Three weeks after former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami visited Germany, the Central Council of Jews in Germany has launched a bitter assault on Social Democratic Foreign Ministry State Secretary Gernot Erler and the Green Party's mayor of Freiburg, Dieter Salomon, for welcoming him, accusing them of "pure appeasement" politics toward the Iranian regime.
Khatami, who served as president of Iran from 1997 to 2005, is now jockeying to replace the current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
On October 28, Khatami was invited by the University of Freiburg, in southern Germany, to deliver a lecture on "Dialogue between the Islamic and Western World."
Salomon praised Khatami's tenure as Iranian president, saying it represented "more rule of law, democracy and freedom for the [Iranian] people." He told the Badische newspaper, "We feel very honored" by Khatami's visit.
Khatami was also welcomed by Erler, Freiburg University dean Hans-Jochen Schiewer and the Reverend Wolfgang Sauer of the archdiocese in Freiburg.
His visit attracted barely any media attention and produced little controversy at the time, even though Khatami has described Zionism as the "continuation of fascism" and defended the French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy.
In the wake of the visit, however, a public letter issued by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, co-headed by Dieter Graumann, has asserted that by hosting Khatami, Erler and Salomon aligned themselves with his reactionary politics. As outlined in the letter, Khatami advocates the death penalty for homosexuals, opposes women's rights, and represses minority religious and ethnic groups in Iran.
The organization, which sent the letter to Erler, Salomon, Schiewer and Sauer, cited Khatami's description of the Jewish state as "an old, incurable wound on the body of Islam, a wound that really possesses demonic, stinking, contagious blood."
In response, Salomon told The Jerusalem Post that Graumann's accusation of collaboration with the Iranian regime "takes some nerve."
Asked about the vicious comments about Israel attributed to Khatami and cited in the letter, Salomon said he was "not aware of the quote."
Ironically, while Khatami's talk to the university dealt with expanding dialogue between the West and the Islamic world, Freiburg University imposed a gag rule on the attendees, preventing questions about Iran's internal politics, according to news reports.
Salomon confirmed to the Post that Schiewer asked the audience not to pose questions about Iranian domestic politics.
When asked if the dean had criticized Khatami, Eva Opitz, the university's spokeswoman, declined to comment.
She refused to address additional queries about the limitations on questions and the university's decision to invite Khatami.
The Central Council of Jews described the Khatami visit as a telling example of flawed German-Iranian relations. Graumann and General Secretary Stephan J. Kramer wrote that "the obvious attempt to appease the mullah regime through politics, economics, education and culture has failed across the board. On the contrary, the policy of appeasement has prolonged the agony and suffering of the Iranian people and minorities and has gained the mullah regime valuable time not only to come much closer to the attainment of nuclear weapons, but also to further the destabilization of the Middle East and further spread Islamic terrorism in the world."
According to Edith Lamersdorf, spokeswoman for Salomon, Freiburg does not maintain a twin-city partnership with any Israeli city, and is the only German city to have such a relationship with a city in Iran, Isfahan, 320 km. south of Teheran.
Asked if he intends to discontinue the city partnership with Isfahan because of Iran's threats to obliterate Israel, Salomon said no, because "one has to differentiate between the people and the state... I consider Iran to be a totalitarian dictatorship."
In a written response to the Central Council's open letter, Erler wrote that "the use of communications channels with important figures in Iran" should be pursued to "influence internal opinion making" in Iran.
But Graumann dismissed this argument and said Erler and the Foreign Ministry under Frank-Walter Steinmeier had repeatedly placated extremist Iranian figures like Mohammad Larijani, the former Iranian deputy foreign minister. At a German Foreign Ministry-sponsored event in June, Larijani said the "Zionist project" should be "canceled" and denied the Holocaust.
A spokeswoman for Erler said he was unavailable for comment.
According to the Central Council, it has yet to receive a reply to an earlier letter, in August, complaining about Steinmeier's invitation to Larijani.