Thursday, 24 April 2008

Jewish leader: German firms ignoring Shoah

An angry vice president parasite of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, has sharply criticized the robust trade relationship between Germany and Iran.

"Business with Iran is booming, while morality is wasting away. German companies, of all things, are doing business with a country that advocates a new Holocaust," Graumann said at an event on Tuesday celebrating Israel's 60th birthday.

"This miserable profiteering is a scandal," Graumann added, speaking at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation - a think tank aligned with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party.

State Minister in the Chancellor's Office Hildegard Müller, a Christian Democrat who spoke after Graumann, said the German government recognized the Iranian "threat toward Israel."

Müller was unavailable for further comment on unilateral action to end the German trade relationship with Iran. While Merkel has declared Israel's security to be part of the German national interest, critics argue that her government is failing to dramatically curtail its trade ties with Iran.

In 2007, the trade amounted to more than €4 billion. Economic relations between Iran and Germany represent a politically sensitive test for the "special relationship" between Israel and Germany.

"The current economic relationship - that is, business as usual between German firms and the Islamic dictatorship in Iran - should be focused against the background of the Holocaust - that is, German responsibility for the unprecedented nature of the Holocaust," said Jörg Rensmann, a spokesman from the Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin - a nonprofit that aims to raise public awareness of the Iranian threat to the international community and Israel.

More than 50 German firms, many of which provide sophisticated engineering equipment, were present at the Iranian oil show between April 16 and 20 in Teheran. The Jerusalem Post obtained a copy of the list of companies. The on-line list showing firms at the "General Information German Pavilion" in Teheran was quickly removed from the home page and is no longer accessible.

Peter Op de Laak, a sales manager at Bergrohr - a company that manufactures steel pipes and displayed an exhibit at the oil show - told the Post that he and representatives of other German firms had been welcomed by the first secretary of the German Embassy, Peer Horstmann, at his Teheran residence.

The German Engineering Federation "considers business with Iran to be legitimate," said Klaus Friedrich, the head of the federation's Middle East department. He confirmed that German Ambassador Herbert Honsowitz had been present at the oil show.

Honsowitz, who delivered a speech on German-Iranian relations, told Iranian Press TV in November that the "German Embassy is trying to take measures toward maintaining and improving economic ties between the private sectors of the two countries."

The Post received a statement from Honsowitz denying his comments to Iranian Press TV that "German exports to Iran have not decreased because a large portion of them reach Iran through the United Arab Emirates."

However, the ambassador's statement did not deny his efforts to expand Iranian-German economic relations.

When asked if the engineering association shared Merkel's notion of a "special responsibility" toward Israel in view of the Holocaust, which she outlined in her March speech in the Knesset, Friedrich said it was the first time the association had been asked this question.

In an e-mail to the Post, Friedrich wrote that "the accusation that German economic relations with Iran are supporting a new Holocaust" are "polemical and false."

Regarding the role of German engineering firms in contributing to Iran's nuclear program and technological infrastructure, Friedrich said he "was surprised" that "the German press has not inquired" regarding German Engineering Federation (VDMA)'s activity in Iran. He wrote that "the VDMA has been observing the Iranian nuclear program with great attention and concern."

Also in reply to Graumann's speech and the issue of of German companies' responsibility toward Israel, Felix Neugart, a spokesman for the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce, told the Post that "we cannot comment on this because of the political implications."

Central Council of Jews in Germany secretary-general Stefan Kramer, who was present at the Adenauer Foundation event, named the German electrical giant Siemens and the energy corporation RWE as two companies commencing deals with Iran and endangering Israel's national security.

Annett Urbaczka, a spokeswoman for RWE, declined to answer a telephone query seeking comment.

Wolfram Trost, a Siemens spokesman, said Siemens would continue to be active in Iran and saw no "special responsibility" toward Israel, because Siemens had an "international responsibility" and was not locked into a particular country.

German critics view Siemens as rejecting its historical responsibility toward Israel. Siemens played a key role during the Holocaust in exploiting Jewish concentration camp victims as slave laborers for war production.

"The Iranian president denies the Holocaust. He has threatened Israel, which is the state of Shoah survivors, with annihilation. The threat of a new Holocaust by a nuclear-armed Iran must be taken absolutely seriously, so that German firms - above all, Siemens - must be questioned about their current direct or indirect support for a regime that threatens the Jewish state with annihilation and promotes anti-Semitic terrorism through its proxies Hamas and Hizbullah," Rensmann said.

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