German-Iranian business forum sparks outrage

NGOs, Mideast experts and Iranian dissidents slam German-Iranian relations.

German flag of Germany 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
German flag of Germany 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
A pro-Iranian business conference slated for Tuesday in Berlin triggered sharp criticism last week and on Saturday from European-based NGOs and Mideast experts because the event seeks to promote trade with the Islamic Republic.
The group EIVENT (European- Iranian Ventures) organized the conference titled “Economic Congress: Iranian Business Women Power.” EIVENT listed the German Association for Small and Medium-sized Businesses (BVMW) as a sponsor.
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“For Iranian business women to be honored in Germany – while their sisters in Iran are humiliated, silenced, repressed and stoned – is a slap at human rights,” said Dr. Shimon Samuels, director of international relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“Now Iranian women are to be used as a pretext even on German soil. Any German political representative attending this fair will be violating the sanctions regimes against Iran established by Germany, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations,” Samuels said.
Asked about the BVMW sponsoring the pro-Iran trade event, Eberhard Vogt, a spokesman for BVMW, on Saturday issued an e-mail statement to The Jerusalem Post. “The BVMW is neither the organizer nor host of the company Congress Iranian Business Women Power in Berlin. The BVMW expressly barred the organizer from using the association’s logo and received confirmation of the ban,” he wrote.
The BVMW conducts “trade with all business partners across the world” and maintains “strict political neutrality,” the BVMW said. “It is, therefore, absurd to maintain that Germany’s leading mid-sized [business] association is violating sanctions against Iran or glossing over the situation of women in Iran.”
Dr. Dieter Graumann, head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, however, blasted German companies in late October for failing to sever business deals with Iran. Midsized firms are largely responsible for the bulk of German investment and trade with Iran.
Saba Farzan, a leading German- Iranian expert who has written extensively on Iran’s repression of its democracy activists, told the Post on Saturday, “While our public's legitimate concerns about Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program are growing, our medium-sized companies still continue to do business with an oppressive regime. And now the regime advocates so-called ‘women business power’ – women power with forced veiling, gender apartheid and other forms of severe persecution of Iran’s most courageous freedom activists. Does anyone get the ridiculous picture?”
Farzan continued: “Our medium-sized businesses obviously don’t. It becomes evident once again that we need a strong policy strategy to withdraw our medium-sized businesses from Iran. Iranian women are called lions as they’re in the forefront of challenging this medieval regime – with their courage, with their intellect and with their self-confidence. It wouldn’t require a lot for Germany’s smaller companies to be smart enough and not to fall for this tragic-comedy-propaganda event and to become lions in isolating the brutal Islamic Republic.”
Nasrin Amirsedghi, a German- Iranian who in 2007 helped expose the mid-sized and blue-chip companies’ support for trade with the Islamic Republic, told the Post on Saturday, “The absurdity of German economic interests in Iran knows no limits!” and the “Iranian Business Women Power” event is “a slap in the face of humanity and decency.” She cited a running list of anti-woman policies and forms of misogyny in Iran.
“In a country where the value of a woman is worth 50 camels, a human-rights lawyer like Nasrin Sotudeh is sentenced to 11 years in prison and prohibited for 20 from practicing law because she represented opponents” of Iran’s regime.
“Women are barred from certain jobs like diplomats and judges. Women are forced into legalized prostitution because of poverty,” she said.
Amirsedghi has written articles on the repression of women in the Islamic Republic. “Gender-apartheid and forced dress codes” are rampant.
A representative from the Campus Hotel in Berlin, confirmed that the pro-business Iran conference will be held there on Tuesday. She could not tell the Post how many businesses and participants registered and said a spokesperson was not available over the weekend to comment.
Dr. Diana Gregor, a Vienna-based expert on Central European business ties with Tehran, told the Post on Saturday, “I find the event outrageous, very disturbing and quite questionable considering the fact that just a couple of days ago the IAEA revealed that it has substantial evidence from intelligence sources and their own IAEA inspectors demonstrating that Iran is carrying out a nuclear program.
“And last year the Marriott Hotel in Hamburg hosted the Iran Business Forum to jumpstart investment opportunities in northwest Iran,” Gregor said. “All this shows no change of heart from Germany, despite some companies pulling out of their Iran business.”
Germany’s oft-invoked “justification of being afraid of Chinese rivals is no reason to deal with dictators, murderers, human-rights abusers and oppressors,” Gregor said.
Melody Sucharewicz, a Munich-born Israeli who is a prominent specialist on German- Israeli relations, told the Post: “This is extremely worrying – especially as it’s not an isolated incident. Rather it shows a trend.”