A conference planned for June featuring a high-level Hamas minister and leading German politicians has prompted criticism from diverse organizations, who see Germany as courting a terrorist organization determined to murder Jews and obliterate Israel.
An evangelical academic center in the southern German city of Bad Boll is slated to host Dr. Basem Naim, the Hamas health minister in Gaza, at an event titled „Partner for Peace: Talking with Hamas and Fatah.“
German politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing national coalition – the Christian Democratic Union and the Free Democrats – are slated to participate.
Naim advocates violent „resistance“ against Israel, and argues that there is an „exploitation of the Holocaust by the Zionists to justify their crimes and harness international acceptance of the campaign of ethnic cleansing and subjection they have been waging against us.“
The Evangelical Academy’s flyer lists Abdallah Frangi as a speaker at the event. Frangi was a key player in the Fatah movement in Gaza and is currently an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, a popular lecturer among Germany’s harsh anti-Israeli critics, also appears on the list of speakers.
Sebastian Wilde, a spokesman for Bundestag deputy Harald Leibrecht from the Free Democratic Party, defended Leibrecht’s plans to attend the conference.
„All sides are attempting to speak to each other,“ the spokesman told The Jerusalem Post.
Wilde said Leibrecht – whose party controls the Foreign Ministry – is „not particularly a supporter of Hamas“ and has been to Israel.
Leibrecht considers himself to be a „friend of Israel,“ the spokesman added.
Rainer Arnold, a Social Democratic deputy, also defended his planned participation in the conference.
By e-mail to the Post, Arnold wrote that „Bad Boll is a good place for dialogue. But hot discussions or political arguments don’t mean taking the position of the person with whom one is discussing. Therefore, I would debate fiercely at this event. But in my opinion, it is better to hold the political debate than only to talk about each other about the important issues…“
Michael Hennrich, a Bundestag deputy from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, is also slated to talk with Hamas. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
The German Interior Ministry sharply criticized Hamas and denied financing the event.
In a e-mail to the Post, Markus Beyer , an Interior Ministry spokesman, wrote, „The Federal Ministry of the Interior continues to view Hamas as an organization that is committed by statute to the destruction of the State of Israel and tries repeatedly in diverse ways to achieve this.
„The European Union has therefore placed the organization on its list of terrorist organizations. The Federal Ministry of the Interior has banned three organizations since 2002 that were involved in propaganda and financial activities in Germany for the benefit of Hamas. These bans are conclusive.“
Sacha Stawski, the editor-in-chief of Honestly Concerned, a media watchdog outlet in Germany monitoring anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, told the Post, „An organization that thinks it needs to offer a platform to a terrorist association has not understood the concept of political education. To provide a podium to someone who starts with a basic attitude of inflammatory, agitational anti-Semitism has nothing to do with dialogue.
„Even in the most liberal democracy, there cannot and may not be any justification for accepting hatred of Jews as a basis for discussion,“ he said.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Berlin would not comment on the attendance of mainstream German politicians at a pro-Hamas event.
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said, „The federal government’s attitude toward Hamas is unchanged: The federal government demands that all actors in the Middle East refrain from violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist and the results of the peace process so far. This also applies to Hamas and remains the basis of every decision regarding this organization.“
Joachim L. Beck, the director of the Evangelical Academy in Bad Boll, defended the conference in an e-mail as an opportunity to „create possibilities for discussion.“
According to Beck, the academy reacted to a „strong desire and interest of the German population regarding the opening of a perspective for a violent-free and just peace in the Middle East.“
The academy posted the logo of Germany’s Federal Agency for Civic Education on its program as a financial sponsor of the event. The Federal Agency for Civic Education promotes democracy and sponsors events combating anti-Semitism.
When asked about the Evangelical Academy’s use of its logo for the pro-Hamas event, Daniel Kraft, a spokesman for the agency, told the Post that, „after examining the program it has now, however, been determined that an event supporting a Hamas representative is out of the question and will not happen. We are already in contact with the Evangelical Academy in Bad Boll, and instructed the academy to immediately remove the Federal Agency logo.“
The German chapter of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, a global academic organization with 28,000 members, issued a charged letter to Beck.
Dr. Ralf R. Schumann, a medical doctor and chairman of the German branch, wrote that it was established that „the Hamas used in the recent conflict kindergartens, UN buildings and hospitals as launching platforms to fire rockets.
„Mr. Naim is presented in your invitation as a medical doctor. As a doctor, my only question to you is how he, as a supposedly educated doctor and high Hamas official, could sanction the perversion that in Gaza, not only were hospitals launching pads for missiles, but one hospital was the site of the Hamas command headquarters, with commanders dressed as doctors – a Hamas tactic that violates all international law and humanitarian conventions.“