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Woman of the year

December 15, 2007

By Yossi Sarid
Ha'aretz, Israel
14 December 2007                    


This week is Human Rights Week, and two weeks from now the civil
calendar year ends. Before the "People of the Year" parade begins, with
congratulations all around, let's be the first to declare our choice.

My man of the year is a woman: German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Yes,
Merkel, the leader of a center-right party, was revealed in 2007 in all
her stature as the high priestess of human rights everywhere. Her
partners - her rivals from the Social Democratic Party - have been
exposed in their dwarfishness and turpitude as having closed their eyes
to injustice and villainy. As a social democrat, I am ashamed of their
petty calculations.

Like every country, Germany has economic interests in its relations with
other countries, especially with Russia and China; the former as a key
provider of oil and gas and the latter as a huge and alluring market.
Nevertheless, these interests do not blind the chancellor; she sees very
well what is happening in Russia, how an elected president has become a
czar. And she sees what is happening in China, how economic growth does
not affect democracy's growth at all.

Merkel does not remain silent in a selective way because she is not U.S.
President George W. Bush; nor is she Gerhard Schroeder, whom she
succeeded and who has become Russian President Vladimir Putin's lackey.
Nor is she President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or Defense
Minister Ehud Barak, who speak or keep silent in accordance with the
convenience of the moment.

When she visited Russia recently, Merkel also met with non-governmental
organizations, independent journalists and opponents of the regime, to
her hosts' displeasure. In September she hosted the Dalai Lama in her
office despite threats and protests from Beijing and warnings from her
deputy, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat.

Who would have believed that the head of a country as important as
Germany would tell the Russians and Chinese, in a loud, clear voice,
what she thinks of them, and would say in the Bundestag, without fear or
calculation, that "a government's foreign and defense policy must be
based on values and not interests?" She also said that "it is impossible
to demand good behavior at home and not behave well when you go out.
Economic considerations must not contradict values of democracy, liberty
and human rights."

And wonder of wonders: Although Merkel is taking a risk and her moral
position is liable to cost her country dearly, her popularity is rising
and her rivals' is dropping. She has the support of 70 percent of the
German public. This is because in Germany, and not only in America and
Israel, the people get fed up with politicians' double standards, with
the unction that fuels the flames. When will our leaders understand that
a more moral policy is a more correct policy that is its own reward,
even if it is slow in coming?

It is possible and necessary to acknowledge the Armenian genocide
without the fear of Turkey becoming an issue. It is possible and
necessary to receive the Dalai Lama as an official guest without being
deterred by China's reprimands. It is wrong to sell weapons to evil
countries that slaughter their citizens, Burma included. There is no
need to fawn over Putin, who continues to fawn over Iran and refuses to
tighten the sanctions on it, and it is absolutely wrong to legitimize
torture and commit war crimes on the grounds of self-defense.

Merkel is the opposite of another woman, U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham
Clinton, a mechanized candidate who lives by the opinion polls, which
already predict a pullback by her. It is possible that the Americans
also expect a president like Merkel, who is not the continuation of Bush
with different lyrics.

Is the ground being broken here too for a leader who understands the
special, obligatory mission of "the Jewish state?" And if it is
uncomfortable to take an example from the Germans, we can take it from
the Americans, if Senator Barack Obama is elected. Maybe a black
president who appears to be a man of values and not just of realpolitik
will infuse the world with a different spirit, a better spirit. Perhaps
a president who looks like an Ethiopian is the person who will create an
opening for hope for the children of the global kindergarten.
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