Outrage over ‘anti-Semitic’ German-Iranian program

The University of Potsdam, located near Berlin, triggered sharp criticism from German academics this week because of its joint academic program with the University of Religions and Denominations, located in Qom, Iran.

The cooperation agreement between Potsdam and the Qom-based university was a way for Iran’s regime to advance its Islamic doctrine and carry forward the “polices of the totalitarian dictator of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, a prominent German-Iranian scholar in the Federal Republic, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. He warned of the use of Iranian academics to engage in espionage work in Germany.

Wahdat-Hagh, who serves on an Interior Ministry commission on modern anti-Semitism in Germany, added that the University of Potsdam had “underestimated the anti-Semitic potential of the URD [the University of Religions and Denominations].”

The former director of the institute of religion and Jewish studies, Karl E. Grözinger, wrote a letter to the university’s management, expressing his “great concern” about the cooperation, according to the Potsdamer Neuste Nachrichten newspaper.

According to the University of Potsdam’s website, six doctoral students from the University of Religions and Denominations will arrive in September.

In response to the criticism of the URD-Potsdam academic program, Dr. Johan Hafner, who is coordinating the program with URD, wrote the Post, “We are aware of the lack of religious freedom and the doctrinaire influences in Iran, and consider an academic exchange with qualified intellectuals to be possible.”

Hafner, who is a professor of religion at the University of Potsdam, added that “we expect from the dialogue with Muslim colleges a critical reflection…and we will pay very close attention that intellectual exchange with Jewish scholars is possible.”

In response to Hafner’s comments, Wahdat-Hagh told the Post that the University of Potsdam stresses that the program is merely an academic exchange. “But what is overlooked is that the URD follows the totalitarian and anti-Semitic state doctrine. How can one work with an institute that spreads hate propaganda against the Bahai religion and the State of Israel, as well as defends the forced veiling of women.”

Wahdat-Hagh said the URD was simply not a religious institute.

He continued that the “URD is a propaganda academy and worse than the Marxist-Leninist Institute in the former German Democratic Republic, and the University of Potsdam is currying favor with the totalitarian dictator in Iran.” The University of Potsdam is located in the former East Germany.

The German university’s cooperation with the Islamic Republic has raised eyebrows before.

In late 2006, the faculty for economics and social science pulled the plug on academic programs with Iran because President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad propagates anti- Israel policies. The University of Religions and Denominations was founded during Ahmadinejad’s first presidential term.