Berlin parley warns against 'appeasing' Iran

Activists say Germany contributing to dangerously "cooperative approach to the mullahs."

Merkel 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Merkel 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
While German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany's Federal Parliament commemorated the victims of the Nazi regime on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and an expert international forum debated ways of combating anti-Semitism, a non-governmental German organization shone an uncomfortable spotlight on German-Iranian relations during a two-day conference last weekend at Humboldt University in Berlin entitled "The West and the Iranian War Against Israel." The Coalition Against Appeasement argues that Germany in particular, and Europe in general, are contributing to a dangerously "cooperative approach to the mullahs" at the expense of the security of Israel and the entire Middle East. "We want to make a point that Iran remains a threat. Iran has already set in motion its war against Israel and the West through its support for Hamas and Hizbullah. The publication of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report does not diminish the threat," Tobias Ebbrecht, a spokesman for the coalition, told The Jerusalem Post. The NIE report asserts that Iran discontinued its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Israeli intelligence believes Iran continues to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb. The conference, which began on Friday and ran through Saturday evening, focused on German and European political, economic and cultural support of Iran's regime while ignoring its widespread human rights violations. Political scientist Alexander Gruber noted that the most dramatic wave of executions in Iran since 1984, when then-ayatollah Ali Khomeini ordered the deaths of thousands of imprisoned political opponents, was currently unfolding. Gruber also highlighted the persecution and murders of homosexuals and members of religious minorities in Iran. A number of Iranian exiles, including the Iranian Green Party's European speaker, Kazem Moussavi, addressed the radical anti-Zionism of the Iranian regime, which, he stressed, could not be divorced from anti-Semitism. The persecution of Iranian women was also a key topic of the conference. Fathiyeh Naghibzadeh, who fled Iran in 1985 and now lives in Germany, spoke about the situation of the nation's women. In February, she is scheduled to screen her documentary film Head Scarf As System, about the head scarf as a form of female oppression in Iran, in Israel. German-Iranian conferences generally focus on either promoting business relations between the two nations or cultural exchange. Germany remains Iran's most important European Union trading partner, and Germany's import trade from Iran increased 50 percent this past year. Moussavi closed the conference with a demand that "the global community and Iranian opposition stand firmly on the side of the Israelis and their country" and appealed for an end to the flourishing trade relationship between Europe and Iran. The increasing cultural exchanges between Germany and Iran were both the topic of a panel discussion and a cause for protest. Following the final panel, roughly 50 conference participants walked to one of Berlin's most famous theaters, the Berliner Ensemble near Berlin's government quarter, and distributed flyers against the decision of theater director Claus Peymann to travel to Iran on February 11 and stage Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage And Her Children. Protesters claimed Peymann's theater group legitimized the anti-Semitism of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his regime. Journalist Tjark Kunstreich stated that Peymann - who commented in a television interview that "Bush and Sharon have brought darkness" - "would rather travel to Teheran than Tel Aviv." Berliner Ensemble spokeswoman Laura Diehl declined to answer several telephone queries. However, the theater forward an e-mail to the Post, stating that the troupe would perform between February 12 and 14th at the Vahdat Hall in Teheran. The Berliner Ensemble theater is heavily subsidized by the Berlin state government, and its repertoire includes a drama based on the diary of Anne Frank. The theater also commemorates Berlin's Jews who were deported during the Holocaust. Demonstrators questioned the Berliner Ensemble's solidarity with "dead Jews," saying this tradition was at odds with the theater's focus on a regime "which plans a continued mass murder" of Jews. A representative of the theater, who refused to be named, told the protesters that the performance of Mother Courage was "a sign of solidarity with Iranian artists." Hermann Pegg, a visitor from Vienna, said that he thought "it's good that [the planned performance is] not just being accepted." In contrast, Alexandra Taket of Berlin said that "art is independent" from political situations.