Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Neo-Nazi Magnet

Spiegel Online:
Germany's main Jewish group is calling on the government to take a stronger stance against Iranian politicians who want to attend Iran matches during the World Cup. The country's contents could become a magnet for German neo-Nazi.

Germany's neo-Nazis have a favorite soccer team: Iran. And with its despotic, anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying president, many in Germany fear that Iran's World Cup games in Nuremberg and Leipzig will be magnets for right-wing activity.

The head of the German Jewish Council, the country's main Jewish organization, has warned of the threat posed by neo-Nazi activities surrounding upcoming matches by the Iranian national team.

"We have to prevent enemies of Germany's constitution from forging an explosive anti-Semitic alliance with the Iranian dictator," warned Charlotte Knobloch, who was appointed president of the Central Council of Jews earlier this week.

In a guest editorial in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Knobloch wrote that neo-Nazis have stated their intentions of "showing their solidarity with the tyrants of Tehran" at the upcoming match between Iran and Angola in the eastern German town of Leipzig. The city is located in the state of Saxony, where the far-right, neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) won 10 percent of the vote in the last state parliamentary elections. Pockets of the state are a hotbed of xenophobia and it has also recently been the site of racist and anti-Semitic incidents at football matches. If a neo-Nazi presence is felt, Knobloch said, Germany could not just stand aside passively.

The head of the national Jewish organization is also pleading with the German government in Berlin to do whatever it can to prohibit Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from visiting the country during the World Cup. Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," and he has repeatedly made statements downplaying the crimes committed during the Holocaust and its scope - most recently in an interview with SPIEGEL. "Any country that can declare the president of Belarus as persona non-grata can also clearly show the oil despot (Ahmadinejad) that we don't want him here in Germany."

Conservatives for travel ban

A senior member of the governing conservative Christian Democratic Union, Wolfgang Bosbach, also called on the government to hinder a possible Ahmadinejad visit. "If it's clear that Ahmadinejad wants to come, then the government should tell him in no uncertain terms that he's not welcome here," Bosbach told the Rheinsiche Post newspaper. Anyone who denies the Holocaust and questions Israel's right to exist obviously shouldn't think that he's welcome in Germany, he said.

In a separate commentary for the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, Michael Friedman, a journalist and former vice president of the Central Council of Jews, urged the government to issue a travel ban on all members of the Iranian government. Friedman described the fact that Berlin hasn't taken any formal steps to ban travel by Iranian politicians as "scandalous."

Meanwhile, in Bavaria, where Iran is set to play its first match in Nuremberg on Sunday, the state's interior minister has expressed concerns that Iranian intelligence agents may seek to stage what he described as a "provocative action" aimed at intimidating Iranian opposition members living in exile in Germany. READ MORE

Earlier this year, Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi told his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schäuble, that he feared opposition members living in Europe might attempt to attack the Iranian national team. But opposition members in Germany have denied any such plans. In addition, the German government entered into a formal agreement with Tehran obliging Berlin to ensure it would prevent any public disturbances by exile members of the Iranian opposition. In return, Tehran agreed to prohibit any persons believed by Berlin to be a potential security threat in Germany from leaving the country during the World Cup. Iranian opposition leaders living in Germany also pledged not to stage any protests against Iran's national team.

Tehran is still reeling from its experience at the World Cup in France where during a match between the United States and Iran, thousands of members of the Iranian opposition smuggled in t-shirts and banners and loudly protested against the mullah regime in Tehran. And though opposition members have said they will remain quiet during the stadium games in Germany, there will be street protests. One protest against the Iranian government is scheduled for Sunday in Nuremberg, where Iranian Vice President Mohammed Aliabadi will be attending the match.