Remko Leemhuis Portrait
/ Comment

Hamburg openly cooperates with supporters of terror and antisemites

This article originally appeared in WELT.

Even by middle eastern standards, a region that has no shortage of butchers and war criminals, Qasem Soleimani was a feared man. As commander of the Quds Force, a unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards tasked with globalizing the "Islamic Revolution," he left a trail of destruction through the Middle East, permanently destabilizing the region. Under his command, members of the Quds Force and other Shiite militias committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Iraqi, Yemeni, and Syrian civil wars. 

The countless deaths and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, particularly in the wake of the Syrian civil war, can be directly linked to his operations. Throughout his life, Soleimani worked towards realizing Tehran's stated goal of Israel’s destruction. In doing so, he was responsible for supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad  and Hamas terror organizations. His legacy includes the 150,000 rockets Hezbollah deployed in southern Lebanon, which pose the greatest conventional security threat to the Jewish state. 

The long arm of his “Quds Force” reached even into Germany. For example, on behalf of the forces, a Pakistani living in Germany spied on Reinhold Robbe, a former member of the Bundestag and chairman of the German-Israeli Society, with the aim of gathering information on soft targets for terror attacks in Germany in the event of a military conflict between Israel and Iran. In a similar case, Iranian agents spied on Jewish kindergartens and schools with the same goal.

This man, who dedicated his life to propagating Tehran's Islamist state-doctrine around the world through terror and violence, was honored as a martyr by the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH) during a funeral service in early January 2020 after he was killed by the U.S. military in Baghdad. This is unsurprising as the IZH is a direct affiliate of the Mullah regime and, according to German security authorities, Tehran's most important representative not only in Germany but in all of Europe. 

The IZH’s central role is underscored by the fact that its director is appointed directly by the “Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution,” the highest political and religious authority in Iran. The IZH is not only tasked with spreading Iran's antisemitic, anti-democratic, misogynistic, and homophobic state ideology, but serves as a hub for Hamburg’s Hezbollah supporters, which has been banned in Germany since April 2020.

In addition, recent research by the German newspaper "Die Welt" revealed that IZH members regularly threaten Iranian opposition figures in Hamburg. All this should be enough to ban the IZH and its activities. However, contrary to these findings, the Hamburg city government has taken a different approach, cooperating with the IZH for years.

Since 2012, the city of Hamburg has maintained an official state cooperation agreement with the Muslim community and associations, which is organized under the umbrella group “SCHURA Hamburg.” The aim of the state agreement is "[...] to further develop relations between the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg and the Islamic religious communities in a spirit of partnership." 

Within the framework of this agreement, the contracting parties commit to jointly regulate various issues such as the legal recognition of Islamic holidays, the university training of Islamic theologians, the care of Muslims in correctional facilities, and the development of school curricula covering Islam. 

Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Muslims representing their political and religious interests or state institutions ensuring their equal participation in society. Questionable, however, is when representatives of a totalitarian regime sit at the table and try to influence Muslims living in Germany by using democratic institutions to push their socio-political ideas. 

How credible is Tehran’s representative when underwriting the following passage of the state agreement? "They [the contracting parties] are committed to opposing violence and discrimination on the basis of origin, gender, sexual orientation, belief, religious, or political views and will stand together against it."

Even a cursory glance at the human rights situation in Iran shows that this is little more than lip service: Homosexuals are hanged from construction cranes, the Bahá'í religious minority has been brutally persecuted since the Islamic Revolution, and human rights activists disappear into the regime's prisons. As recently as 2019/20, the regime has killed countless numbers of people and imprisoned thousands who took to the streets in protest against political oppression and the disastrous economic situation.

Needless to say, as Tehran’s direct affiliate, the IZH shares the regime's antisemitic agenda. In addition to glorifying the aforementioned antisemitic terrorist Qasem Soleimani, official representatives of the IZH, up until only a few years ago, regularly participated in the annual "Quds march" in Berlin. This demonstration was initiated by Ayatollah Khomeini and, every year since 1979 on the last Friday of Ramadan, supporters of the Iranian regime and other antisemites around the world have taken to the streets calling for Israel’s destruction. 

Even though IZH officials, facing pressure from Hamburg politicians, no longer partake in the demonstrations in Berlin for tactical reasons, security authorities point out that IZH congregants still march in the demonstration. 

The IZH has not credibly distanced itself from the Iranian regime’s central goal--the destruction of Israel--and of course the semi-embassy it is unable to do so. In view of all these findings, it is a scandal that the Hamburg government continues to adhere to the cooperation agreement and that other Muslim organizations are apparently unbothered by the IZH’s agenda.

Dealing with the IZH is about political credibility. No one in Hamburg would think of cooperating with right-wing extremists.  Why a different standard applies to the IZH has yet to be clarified by the responsible authorities. If the fight against antisemitism is to be successful in Hamburg, there must be no exceptions. A first step would be to finally stop cooperating with the IZH.

Remko Leemhuis, Director, American Jewish Committee Berlin.