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Religion

Merkel speaks to Central Council of Jews

Chancellor Angela Merkel has made her first visit to a full council meeting of Germany's Central Council of Jews. She welcomed a hurried political move to make circumcision legal after a contentious court ruling.

Merkel traveled to Frankfurt to address the annual assembly of Germany's Central Council of Jews, urging greater tolerance among the German population.

The German Chancellor said on the sidelines of the visit that there was still "a large amount of anti-Semitism in Germany," saying this should motivate everybody to think more carefully about respect for other cultures.

"Respect for the vibrancy of religious rituals is a tremendous asset," Merkel said, a statement that appeared to refer to a recent parliamentary move to make religious circumcision legal - after a regional court ruling cast doubt on the issue earlier in the year.

The Council's president, Dieter Graumann, had spoken of a "summer of discontent" prior to Merkel's visit, saying that her first trip to the annual meeting in Frankfurt "did a lot of good" and was "particularly important."

Circumcision controversy

A court in Cologne ruled that circumcision constituted grievous bodily harm and should only be conducted on older children who could give their consent. The ruling prompted criticism from Muslim and Jewish groups, and steps were taken almost immediately in the federal parliament to undo the court's decision.

Merkel said she was confident that the draft law would pass through parliament with ease.

"Freedom of religion is expressed by allowing religion to be practiced," Merkel said.

Support for Israel

The council's former president, Charlotte Knobloch, wrote a guest article in the mass-circulation "Bild am Sonntag" newspaper, urging German politicians to do more to support Israel after the conflict with Gaza last week.

"It's important for the people in Israel to feel that the German population is behind them," she wrote, saying many in Germany still knew "too little about millions of Israelis living in daily fear."

Knobloch did praise Merkel, however, for making it clear that "the guilt for the most recent escalation in the Middle East is solely that of the terrorist organization Hamas, which has been firing rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip every day for years."

msh/dr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)