Grassroots protests against Teheran may prod governments to take threat more seriously.
By HERB KEINON
Anti-Iranian demonstrations are scheduled to take place Wednesday in Vienna, Berlin and The Hague to mark the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, amid budding signs of a grassroots protest movement in Europe against Iran and European cooperation with it.
Simone Dinah Hartmann, the spokeswoman for the Stop the Bomb Coalition in Vienna, said her group in Austria is a made up of conservatives, Greens, Jews, Kurdish exiles, representatives of Christian organizations, gays and lesbians, who will be protesting not only Iran's nuclear ambitions, but also its human rights abuses.
Hartmann made news last year when she bought a single share in the Austrian energy giant OMV so she could attend a stockholders meeting and protest the companyâ€šs plans for massive investment in Iran's South Pars Gas Field.
She said the group aims to apply steady pressure on the Austrian government and the country's main economic concerns, so they resist doing business with Teheran. The OMV deal has been shelved for the time being.
The goal of the organization is to impress upon public opinion in Europe - which has, up until lately, been largely apathetic regarding the Iranian threat, that Teheran's menace is real, she said.
"Europe doesn't see Iran as that big of a threat," she said. "It is so far away, that people just shrug and say, 'Why care?'"
Austria is Iran's ninth largest business partner in Europe, with Italy, Turkey, Germany and France leading the list, followed by the Netherlands, Greece, Spain and Russia, according to Stop the Bomb figures.
Stop the Bomb also has a group in Germany, and a similar organization was set up on Tuesday in the Netherlands.
An Israeli government source, asked about the anti-Iranian protests, said the sense in Jerusalem is that the last few months there has been an awakening of grassroots opposition in Europe to Teheran.
The source said that the groups were made up of numerous different constituencies who have decided to make public awareness of the Iranian threat an overarching goal.
The source said that a seminar in Berlin organized by the local chamber of commerce to promote trade with Iran had been scheduled for the end of March, but was cancelled following public opposition.
A Munich-area university also cancelled an invitation it granted to three Iranian academics to visit and discuss the "picture of God in Islam," again because of public opposition.
These actions are significant, the source said, because they indicate to governments and economic leaders that the local population was taking notice of the ties with Iran, and was expecting officials to fall in line with the sprit of the UN Security Council resolutions on Iranian sanctions.
"There are a lot of people in Europe who are very concerned about human rights," the source said, adding that the various declarations about Iranian human rights abuses made by the Czech Republic recently were having an impact on public opinion.
"Some governments have tried to tie the graduated nature of their pressure on Iran to what they say their publics can stomach at any given point," the source said.
The source added that a leading economic figure in Germany warned that harsh sanctions against Iran could cost some 10,000 German jobs, something he was using as a scare tactic against the government.
Criticism of doing business with Iran from the grassroots could take the air out of these types of arguments, the source said.
In addition to the protests, the source said that the public criticism of Iran that has been heard in recent weeks in certain Arab countries, from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt, has also had an impact on European public opinion.
If the Gulf states are beginning to speak out, according to this school of thought, then some in Europe are coming to the conclusion that the Iranian threat is genuine and serious, and that Europe must take stronger action.
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