German tapped to head Iran trade vehicle pulls out after Israel comments


A senior German diplomat designated to head a European payment vehicle to facilitate trade with Iran despite US sanctions will not take up the position after a news report claimed he made controversial statements about Israel.

The German Foreign Ministry said Friday that Bernd Erbel was not to assume the position as INSTEX chief “for personal reasons.”

Read more: What is the EU-Iran payment vehicle INSTEX? 

Germany’s mass circulation Bild newspaper reported on several controversial comments the former ambassador to Baghdad and Tehran made about the Middle East and Israel.

In an article published in English, Bild criticized “two scandalous appearances” in which Erbel gave interviews to former public radio journalist Ken Jebsen, who the paper described as “a conspiracy theorist and anti-Semite.”

Erbel said in an interview that Israel was founded “at the expense of another people that lost their homeland.”

“The Palestinians are the victims of our victims. Quite simple.”

He also said that Israelis were incapable of feeling empathy towards others for a “psychological reason.”

“They give you the feeling that only others can commit an act of injustice, because they were on the receiving end of injustice.”

Read more: Can an enhanced INSTEX really work for Iran?

Bild accused Erbel of having “great sympathy for the Iranian Mullah regime” and understating Tehran’s influence in the Middle East. 

Germany, Britain and France founded INSTEX to facilitate barter trade with Iran to get around US sanctions that block financial transfers. The instrument, which is not yet operational, would help Iran buy goods such as pharmaceuticals and foods that are not subject to US sanctions imposed after Washington withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord.

Read more: How Trump’s sanctions are crippling Iran’s economy

Bild takes pro-Israel, anti-Iran stance

The Bild report was written by journalists Antje Schippmann and Björn Stritzel. Schippmann has extensively published critical articles about Iran and taken a pro-Israel stance.

She was formerly a social media manager for the Israeli Embassy in Berlin and worked at The Israel Project, a pro-Israel lobby group.

The Israel Project describes its mission as “changing people’s minds about Israel through cutting-edge strategic communications. We don’t attack the media, we become a trusted partner and resource — bringing integrity and facts to the coverage using proven strategies like building relationships, testing messages and giving journalists everything they need to get the story right.”

Mathew Duss, a foreign policy advisor to US Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, wrote in the Jewish Daily Forward that groups like The Israel Project “seem to exist for no other reason than to spotlight the very worst aspects of Muslim societies.”

cw/kl (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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