operation Shamrock, Ireland’s postwar aid effort for German children, and its modern echo in generous Irish help for Ukrainian refugees.

Mr Martin thanked Germany for its “steadfast solidarity” during the Brexit process and promised closer co-operation on climate and green energy.

His German host agreed that close bilateral co-operation at Cop28 in Dubai secured an “ambitious result” on the so-called “loss and damage fund” to compensate those most affected by climate change.

Speaking earlier, Mr Martin said the “appalling acts of Hamas cannot be condemned enough” but he criticised, too, the “collective punishment of Gaza civilians” by Israel in the last three months.

Three months after the October 7th attacks, he observed a “growing consistency in the EU towards a cessation that wouldn’t have been there at the beginning”.

“If the EU is not consistent in how it responds to the appalling acts of violence perpetrated on entirely innocent people in both conflicts,” he said, “then no amount of internal reforms or institutional changes will undo the irreparable damage which we will – and indeed may already be inflicting – on the European Union’s international reputation and credibility.”

During a keynote address and discussion in Berlin, he pushed back against efforts to reduce the number of European commissioners as part of a reform package linked to further EU enlargement.

He told his Berlin audience how Ireland’s first Lisbon Treaty referendum in 2008 failed due to political “complacency” over voter concerns stoked up by the No camp, including the potential loss of the Irish commissioner.

While Berlin and other capitals believe having 30-plus commissioners, one for every member state, would make an enlarged EU administration unwieldy, Mr Martin said “there are lots of areas you can have commissioners working on”.

“I’m not sure we have to concede our commissioner because in Lisbon that proved to be an issue in retrospect,” said Mr Martin.

He predicted “harder decisions” ahead over whether to shift further towards majority voting rather than unanimity. While smaller countries such as Ireland fear being outvoted with so-called qualified majority voting (QMV), Hungary’s use of vetoes over EU aid to Ukraine had increased pressure for change.

Personally, Mr Martin is “cautious but open” to change as he had “seen in the case of Hungary at the moment that it is the wrong use of the veto”. Asked if he favoured new tools to expel renegade member states from the union, the Tánaiste said the idea was “worth exploring, I wouldn’t say no to that”. Even countries with populist anti-EU governments, he warned, might have large numbers of pro-EU citizens.

During his Berlin visit Mr Martin met members of the Bundestag European affairs committee and attended the opening concert of Zeitgeist Irland 24, a year-long programme of Irish arts and culture. More than 110 events involving more than 400 artists and arts professionals are scheduled to take place around Germany throughout the year, co-funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Culture Ireland.

Thursday night’s concert at Berlin’s historic Metropol theatre brought together artists including composer Jennifer Walshe, dancers Sheena McGrandles and Tura, and musicians Aoife Ní Bhriain and Ye Vagabonds. The evening had a touch of showbiz drama when mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught was called away at short notice. Stepping in was Irish tenor Dean Power, who lived in Munich for 11 years.

“In my line of business you get used to dropping things and changing your plans,” he joked. “Germany has been so welcoming to generations of Irish people over the years, it is wonderful now that Zeitgeist gives us a platform and a chance for our work to be performed.”

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Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin