German Jews angry over Iranian Cup visit

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The Independent Online

For many in Nuremberg, it was deeply unfortunate when the World Cup draw placed Iran's first game in their city - a cruel coincidence that the team from the Islamic republic, whose leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has caused worldwide offence with his anti-Semitic pronouncements, should kick-off their campaign in one of the cradles of Nazism.

But their dismay was compounded yesterday by the presence at last night's match against Mexico of Mr Ahmadinejad's deputy, Mohammed Aliabadi, so much so that hundreds of people, drawn mainly from Nuremberg's small Jewish community, staged a demonstration in the city centre against the representative of the "21st century Hitler".

A mood of celebration among Mexican fans in giant sombreros milling around the stadium was in stark contrast to the scenes several miles away at Jakobsplatz, near where the infamous Nuremberg laws clamping down on German Jews were signed in 1935.

Hundreds of blue-and-white Israeli flags flapped as speakers condemning the Iranian leadership were met with roars of approval from the crowd. "Now the deputy is at this game, the World Cup has become political" said Michel Friedman, one of Germany's most influential Jews. "He is a man who has never challenged the words of his [President], a 21st century Hitler. It is our business to tell him that he is not welcome. The German government should have banned this man from Germany."

Mr Aliabadi's VIP programme started with Germany's opening game against Costa Rica in Munich on Friday before moving to Nuremberg. At yesterday's match, he sat next to the Nuremberg Mayor, Ulrich Maly, who had condemned him at the rally earlier.

Jörg Rohde, the leader of the local branch of the liberal FDP party, said: "This Iranian government will be aiming to exploit this game. By staging this demonstration, we are trying to offer some resistance."

To that end, a group of Israelis had secured tickets to the sell-out match at the stadium adjacent to the Zeppelin amphitheatre where Hitler staged Nazi rallies between 1927 and 1935. They hoped that the television cameras would catch the block of Israeli flags and send their message to a worldwide audience.

This is the latest chapter in Berlin's difficult relations with Iran which has gained sympathy among Germany's far right. The Government banned a Holocaust denial conference last year featuring the leader of the far-right National Party (NPD) and the Iranian leadership. The NPD has also adopted the Iranian team as its World Cup favourite.About 200 members of the NPD staged a rally in Gelsenkirchen on Saturday calling for "solidarity with Iran".