German mayor takes heat for ‘Hamas’ European event

City-funded hall in Wuppertal to be used for "Palestinians in Europe" conference, at which Hamas fundraiser will speak, sparking criticism.

By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
May 8, 2011 01:40
4 minute read.
Hamas terrorists at a press conference.

Hamas terrorists 58. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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BERLIN – The decision of Mayor Peter Jung and the city council in Wuppertal, North Rhine-Westphalia, not to oppose a pro-Palestinian conference on Saturday that featured Hamas supporters has sparked criticism.

The conference, which was green-lighted by the Wuppertal Municipality in January, took place in a city-funded convention center.

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“There is nothing wrong with holding a pro-Palestinian event, of course, but there is something quite disturbing that the organizers saw the need to invite several extremist speakers, including apologists for terrorism, and those with views that many find repugnantly anti-Semitic such as [Bundestag deputy] Inge Höger – especially since the conference is in Germany, of all places," British-born journalist and Middle East expert Tom Gross told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday.

Gross was formerly Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph and for the New York Daily News.

“Pandering to extremists does nothing to advance peace and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis, or bring us any closer to resolving this conflict amicably,” Gross said.

The ninth “Palestinians in Europe” conference opened its one-day parley titled “The Generation of Return Knows Its Way.” The event was expected to attract up to 5,000 supporters, including listed speakers Amin Abou Rashed, a Dutch-Palestinian fundraiser for Hamas, and Höger, who was on the Mavi Marmara protest vessel last year.

On Höger’s Left Party website, she wrote that Israel has for “many years starved and indiscriminately bombed the population of Gaza because they voted democratically [for Hamas in January 2006]. The legend of Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East is a farce.”

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Last month, she blamed the Israeli government for the recent murders by Palestinians of pro-Palestinian Israeli filmmaker Juliano Mer-Khamis and Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni.

According to a Dutch intelligence service report, Abou Rashed, a main European organizer of last year’s Gaza flotilla (and this year’s Dutch contingent), raised money for Hamas through the Al-Aksa Foundation in the Netherlands.

Dietmar Danowski, a German police official, told the Post from the conference: That the participants have an “affinity for Hamas is clear,” adding, however, that Abou Rashed was “definitely” not present at the event.

The cooperating sponsors of the conference include Palestinian Return Centre- London, a group with strong ties to Hamas, according to Berlin's Office for the Protection of the Constitution domestic intelligence agency, which lists the group under the rubric “regional violent Islamic practitioners – Hamas.”

Martina Eckermann, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jung, told the Post by telephone on Saturday that a “strong democracy must tolerate” such events and opinions. She said the security agencies in Wuppertal had not identified criteria, in accordance with Federal Law, that would be necessary to bar the Hamas-linked event.

Jonathan Hoffman, co-vice chairman of the British Zionist Federation, told the Post on Saturday that the Return Centre “is affiliated with Hamas. As Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was telling European leaders this week, we must not lose sight that Hamas is a genocidal organization whose mission is to kill Jews.

European governments should have no tolerance for anything related to Hamas, and Hamas should be not be given an opportunity for civilized discourse.”

Germany has hosted three such pro-Palestinian conferences over the last nine years.

The local Else Lasker-Schüler Society and other pro-Israel groups protested on Saturday against the city renting space to the organizers of the conference.

“So long as Hamas does not renounce violence against Israel and does not recognize Israel’s existence, such an organization should not be provided public space in the birthplace of the Jew Else Lasker-Schüler,” spokesman Hajo Jahn said.

Else Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945) was a prominent German-Jewish writer who fled Nazi Germany and died in Jerusalem.

Sacha Stawski, the head of Honestly Concerned, an organization that monitors and combats anti-Semitism in Germany, wrote the Post by e-mail on Saturday: “‘Freedom of speech’ – that is what they always claim when it comes to purely one-sided Israelhatred.

The event in Wuppertal is about denying the right of the State of Israel to exist – nothing more and nothing less. The conference is not one in search of peace solutions between Palestinians and Jews, nor is it about Palestinian culture.

“This conference – and guest speakers at previous conferences have made that clear – is about finding a ‘final solution’ for the Jewish state, decrying any peace negotiations with Israel and downplaying terrorism. Clearly, when looking at information now available about past conferences, one has to speak of a conference of hatred and incitement – both from a perspective of the verbal assaults on Israel, as well as from the anti-Semitic literature made available to attendees,” Stawski said.

E-mail and telephone queries to Mayor Jung from the Christian Democratic Union were not returned. Eckermann told the Post that Jung was “not in service” on Saturday.

Eckermann said Jung and the city of Wuppertal did not need to “distance” themselves from the event. That would be similar to distancing oneself from “murderers,” and that is not necessary, she said.

Leonid Goldberg, the head of the Wuppertal Jewish community, said, “I am ashamed of Wuppertal” for hosting the conference, the Westdeutsche Zeitung reported.

“That the city of Wuppertal rented the Uni- Halle to terrorists is an absurdity. These people have taken up the cause to destroy the State of Israel.”

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