Asked about the allegations regarding CODEPINK's participation in a 2014 conference in Teheran where there were Holocaust deniers, CODEPINK Co-founder Medea Benjamin said, "I have traveled to Iran three times, always on missions to advocate tolerance and diplomacy. At the 2014 conference, where I was invited to speak about my new book on Drone Warfare, I traveled with US scholars working on the Iran nuclear deal, something that CODEPINK has been actively supporting. I spent my time in Iran talking about the importance of coming to a deal so that the people in the region could avoid another disastrous war. We believe in people-to-people diplomacy, and as with all other diplomacy, we do not assume that all people we meet will necessarily have all the same viewpoints we do. Certainly if I were to encounter a Holocaust-denier, I would definitely tell that person in no uncertain terms that such ideas are outrageous, untrue, dangerous, and also very painful to Jewish people and many others; likewise I would argue against any racist I met in the United States."
The CODEPINK delegates are planning a speaking tour in Germany from April 7th to 19th. Details regarding the tour will soon be announced.
In articles he published in an English-language Israeli newspaper, the Jerusalem Post, on February 10th and 12th of this year, Mr. Weinthal alleged that CODEPINK denies the right of Israel to exist and has ties to Holocaust deniers in Iran. Mr. Weinthal's frequent attempts to stop public events in Germany from hosting speakers critical of the Israeli occupation often succeed, but in 2012 he failed to persuade the Jewish Museum in Berlin to cancel an event with the American philosopher Judith Butler, a prominent supporter of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Weinthal had called it the "anti-Jewish Museum" in the Jerusalem Post.
Weinthal's Jerusalem Post articles about the Bayreuth award to CODEPINK this year sparked a heated debate in the German media, and Bayreuth's mayor, Brigitte Merk-Erbe, received many letters in support of or against awarding the 2016 Tolerance Prize to CODEPINK. One letter of support was from Hedy Epstein, who was scheduled to speak at an event in the Austrian parliament on March 8th. She was subsequently attacked and her invitation to speak in Austria was revoked.
Without waiting for a response from CODEPINK, Mayor Merk-Erbe issued a press statement on February 11 stating that she would ask the Bayreuth city council to revoke the award because doubts had been raised about the worthiness of CODEPINK to receive it. On the afternoon of February 11, Ms. Rassbach sent to the mayor a detailed statement on behalf of CODEPINK in response to Mr. Weinthal's allegations. On February 12, CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin wrote to the mayor in English, providing further information in response to the allegations.
In its meeting on February 15, the members of the city council denied the mayor's request to revoke the award to CODEPINK and instead voted to suspend the award pending further investigation by council members. A group of city council members then informed Ms. Rassbach that they had not received most of the documents and supporting letters Rassbach said she had provided to the mayor. They requested that she send the documents to them directly, and she did so.
On February 19, the four parliamentary representatives to the German-Israeli parliamentary group in the Bundestag wrote to the mayor and all the city council members of Bayreuth, urging them to vote to revoke the award to CODEPINK. In their letter, the members of the German-Israeli parliamentary group reiterated Mr. Weinthal's and Rabbi Cooper's complaints about the visit to Iran and set forth new allegations arising from CODEPINK's participation in the 2009 Gaza Freedom March that was mounted by an international coalition of NGOs.
On February 23, Ms. Rassbach, who participated in Gaza Freedom March as a member of a German section of War Resisters International (DFG-VK), sent an extensive rebuttal of the allegations of the German-Israeli parliamentary group to the chairpersons of all four parliamentary parties in the Bundestag. She also sent the rebuttal to all the Bayreuth city council members and wrote to them that they were being forced to serve as a reluctant tribunal to rule on a punishment for CODEPINK, the awarding of a stigma rather than the prize they had hoped to give.
She wrote to the the city council members that especially in Germany the stigma of antisemitism could close doors to CODEPINK's work on many other issues, such as in the campaign against killer drones. Ms. Rassbach in 2013 co-founded the German anti-drone campaign network and in 2015 brought together leading German peace and human rights organizations to form "The Coalition to Stop the U.S. Drone War via Ramstein." The German government recently announced plans to acquire an Israeli killer drone that is to be stationed in Israel.