Berlin Jewish Museum Says It Has ‘No Specific Plans’ to Cooperate With Iran, Following Criticism of Meeting With Tehran Regime Envoy
The Jewish Museum Berlin (JMB) confirmed on Tuesday that it has no plans for cooperation with the Iranian government, following a controversy this week around a recent meeting between the institution’s director and one of the Tehran regime’s diplomats stationed in Germany.
“There are presently no specific plans to cooperate with Iran,” Peter Schäfer — the director of the JMB — told The Algemeiner in an email on Tuesday, in response to an earlier query about his March 8 meeting with Seyed Ali Moujani, the head of the Cultural Affairs Department at the Iranian Embassy in Berlin.
While the JMB insisted that the meeting between Schäfer and Moujani was private, the Iranian diplomat published a lengthy account of their discussions on a German-language Iranian website, along with a photo — since removed — of the two men sitting together.
Among the points emphasized by Moujani during the meeting was his unsubstantiated allegation that exiled Iranian Jewish families and Israeli entities such the University of Haifa had “plundered” the Jewish communal artifacts currently in their possession.
Moujani used the meeting to inform Schäfer of the importance of separating “Zionism” from “Judaism,” opining that the “salvation of Judaism” lay in the “non-political” study of the Jewish experience in Europe. In keeping with the Islamic Republic’s state policy of Holocaust denial, Moujani at no point mentioned the Nazi extermination of six million Jews, using the regime-approved term “catastrophe of the Second World War” to refer to the Nazi crimes instead.
The JMB’s own account of the meeting was more business-like. “The Iranian cultural attaché was in conversation with director Peter Schäfer to discuss a possible exhibition of a photographic collection of Iranian Jews from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as a music archive of synagogue and secular music,” the museum explained in a statement to The Algemeiner. Moujani was then given a tour of the museum’s current exhibit, “Welcome to Jerusalem,” by its curator Cecily Kugelmann, the statement said.
The JMB pointed out that during the meeting, Moujani had spoken in Persian, and that “his long remarks were translated by an interpreter who took notes.” The museum’s statement closed by asserting that Moujani’s report of the discussion was “all about the summaries of the interpreter — partly out of context, partly misunderstood. Therefore, we asked the embassy last Friday for a deletion of the statements and the photo.”
The meeting with Moujani took place just three weeks after a bitter dispute with the Iranians led the JMB to ban an Iranian state broadcaster from filming on its premises.
Broadcaster IRIB had been seeking to air a piece on the “Welcome to Jerusalem” exhibit — which has been criticized by leading Israeli politicians and Jewish scholars for its sympathetic presentation of Palestinian and Muslim historic claims to the holy city. The museum refused to offer its assistance, however, saying that IRIB’s coverage was “clearly anti-Zionist,” and the broadcaster had “disseminated anti-Israeli and antisemitic propaganda.”
The museum stated it was worried IRIB would “instrumentalize” the exhibit to advance “its own agenda.”
It also noted IRIB’s history of hosting Holocaust deniers “to disseminate false claims which constitute a criminal offense in Germany.”
No stranger to political controversies, the museum’s management was reined in as recently as January by the government’s cultural commissioner over alleged sympathies with the anti-Israel BDS campaign. “We have no intention of having the museum become a venue for BDS supporters,” Monika Grütters — the federal government commissioner for culture and the media who heads the museum’s board — said in response to concerns about the museum’s content regarding Zionism and Israel.
The JMB is a public institution funded by the German government and the Berlin Municipality, and is not formally affiliated with the country’s Jewish community.
One activist group called on Grütters “to draw personal and institutional consequences” from the meeting between Moujani and Schäfer earlier this month.
“The invitation of an emissary of the antisemitic Iranian terror regime passes all red lines,” a statement from Stop the Bomb — a vocal German advocacy group opposed to Iran’s Islamist regime — declared on Monday.
“With the invitation, the Jewish Museum gives the Iranian Embassy the opportunity to make its antisemitic anti-Zionism part of the public debate,” the group said.