Demonstrators turned out on Sunday ahead of the World Cup match between Mexico and Iran to protest the policies of Iranian President Mamoud Ahmadinejad, who has said he may attend the tournament in Germany if Iran's team advances out of the first round.
A number of prominent German politicians and members of Jewish groups are calling on the German government to issue a travel ban on the leader, an outspoken Holocaust denier who has also said Israel should be "wiped off the map." There is no place in Germany for Holocaust deniers, they said, adding that the presence of Ahmadinejad's deputy, Mohammed Aliabadi, at Sunday's games is a "national shame." Police said about 1,200 people showed up for the protest, including many prominent members of Germany's Jewish community.
The protestors filled Nuremberg's historic city center with a sea of white and blue Israeli flags. And they held signs reading: "Give Ahmadinejad a red card" and "Long Live Israel Peace is alive." The protest, organized by a number of German Jewish organizations, remained peaceful throughout the day.
Günther Beckstein, Bavaria's interior minister from the conservative Christian Social Union party, told the crowd that the protest was a decisive action against anti-Semitism. "We're clearly showing that Bavaria, Germany and the entire Western world stand firmly on the side of the state of Israel and its Jewish citizens," Beckstein said. With statements he has made denying the Holocaust and the threats he has made against Israel, Ahmadinejad has demonstrated that he is not a part of the civilized world, the politician said. But he also stated that the protest was aimed directly at the Iranian president for his "intolerable verbal attacks" and not against the Iranian people.
"I'll put this directly," Beckstein said, "Ahmadinejad is not welcome here. The only thing that protects him from immediate arrest is his diplomatic passport." Noting the Iran-Mexico game being played in Nuremberg on Sunday, Beckstein said: "In the same way that we welcome Iranian visitors and their national team, we must also express the degree of our contempt for Ahmadinejad."
Prominent German Jewish community leader Michel Friedman, chairman of the group United Israel Action (Vereinigten Israel Aktion) energetically called on the government in Berlin to issue a travel ban against the Iranian president. If Ahmadinejad does visit the country, Friedman warned, then he should be treated exactly as anyone who denies the extermination of millions of Jews during the rein of Nazi terror. Pointing to Germany's own history, Friedman said, "We have learned that you must resist from the very beginning, but Ahmadinejad has already gone far beyond that. We cannot greet the Hitler of the 21st century with a diplomatic line of least resistance."