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Jewish Groups, German Politicians Call on Government to End ‘Cooperation’ With Iranian-Backed Islamic Center in Hamburg

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

The Imam Ali Mosque is pictured in Hamburg, Germany, February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

Jewish organizations and members of the conservative Christian Democratic party and the Kurdish community in Germany are pressuring the government to pull the plug on its “cooperation” with the Iranian-controlled Islamic Center of Hamburg (IZH), a call that has so far fallen on deaf ears.

“Our demand is first for the Hamburg city government to stop working with the IZH and secondly to look into the possibility of banning the whole center altogether. No one in Hamburg would think of cooperating with right-wing extremists. Why is there a difference between right-wing extremists and Islamists? Why a different standard applies to the IZH has yet to be clarified by the responsible authorities,” Remko Leemhuis, Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Berlin told The Algemeiner.

The Islamic Center in Hamburg last attracted attention when it held a funeral service in early January 2020 for Qasem Soleimani, honoring the former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leader as a heroic martyr after he was killed by the US military in Baghdad.

The head of IZH is directly appointed by Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei, and according to Leemhuis, the center is not only tasked with spreading the regime’s malign state ideology but also serves as a hub for supporters of the Hezbollah, which has been banned in Germany since April 2020.

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“There is a difference between supporting the dialogue with a Muslim community and talking to an outlet of the Iranian regime. Until today we still haven’t seen any willingness by the Hamburg state government to discuss this with us,” Leemhuis said.

The notebooks of Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat who earlier this year was sentenced to 20 years in prison for plotting a bomb attack against a gathering of Iranian dissidents outside Paris in 2018, revealed his visits and payments to the Islamic Center in Hamburg. Those notebooks served as evidence of Iran’s use of cultural and religious institutions in Europe for intelligence work.

Germany’s federal domestic intelligence agency has identified Hamburg’s IZH and its blue Imam Ali mosque as an “important pro-Iranian institution and one of the most active centers of Iranian propaganda in Europe” whose actual task is “to export the Islamic revolution.” Additionally, the agency found that the IZH provides financial means to spread the Iranian “revolutionary idea” in various areas of society such as religion, education and sport.

IZH officials have in recent years stopped to regularly participate in the annual “Quds Day” march in Berlin following harsh public criticism and facing pressure from Hamburg politicians. The rally sponsored by the Iranian regime was first initiated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s Islamic Republic, and calls for the violent elimination of the State of Israel. Meanwhile, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency reported that in 2019, as in previous years, IZH visitors took part in the anti-Israel demonstration. Due to COVID-19, the march was canceled last year and was replaced with an online event organized by an extremist Shiite, who has a close relationship with the Islamic Center in Hamburg where he organized events in the past, according to Germany’s intelligence agency.

“This center has been under surveillance by the domestic German security for 30 years now. Every year they write that on a federal, or state level this is the most important Shia institution at least in northern Europe. We have reports that they also threaten the Iranian opposition in Hamburg. There have been cases,” Leemhuis told The Algemeiner.

Since 2012, Hamburg’s social democratic government has maintained an official state cooperation contract with the IZH under the umbrella organization Schura Hamburg, which fosters relationships with Muslim community and associations in form of partnerships. Within the framework of this agreement, the contracting parties commit to jointly regulate various issues such as the 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.

“Hamburg has a self-perception, or image of a city with a liberal open-minded, ‘gate to the world,’ middle-class society. From their perspective, Muslim communities are set up as part of the Schura to talk about integration issues and Islamic education in public schools. But this is also questionable that the Iranian regime has a say in what is taught to German Muslims in German schools,” according to Leemhuis. “They don’t understand the fundamental fact that the IZH is not an independent organization. They are not representing German Muslims. They are representing the Iranian regime. It also damages the legitimacy of other Muslim organizations and what they are advocating for.”

Requests for comment by The Algemeiner to Hamburg’s mayor and the state government were not returned.

Federal Chairman of the Kurdish Community in Germany Ali Ertan Toprak called it “unacceptable” that Iranian-backed organizations such as the IZH are supported by German politicians as dialogue partners.

“Many civil society and political groups, not just Jewish, criticize the state treaty cooperation between the city of Hamburg and the Schura. The state government has been suppressing all criticism and concerns for years with the argument that one must also remain in dialogue with these groups,” Toprak told The Algemeiner. “But apparently this is how the Greens and the Social Democrats hope for the votes of the Muslims in the elections.”

“I have also been actively campaigning for years to ensure that German politicians finally end their appeasement in Iran politics. We in Germany in particular have a special responsibility for the Jewish population and also for the Israeli state. Whoever wants to destroy the Jewish people and the State of Israel cannot be our partner, but our enemy,” he said. “It is undisputed who and what IZH is and what important role it plays for the Iranian regime on German soil. This is not a simple mosque, but an important interface for Iran to coordinate its anti-Semitic and Islamist policies in Germany and to spy on and intimidate Iranian oppositionists.”

President of Germany’s Central Council of Jews Josef Schuster said in an interview in October that the city of Hamburg needs to cease all cooperation with the Islamic Center in Hamburg.

Dennis Gladiator of the conservative Christian Democratic Union in Hamburg described the IZH as a bastion of radical Islamism in the city.

“No treaties are concluded with antisemites. That has to be a matter of course,” Gladiator said in e-mailed comments. “The misunderstood tolerance by the Social Democrats and the Greens must end now. The contracts must be suspended or, in special cases, completely terminated. As the CDU, we will submit a corresponding request in the next session of our parliament. Jewish life belongs in the middle of our society and must never again be threatened anywhere in Germany.”

Similarly, Toprak called for immediately ending all support and cooperation with the IZH as well as the ban of the center.

“Antisemitic and anti-Israel organizations must never be tolerated in Germany. After the latest antisemitic attacks on Jews in Germany, politicians were startled. Hamburg would also like to include the fight against antisemitism as a national goal in its state constitution. The first consequence of this would have to be the closure of the IZH if we are really serious about the fight against antisemitism,” Toprak added.

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