German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrives in Iran today on a trip meant to cement relations and drum up trade in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal. Even under sanctions, German diplomats (and intelligence officials) have long prioritized trade if not rapprochement with Iran, even in the wake of Iranian assassinations on German soil and the arrest of German businessmen in Iran. Indeed, the root of the process that led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action began with Steinmeier’s predecessor Klaus Kinkel, who inaugurated a “critical dialogue” with his Iranian counterparts.
At the same time, Iranian Holocaust denial—a constant pillar of the regime promoted by ‘reformists’ like Mohammad Khatami, hardliners like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as the current president Hassan Rouhani—continues to flourish. In the wake of the Iran nuclear deal and the $100 billion in unfrozen assets and sanctions relief reportedly due Iran, the Iranian government announced a new cartoon contest to ridicule the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews. The Iranian regime argues that free speech defends their decision to host the contest and, indeed, that would be a plausible explanation if the Islamic Republic protected rather than oppressed free speech. At the same time, however, the decision to once again host the contest reflects the values of the Islamic Republic today. Indeed, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei marked Holocaust Remembrance Day with a video expressing doubt that the Holocaust even occurred. And, Iran’s free speech explanation does not mean that the same free speech cannot be used by the civilized world to condemn the Iranian regime and the values it espouses.
There’s a tendency for Western leaders visiting Tehran to kowtow to the ruling regime. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop might have stood up for women or religious freedom, but instead, she acquiesced to the Iranian regime’s dress code and was muted in her declarations. Ditto Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, who refused to use her pulpit last month in Tehran to address human rights in any substantive way. Certainly, however, when it comes to Holocaust denial, there is no better voice on the issue to shame Iran than Germany’s. It’s against this backdrop that Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” campaign has called upon Steinmeier to condemn forcefully and publicly Iran’s Holocaust denial:
“The denial of the Holocaust is no minor whim of the Iranian governance. It is, in fact, an expression of the centrality of antisemitism for the Iranian regime. The leadership of the Islamic Republic has moved the Holocaust denial to the center of foreign affairs and uses it as a political weapon against the biggest Jewish community in the world: against Israel,” comments STOP BOMB speaker Ulrike Becker.
On January 27, the memorial day of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp, Steinmeier had declared: “One cannot draw a line under history.” Furthermore, he stressed that nobody in Europe can feel safe if “Jews, people of different faiths and dissenters” do not feel safe in Europe. STOP BOMB speaker Ulrike Becker adds to this: “If the Federal Government accepts Islamic antisemitism or acts indifferently toward it, this also impacts European societies.”
The deal is done, and results matter more than all the diplomatic rhetoric. There simply is no reason why a positive environment should trump real talk or substantive progress; be it on Holocaust denial, Iran’s continued sponsorship of terrorism, or the fact that Iran’s execution rate is almost an order of magnitude above Saudi Arabia’s and growing every day. More than two decades ago, the German Foreign Ministry proposed tying rapprochement and trade with Iran to improvement on Iran’s human rights record. To date, it has no progress about which it can speak on human rights improvements; quite the contrary, they have worsened in direct proportion to German trade. Perhaps then, rather than give a high-five to the Iranians as the German Green Party does, it’s time for some tough talk and moral clarity.