German Jewish leaders meet in Hamburg as neo-Nazis march

One day after violent clashes erupted at a neo-Nazi march in Hamburg, Germany’s top Jewish leader urged Germans to declare their country “a fascist-free zone.”

Speaking in Hamburg Sunday, Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said everyone should follow the example of the 10,000 local residents who held a peaceful rally June 2 under the slogan “Hamburg shows its true colors.”

Graumann’s remarks capped a weekend-long gathering of 240 Jews from around the country, titled “One People, One Community,” which coincidentally occurred on the same weekend as the neo-Nazi march.

A selection of community leaders, rabbis and volunteers were gathered at the Hotel Atlantic, discussing issues ranging from the state of Jewish arts in Germany to the state of Jewish identity, and holding both Orthodox and liberal Sabbath services. Communal issues, such as conversion and acceptance of those with only a Jewish father, were debated over meals and in pauses between workshops at the weekend-long event.

Graumann said his aim was to “help build a completely new Jewish community, fresher, more modern, and more positive.” Holocaust remembrance will always play an essential role, he added. But what unites Jews is “not only sadness, but the enormous, positive aspects of Judaism.”

Still, the goal of achieving normalcy has not been reached “as long as the synagogues here still need police protection and video cameras,” Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz told attendees on Sunday. The mayor, who had joined the anti-Nazi protests over the weekend, said it was “a question of decency to stand up against the right-wing demons; there is simply no alternative in democratic Hamburg.”

Graumann said the federal courts should try again to ban the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany, which has an estimated 7,000 members nationwide but reaches far more through various forms of propaganda. In recent years, the party has gained enough votes to earn a few seats in local parliaments, which qualifies it for taxpayer funding.

In a scenario that often marks neo-Nazi demonstrations in Germany, fights broke out in Hamburg June 2 when about 4,000 left-wing protesters tried to block an estimated 700 neo-Nazis from marching. Of more than 4,000 police deployed to keep the groups apart, 38 reportedly were injured; 26 demonstrators (six neo-Nazis and 20 protesters) were arrested and 63 taken into custody.

Shut down Iranian bank, Germany’s leaders say

A call by Germany’s top Jewish leader for the European Iranian Bank of Commerce in Hamburg to be shut down was echoed by the German government.

Shortly after Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, made his statement to the Handelsblatt online newspaper, the government of Angela Merkel announced that no further payments from India for Iranian crude oil may go through the German banking system.

“This bank should not be part of the world of German banking—it should be banned,” Graumann said Monday.

Graumann’s remarks followed revelations that India, under pressure from the United States to halt trade with Iran, planned to deposit billions of dollars in payments for Iranian crude oil in the Bundesbank, Germany’s Federal Bank. The intention was for the bank to transfer about $12 billion annually to Iran via the Bank of Commerce in Hamburg.

Now Merkel says no further Indian oil payments to Iran may be made through Germany, the Handelsblatt reported.

According to the German Ministry of Finance, the Bundesbank must be notified of transactions of more than 10,000 euro, or about $14,000, involving Iran, and must give explicit approval to any transaction worth more than 40,000 euro, or nearly $57,000, in keeping with EU sanctions imposed on Iranian business.

The Bundesbank had argued that it could not stop the deal because it had no relation to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In a statement issued to JTA last week, a bank spokesperson said both the German government and Bundesbank “abide strictly and completely by the standards set by the United Nations … and the European Union with regard to Iran.”

“If an account holder instructs the Bundesbank to make a payment that is permissible under these regulations … the Bundesbank is obliged to carry out this transaction. In this respect, the Bundesbank is no different than other banks,” the statement said.

The Hamburg-based EIH bank has been the focus of several protest rallies organized by the Stop the Bomb campaign in Germany in recent months.

“The bank is vital for the German and global trade with Iran, and with the revenues for energy trade flowing through this bank, sanctioning the EIH would severely hurt the Iranian regime and also increase its internal conflicts,” Jonathan Weckerle, a spokesman for the organization,  told JTA.

The bank is not the only problem, Graumann told the Handelsblatt.

“Too many German companies are still carrying on unchecked with their vile business with the Iranian terror regime, the reigning world champion in Holocaust denial,” he said, “and I simply cannot fathom how the Bundesbank, of all institutions, one which for me personally remains practically sacrosanct, could stoop to covering up for or even promoting business with this evil regime.”