BERLIN – A municipally funded adult education center in Ulm – the birthplace of Albert Einstein – is slated to host next Wednesday a speaker accused of stoking anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel across Germany.
The Ulm/Neu-Ulm chapter of the German-Israeli Society (DIG) launched its protest against the event, saying the lecture “is part of a series of anti-Israel events leading to the delegitimization of the Jewish state and its right to self-defense.”
“We call for the end of this Israeli criticism disguised as a latent anti-Semitic position,” the German-Israeli friendship society wrote on Thursday.
The planned talk from BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) activist Arn Strohmeyer at the Einstein House Academic Center, which is taking place in cooperation with the House of Encounter, prompted criticism because the city subsidizes the center and has steadfastly ignored citizen complaints about harsh anti-Israel events at the academic center.
“Strohmeyer is known for his anti-Zionist position,” DIG said. “He speaks, among other things, of a ‘colonial settler state [Israel]’ that strives to completely replace the indigenous population through an immigrant population.”
Strohmeyer’s BDS activities against Israel in Bremen have been compared in the German media to the “Don’t buy from Jews” Nazi boycott in the 1930s.
“This event under the aegis of the director of politics for the academic center, Lothar Heusohn, and director of the House of Encounter, Michael Hauser, is financed by public money and that is scandalous.
We call for a cancellation of the event and will in the future raise our voices,” said DIG.
Iris Mann, the politician responsible for education and culture in Ulm, told The Jerusalem Post, “We will not undertake anything” to stop the event because “to form political opinions stands in the tradition of the academic center and it lives from a discourse of different opinions.”
Mann defended the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, saying “the concept of anti-Semitism is being misused because the statements of BDS do not address individual hostility or religious affiliation, rather it deals with criticism of state actions against violations of human rights conventions.”
The EU and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both rejected boycotts of the Jewish state.
Emails and phone calls to the new mayor, Gunter Czisch, from the Christian Democratic Union, were not returned.
Czisch entered office on Monday.
The former Social Democratic mayor, Ivo Gönner, who was mayor for 24 years, refused to answer email queries.
Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post that there is no reason a German municipality should fund political attacks on the State of Israel.
“This is not culture, this is politics,” he said. “People are free to follow their ideologies. If this supports and enables BDS activity, it is not in the purview of municipality functions.
“Imagine if someone came to Ulm and spoke out against refugees, would any municipality allow this to take place in its building? Why on earth would the municipality fund a BDS attack on the State of Israel?” asked the head of the Wiesenthal office in Israel, adding, “this smacks of anti-Semitism.
[The event] should be canceled.
The local cultural education center should cancel the event or be threatened to lose municipal funding.”
Deidre Berger, head of American Jewish Committee office in Berlin, said asserting that BDS is only a protest against current Israeli policies is pure hypocrisy.
“Make no mistake: The ultimate aim of the BDS movement is the downfall of the State of Israel,” she said. “Therefore, events that promote one-sided sanctions against Israel, one of Germany’s closest allies, should not be supported by public funding.
She said boycott measures of a democratic country are not a legitimate part of a critical debate about Israeli government policies.
“Indeed, such actions sabotage efforts to create a peaceful dialogue,” Berger said.
“The BDS movement is a strike against those who seek peace through partnership and economic stability for the Palestinians.”
The head of the Green Party in the city council, Michael Joukov, said his party could not say anything in regards to the content of the talk because Strohmeyer is not closely known to the party.
The Post examined the list of Israel-related events at the academic center since 2008.
One of the anti-Israel talks at the center was held by the Left Party MP Annette Groth in 2011. Groth’s talks was titled, “The Free Gaza Flotilla and the report of the UN on Israel’s attack.”
Groth participated in the Mavi Marmara flotilla along with radical Turkish Islamists in their attempt to break Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza in 2010. The Wiesenthal Center included Groth’s actions in its top ten list of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents for 2014.
In January of this year, the Bremen-funded cultural center Bürgerhauses Weserterrassen pulled the plug on a similarly scheduled Strohmeyer talk.
The lecture “Antisemitismus – Philosemitism and the Palestinian Conflict” is the same talk slated for Ulm.
André Städler, spokesman for Bremen’s Social Democratic Mayor Carsten Sieling, told the Post at the time that he “welcomed” the cancellation of the talk.
Grigori Pantijelew, the deputy representative of the Bremen Jewish community, told the Weser Kurier paper at the time: “Anti-Semitism is not banned in Germany but there is a consensus that it not be allowed to be conveyed in public facilities.
If we all maintain that, it will help societal peace.”
Strohmeyer wrote the Post by email in January defending his talks saying, “I have never questioned Israel’s right to exist and never will.”
He said “the allegation of anti-Semitism from certain Jewish circles serves as an instrument to silence critics of Israel’s policies.”
Karin Graf, head of the Christian Democrats in the city council, Helga Malischewski, deputy head of the Free Voters Union party in the city council, and Eric Wischmann, head of the Free Democratic Party in the council, all declined to specifically answer detailed Post queries about anti-Semitism.