BERLIN (JTA) — Succumbing to pressure from human rights groups and Jewish leaders, a Munich university canceled an invitation to representatives of Iran’s extreme Islamic sect.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany and others had protested the plans to invite three Iranian clerics to the Ludwig-Maximilian University, where they were to participate in a dialogue Wednesday with their counterparts at the school’s Catholic theology department. The event was to be part of an ongoing project titled “Encountering Islam.”
The cancellation was announced Tuesday, a day before the event was to take place.
It was seen as a victory for critics of Germany’s relations — political, business and academic — with Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called for Israel’s destruction while working to attain nuclear capabilities.
Germany remains Iran’s largest trading partner. Recently released trade figures show an increase of 10 percent in German exports to Iran over the first three quarters of 2008.
In a statement released Wednesday, the president of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, called the export increase “cause for grave concern.” He urged Germany to “redouble its efforts and sanctions against companies doing business with Iran.”
“This is not just a German but a pan-European problem,” Kantor said.
Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Yoram Ben Ze’ev, also told reporters he thought Germany could do more to isolate Iran.
While pressure on German business appears to work at a slower pace, this week’s protest bore fruit in a hurry.
Protesters blasted the institute’s invitation to Muhammad Legenhausen, a professor at the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in the city of Qom. The institute has trained, among others, Basij volunteers who answer to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and believe in martyrdom for their cause, according to Iran expert Wahied Wahdat-Hagh of the Brussels-based European Foundation for Democracy.
The head of the Iranian institute is Taqi Mesbahe Yazdi, a mentor of Ahmadinejad and the publisher of a newspaper described as anti-Semitic, according to a report in the ddp German news agency.
Bertram Stubenrauch, a professor of dogmatics at Ludwig-Maximilian University, told ddp that “the political waves were too high” and that the event had to be canceled.
According to reports Nathan Kalmanowicz, a member of the board of the Central Council and vice president of the Munich Jewish community, appealed personally to the organizers of the conference — notably the Benedictus Foundation, a Catholic organization in Munich — to cancel it.
Others who joined in the protest included the German branch of the International Society for Human Rights and the German branch of Christian Solidarity International.
It was the second time in recent memory that Catholic leaders in Germany have been criticized for extending a hand to Iranian officials and theologians. In October, the University of Freiburg hosted former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami at a program billed as a dialogue between the Islamic and Western worlds.
After the fact, Jewish community officials criticized the hosts for welcoming Khatami, given Iran’s human rights violations, promotion of international Islamic terrorism and threats against Israel.
This time, critics turned up the heat beforehand.