BERLIN – A German government ministry and an evangelical church academy provoked
outrage in the US and Germany by inviting the Iranian ambassador – allegedly
involved in the massacre of Kurds – to speak at a conference slated for this
week in Lower Saxony state.
“It’s deeply troubling to learn that a
Christian organization is taking steps to legitimize the Iranian regime. Let’s
not forget, this is a regime which denies the Holocaust while openly dedicating
itself to perpetrating a second Holocaust,” David Brog, the executive director
of Christians United For Israel, told The Jerusalem Post
is the largest pro-Israel organization in the US, with more than a million
Germany’s Economic Cooperation and Development Ministry is
listed on the conference program as the sponsor of the three-day event in the
village of Loccum titled “How can Iranian civil society be strengthened?” Brog
added, “The Iranian government these invited speakers represent has been
implicated in terrorism which has killed Jews, Americans and Israelis around the
world. This conference will do nothing to improve civil society in
But it will help give the Iranian dictators the legitimacy they
Ambassador to Germany Ali Reza Sheikh Attar is slated to attend
the conference, which will also address the Islamic Republic’s nuclear
According to the conference program, Attar will speak on a “new dynamic in politics toward Iran."
Iranian dissidents accuse Attar of carrying
out a massacre of Iranian Kurds during his tenure (1980-1985) as governor of the
provinces of Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan.
Tommy Steiner, a senior
research fellow at the Institute for Policy at the Interdisciplinary Center
Herzliya, told the Post on Saturday, “The problem is not with the Iranian
ambassador appearing in a conference and presenting the Iranian official view on
the issues at hand. The problem is with the German Foreign Ministry that chose
not to withhold its agreement and approved the appointment of Ambassador Sheikh
Attar as ambassador to Germany in the first place.”
Dr. Kazem Sadjadpour,
from Iran’s Foreign Ministry, is slated to speak on how the next round of
nuclear talks could lead to a breakthrough.
The presence of Iranian
government representatives prompted one prominent German-Iranian scholar to pull
the plug on his participation in the event.
Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, a
fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy and a leading authority on the
Islamic Republic of Iran, slammed the event in a public letter last
“Attar represents a dangerous center of terror – in the name of
Iran’s embassy – in the middle of Europe which represents totalitarian policies
contemptuous of human rights,” Wahdat- Hagh said.
He blasted Dr. Marcus
Schaper, the organizer of the event and director of international politics at
the Evangelical Academy, in an email exchange. Wahdat-Hagh asked if he was
expected to sit in a discussion with “my potential executioner who hanged my
father,” and charged Schaper and his colleagues with making Iran’s regime
“acceptable” to German society.
Wahdat-Hagh further accused Schaper of
perverting Christianity to justify the dialogue with Iran’s
Schaper, in his efforts to defend the event, cited a quote from
the New Testament, Romans 12:14-21, about “overcoming evil with
Responding to Schaper, Wahdat- Hagh wrote, “You are legitimizing
evil” and working with a regime that threatens Israel and Iranians in
In a telephone interview with the Post, Schaper said, “The idea of
the conference is to see what German policy toward Iran should be in the future”
and to “bring together smart, intelligent people” to avoid an Iranian bomb and
support civilian society in democracy.
He stressed that the “role of the
ambassador is very limited at the conference” and noted that “the smart people I
am talking about” are German “policy types.”
Asked about Attar’s
purported role in massacring Kurds, Schaper said he was “not rejecting these
“We know we are dealing with fundamentalists,” he said about
the two Iranian government participants.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman in
Berlin told the Post on Friday that Germany had withdrawn its participation in
The spokesman added that the ministry had “not made a
financial contribution to the conference,” and that participation in the
conference was at the discretion of the organizer.
Asked if the event –
funded by German taxpayer euros – was undercutting international efforts to
isolate Iran and compel its government to adhere to UN, EU and US sanctions,
whose aim was to stop Iran’s nuclear program, the spokesman declined to
It is not the first time the German evangelical church has come
under fire for work with Islamists seeking to obliterate Israel.
the Evangelical Academy in the southern German city of Bad Boll invited
Basem Naim, Hamas health minister in Gaza, to participate in a
conference titled “Partner for Peace: Talking with Hamas and Fatah.”
EU and Germany recognized Hamas as a terrorist organization in 2003.
Matthias Küntzel, a Hamburg- based political scientist who has written about
Iranian- German relations, told the Post on Saturday that after the failed
nuclear talks with Iran, it appears Germany wanted to increase its cooperation
with Tehran. He cited the conference’s stated aim to “improve the German-Iranian
relationship” in this regard.
“It is shameful how the evangelical church
betrays the concerns of the Iranian democracy movement by inviting top officials
of the regime,” Küntzel said. The panel with Iran’s ambassador should be renamed
“working together with the regime of Holocaust deniers,” he
Schaper, from the Evangelical Academy, said there would be no
Holocaust denial at the conference.
Denying the Shoah is illegal in
Küntzel called on the German government and political parties to
break their silence and reject the conference’s path to a new relationship with
Katharina Mänz, an Economic Cooperation and Development Ministry
spokeswoman, sent the Post
an email on Saturday.
“The critical position
of the federal government with respect to Iran’s nuclear program and the human
right’s situation is known,” she wrote, declining to say what the positions were
and what the ministry contributed financially to the event. She referred further
questions to the Merkel administration.
Germany has the largest bilateral trade
with Iran within the EU.
Also by email on Saturday, Deidre Berger, head of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, asked, “How is it possible that in the wake of a total breakdown of nuclear talks with Iranian negotiators, and revelations of continuing nuclear enrichment activity, a German church-based NGO continues with plans to feature the Iranian ambassador to Germany? Where is the moral clarity in dealing with one of the world’s most flagrant violators of international agreements?”
She continued, “The upcoming conference about strengthening civil society in Iran – in itself a naive and absurd objective under the current political situation – is a deeply misguided attempt to foster dialogue with the representatives of a country whose leaders specialize in anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli and anti-Western monologues and have an abominable human rights record.
“Iran has spent 10 years spurning all compromises. Every gesture of recognition can only encourage, not discourage, Iranian attempts to become a nuclear power,” Berger said.