German Jews Offended Iranian-Born German Soccer Player Refuses to Play Israel

An Iranian-German soccer player who plays for the German national under-21 side has asked not to play against Israel in a friendly on Oct. 12. The team has accepted his request, angering Germany's Jewish lobby -- which has pointed out discrepencies between his statements to football officials and the media.

Askhan Dejagah, who has Iranian and German citizenship, doesn't want to play Israel.

Askhan Dejagah, who has Iranian and German citizenship, doesn't want to play Israel.

An Iranian-born player for Germany's under-21 national soccer team has caused controversy by asking to be excused from playing a match against Israel in Tel Aviv this Friday.

Ashkan Dejagah, 21, said in a statement posted on the German Football Federation's Web site that his reasons for not playing were "of a very personal nature and have to do with my close family."

But the player had previously been quoted in Bild newspaper as saying: "There are political reasons. Everyone knows I'm a German Iranian." Berlin newspaper BZ quoted him as saying: "I have more Iranian than German blood in my veins. Besides, I'm doing this out of respect. After all, my parents are Iranian."

Dejagah, who has dual citizenship, was born in Tehran and has lived in Germany since he was two. The striker plays for football club VFL Wolfsburg and is regarded as one of Germany's most talented young players. He has family in Iran, which refuses to recognize Israel and forbids its citizens from visiting the Jewish state or engaging in sporting competitions with Israel.

Dejagah fears not being allowed to visit relatives in Iran if he has an Israeli stamp in his passport. "I have nothing against Israel. But I'm worried about having problems later when traveling to Iran," he told the BZ.

DFB President Theo Zwanziger said Dejagah's request had been granted because he had convinced his coach that he had personal reasons for not playing in Friday's match, which is a qualifier for the under-21 European Championship in 2009. "My fundamental position and the position of the DFB are quite clear, however," Zwanziger added. "We will not tolerate a German national player canceling his participation in an international match because of his world view. A player who wears our team strip must identify with this country and its values. Otherwise one has to do without him."

"Sport and football have in the past built bridges over many obstacles. This applies to Israel in particular and to the excellent German-Israeli relations," said Zwanziger.

The case has angered the Central Council of Jews in Germany. "It's inconceivable and impossible that a national team player initiates a private boycott of Jews," Vice President Dieter Graumann told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "It would be scandalous if the DFB doesn't penalize this behavior."

Friedbert Pflüger, head of the parliamentary group of the conservative Christian Democrats in the Berlin city assembly, said: "This is impossible and totally unacceptable. If Dejagah has political qualms he mustn't play for the German national team again."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and questioned whether the Holocaust took place.

With reporting by Mike Glindmeier and Clemens Gerlach

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