The president of Germany's roughly 100,000 member Central Council of Jews called on Thursday for an immediate end to Iranian-German business relations, alleging that the trade benefits the Islamic Republic's terrorism and contradicts Berlin's pledge that Israel's security is non-negotiable.
In a statement to The Jerusalem Post, Dr. Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council, did not mince words: “ 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 of the region.”
He added that “The Central Council of Jews in Germany has been criticizing German-Iranian trade relations for a long time. It seems paradoxical that Germany – as a country that is said to have learned from its horrendous past and which has a strong commitment to fighting antisemitism – is one of the strongest economic partners of a regime that blatantly denies the Holocaust and commits human rights abuses on a daily basis. Besides, Germany has included Israel’s security as a part of its raison d'etre. As a matter of course this should exclude doing business with a fanatic dictatorship that is calling for Israel’s destruction, pursuing nuclear weapons and financing terror organizations around the world.
“It is high time to ask oneself where the money that Iran is earning by this trade is going. Furthermore, we witness demonstrations in Iran of people that are yearning for freedom and equality. We should stand up for these people who are risking their lives because they are asking for rights that we here can fortunately take for granted. “
The Central Council serves as an umbrella organization for roughly 80 Jewish communities in Germany.
Germany remains one of the Islamic Republic of Iran's most important trade partners. Roughly 120 German companies are active in Iran, with employees based in the Islamic Republic, and 10,000 German businesses conduct business with Iran. Germany exported $3.42 billion in goods to Iran in 2017.
The Post sent detailed press queries to chancellor Angela Merkel, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the country's Economy Minister Peter Peter Altmaier in connection with Schuster's criticism of Iranian-German trade relations. The Post asked the following questions: Should Germany end trade with Iran? Will the German government stop providing Euler Hermes credit insurance that protects German companies active in Iran? Is Iran's regime antisemitic? What is the view of Schuster's statement? Are the chancellor and the ministers questioned in agreement with Schuster that Iran's regime denies the Holocaust? It also asked whether those questioned view the Iranian regime as antisemitic.
The Post also asked the German government and its ministers about an online article in Tuesday Focus magazine by the US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, who praised German companies that walked away from business in Iran.
The German government has gone to great lengths to promote the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and business with Iran's clerical regime. Israel views the current JCPOA as an existential threat to its security. The Post asked in its queries whether the German government's language about Israel's security being a part of Germany's raison d'être is empty rhetoric.
A spokesperson for Merkel referred the Post to a June 4 press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Merkel in Berlin. Merkel said at the press conference: “We agree that the question of Iran's regional influence is worrying, especially for Israel's security.” She said the German government will use diplomatic means when engaging with Iran's regime.
“Germany did not cancel this [JCPOA] agreement, and together with other European partners, we stand by it, “said Merkel at the June 4 meeting. The US withdrew from the Iran deal in May because it said the agreement did not prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons device and end its state-sponsored terrorism. When pressed by the Post in a second email for responses, the chancellor's spokesperson declined to respond.
US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, wrote to the Post on Friday:”The Iranian regime is the world’s #1 state sponsor of terrorism. The new US sanctions are designed to bring this regime back to the table and put an end to their malign activities.”
Germany's foreign ministry, mirroring the Chancellery, largely dodged the Post's inquiries in its response. A foreign ministry spokesperson said “Foreign Minister [Heiko] Maas attributes great significance to Germany's fight against antisemitism, and to the country's honest and unsparing method of confronting its history.”
The spokesperson said on Monday the foreign minister will travel to Auschwitz. The Post asked Maas, who said he went into politics because of Auschwitz, if he learned the wrong lessons from the Shoah due to his support for German-Iranian trade and the atomic deal with the mullah regime. The foreign ministry sent statements from Maas condemning Holocaust denial. None of the statements referenced the Islamic Republic of Iran's repeated denial of the Holocaust.
The foreign ministry spokesperson also sent a Maas statement from an August interview with the Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung : “We haven’t forgotten Iran’s problematic role in the region, for instance in Syria, or the ballistic missile program. We also openly address human rights issues. But anyone hoping for a regime change shouldn’t forget that whatever follows may present us with much bigger problems. Iran’s isolation could boost radical and fundamentalist forces. Chaos in Iran – such as we’ve experienced in Iraq or Libya – would further destabilize a region which is already unsettled. No responsible politician can seriously want to see that.”
Peter Altmaier, the German Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, did not respond to the Post 's media query.
On Thursday, the German companies Deutsche Telekom, the telecommunications giant, and the state-owned railway company , Deutsche Bahn, announced they pulled the plug on their business ties in Iran due to US sanctions. The US embassy in Berlin tweeted: “Making the right choice for their business – Deutsche Bahn and Telekom withdraw from Iran.”
The mass circulation German paper BILD reported in August that the Industry and Chamber of Commerce in Bonn/Rhein-Sieg in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is slated to hold a pro-Iran business conference on September 5.
Benjamin Weinthal reports on human rights in the Middle East and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal.
Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.