(photo credit: AP [file])
Representatives of Germany's foreign and economics ministries are fumbling the hot potato of who, exactly, backed a conference in Berlin last week that became a mouthpiece for anti-Semitic Iranian propaganda and a call for Israel's destruction.
Iran's former deputy minister of foreign Affairs, Dr. Muhammad Javad Ardashir Larijani, told the Third Transatlantic Conference - whose stated purpose was to address "common solutions" in the Middle East - that "the Zionist project" should be "cancelled" and "has failed miserably and has only caused terrible damage to the region."
Representatives from Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia also attended the conference and voiced brazen anti-Israeli statements.
The conference was a source of great embarrassment for the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose ministry served as one of its main sponsors. Critics argue that Steinmeier's Iran policy is ignoring Israel's security interests at a crucial period in German-Israeli relations.
"That neither the Foreign Office, nor Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier personally, forcefully contradicted Larijani's crude comparisons shows the double standards and complacency in dealing with the mullah regime," said Stephan J. Kramer, the General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
In an e-mail to The Jerusalem Post, a spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry wrote that "the Foreign Ministry did not financially support the event." However, she did not respond to a query by the Post last Thursday as to why the ministry had supported the conference.
Kramer said "the fact that Larijani, an accomplice in the mullah regime, was invited at the suggestion of the Foreign office is bad enough."
The Foreign Ministry scrambled to contain the damage and, according to a German Financial Times report, stated that the Federal Ministry of Economics funded the anti-Israeli conference. Anne-Kathrin RÃ¶themeyer, a spokeswoman for the Economics Ministry, told the Post by phone on Saturday that the circumstances could not be clarified because it was a weekend. She said she would speak to the appropriate people on Monday. RÃ¶themeyer did say she had spoken with the Foreign Ministry, and its spokesperson had declined to offer further information regarding the financing of the event.
On Saturday, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman did not deny that her ministry had played a role in supporting the conference.
Additional German sponsors of the event were Peace Research Institute Frankfurt; the Berlin representative of the State of Hessen; the German Protestant Church (EKD); and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) - a think tank with close ties to the Social Democratic Party (SPD). "It is nothing new that the FES is dealing with very weird anti-Israeli organizations and people," Middle East expert Thomas Von der Osten-Sacken told the Post. Von der Osten-Sacken, who heads the non-profit relief organization Wadi in northern Iraq, blew the whistle on the FES's joint Beirut International Conference on the The Islamic World and Europe with the Hizbullah in 2004.
In addition to Hizbullah, Hamas was heavily represented at the FES-sponsored conference in 2004. The conduct of the Social Democratic aligned foundation FES prompted the Simon Wiesenthal Center to urge the Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard SchrÃ¶der to publicly condemn the conference. Steinmeier was then-chancellor Gerhard SchrÃ¶der's chief of staff during the FES-Hizbullah conference in Beirut. "It is scandalous," said Von der Osten-Sacken about the government providing a platform in Berlin for Iranian officials to demand "the extinction of Israel."
The conference's location - close to both the Holocaust memorial and the former Nazi center of power - carries great weight in Germany because of its history. While visiting Israel in March, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared the security of Israel to be part of Germany's overall national interests.
Kramer said that "anti-Israel statements and the renewed denial of the Holocaust at a conference supported by German tax money, by the FES, the Foreign Office, the SPD and EKD, and held in Berlin on the 70th anniversary of the Reich Pogrom Night call into question the official government expression of solidarity with Israel."
Larijani, whose brother Ali was Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator and its current parliament speaker, said "denial of the Holocaust in the Muslim world has nothing to do with anti-Semitism." Although Holocaust denial is unlawful in Germany, German officials have not commenced a criminal prosecution against Larijani. Meanwhile, the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt has written that the organization "endorses the criticism" of Germans and Israelis who objected to the "anti-Israeli remarks made by Mr. Larijani."