Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Football-mad President May Fall Foul of Holocaust Law

Roger Boyes in Berlin, The Times:
Forget football hooligans. The thorniest dilemma facing Germany as it prepares to host the World Cup is what to do about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s hardline President, if he insists on coming to watch his team play next month.

Germany is obliged to admit the head of state of a participating nation, and the tournament’s official motto is “A Time To Make Friends”. But Mr Ahmadinejad has demanded Israel’s destruction and has repeatedly denied the Holocaust — a crime in Germany.

Iran’s first match is in Nuremberg, used by Hitler for his mass rallies, and German neo-Nazis are planning a march in support of Mr Ahmadinejad. READ MORE

Israel, Iranian exiles and German politicans are demanding he be kept away. The question is whether Germany as host can prevent the visit of a head of state who has shown himself to be a repulsive and embarrassing anti-Semite,” Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, said.

“The spirit of the World Cup is in absolute contradiction to the spirit that he represents.”

An editorial in the Jerusalem Post accused Germany of trading with Iran and appeasing its nuclear ambitions: Germany’s behaviour toward Iran is a clear sign that for all its Holocaust memorialising, for all its anti-Nazi legislation, and for all its protestations of friendship with Israel and the Jewish people, Germany has not learnt the lessons of the Holocaust.”

Edmund Stoiber, prime minister of Bavaria, said: “Such a man is not welcome.” But the German Government is pressing ahead. Wolfgang Schäuble, the Interior Minister, says that the President “can naturally come to the matches. Differences of opinion over the Holocaust, Israel and nuclear power could be aired during the visit.

Herr Schäuble’s deputy, August Hanning, a former head of the Security Service, has agreed with Tehran that there should be no political demonstrations in the stadiums. The two states will also exchange intelligence on possible threats.

For Iranian exiles, expected to attend the matches against Mexico, Angola and Portugal in large numbers, that smacks of appeasement. “Naturally we are worried that information from the Germans will be used against our families in Iran,” said Hassan Nayeb-Agha, who played as a midfielder for Iran in the 1978 World Cup.

We must not let the Iranian regime misuse the World Cup in the same way that Hitler did with the Olympic Games in 1936.”

Iran is expected to take a final decision on whether Mr Ahmadinejad should travel to Germany within the next few days, but there is little doubt that he wants to go. “Our President loves soccer,” said Muhammad Ali Dadkan, the head of the Iranian Football Association, as he inspected the Nuremberg pitch last month.

One Israeli lawyer living in Germany has lodged an application with the federal prosecutor to issue an international arrest warrant on the President as soon as he gets off the plane.

He would, however, probably enjoy diplomatic immunity and some lawyers doubt his denial of the Holocaust breaches German law as his comments were made abroad.