Armin Laschet, the powerful governor of the largest German state North Rhine-Westphalia, wrapped up a three-day visit to Israel on Thursday, with the opening of his state’s first trade and culture office in Israel, but he refused to outlaw Hezbollah and stop trade with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“No other land cultivates such continuous, close and friendly relations with Israel as North Rhine-Westphalia,” said Laschet, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party. “I will now continue to develop and deepen this tradition.”
The West German state of North Rhine-Westphalia has a population of nearly 18 million people.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted on his Facebook page that he met Laschet in Jerusalem. According to the post
, “The two discussed deepening cooperation between Israel and North Rhine-Westphalia, [as well as] regional threats and Iranian aggression. Israel has good relations with the state in a range of areas including youth exchanges and Holocaust education. The scope of trade with the state is approximately 1 billion Euros per annum.”
North Rhine-Westphalia’s new trade, cultural and educational office is located in Tel Aviv. Since 2017, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia has provided internships for students who wish to experience Israel’s high-tech and science sectors.
When asked by The Jerusalem Post
if Laschet plans to outlaw the Lebanese organization Hezbollah in North Rhine-Westphalia, he referred to the state’s interior minister who told the Post in 2017 “associations that support Hezbollah can presently be banned, if financial support [for them] is provable.”
The US, Israel, the Arab League, and Canada classify all of Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. Germany and the EU have merely proscribed Hezbollah’s so-called military wing a terrorist organization.
North Rhine-Westphalia has experienced a growth of Hezbollah members, who are in a position to raise funds and recruit new members. According to the state’s 2017 intelligence report, the number of Hezbollah members increased from 100 in 2015, to 105 in 2016.
“Israel is the enemy – we carry out resistance,” said in 2017 Hassan Jawad, chairman of the Hezbollah-affiliated imam Mahdi center in the city of Münster in North Rhine-Westphalia.
The Post also questioned Laschet if he plans to call for an end to trade with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Industry and Chamber of Commerce in Bonn/Rhein-Sieg in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia hosted a pro-Iran business conference on September 5. Laschet declined to answer the question.
Last month, in a statement to the Post, Dr. Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said: “I endorse an immediate stop of any economic relation with Iran. Any trade with Iran means a benefit for radical and terrorist forces, and a hazard and destabilization for the region.”
The head of the state association of Jewish communities in North Rhine-Westphalia, Oded Horowitz, told news website nrw-direkt.net in an interview on Friday that politicians are only “half-hearted” regarding decisive action against Jew-hatred and attacks on Israel.
Horowitz cited the example of an Iranian airline that uses the Düsseldorf airport in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
“The airline was already, at the time that Barack Obama was still president, classified as supporting terrorism,” said Horowitz.
IN JUNE, the US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, requested the German government to block Iran’s Mahan Air from flying within German airspace
and deny it landing rights in the country because of the airline’s material support for terrorism.
Mahan Air uses the Düsseldorf airport.
Grenell said: “Here in Germany, I have asked the German government to support our efforts to stop an airline called Mahan Air from utilizing German airspace and airports. We know that Mahan Air has been used by the [Islamic] Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] as a mode of transport for weapons, resources and fighters, so we’re asking our allies to help us put a stop to it.”
Grenell has reiterated US policy in Germany that German companies should wind down business with Iran.
German Jewish leaders and activists have pressed Laschet to crack down on the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel.
Horowitz said Stefanie Carp, director of the Ruhrtriennale music festival in Bochum “apparently has a problem with Israel and sympathizes with the BDS movement,” adding that, “responsible politicians have recognized the problem and distanced themselves from Stefanie Carp, but the last step to dismiss her and replace her with someone else has not taken place.” He termed the political response as “inconsistency.”
When the Post asked Laschet if Carp should be fired, he dodged the question, citing his statement that the state’s cultural minister Isabel Pfeiffer-Poensgen should find “smart solutions.”
Laschet said he flatly rejects BDS, and plans to appoint an antisemitism commissioner for the state.
The federal government commissioner for combating antisemitism in Germany, Felix Klein, has urged the Bank for Social Economy, situated in North Rhine-Westphalia, to end its enabling of BDS business.
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