Activists from the BDS movement against Israel [File].
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
BERLIN – A widening anti-Semitism scandal involving the Protestant Church and a network of NGOs in the city of Bremen that call for a boycott of Israel prompted the Green Party to launch an investigation, at the same time saying the employment of a pastor who declared himself a Jew-hater appears to be untenable.
“As the Green faction, we are preparing a parliamentary inquiry that will deal with anti-Semitic tendencies in Bremen,” Kirsten Kappert- Gonther, the deputy head of the Green Party in the city government, wrote The Jerusalem Post by email last week.
After the Protestant Pastor Volker Keller boasted in an email to the Post
that he is an anti-Semite – and the leadership of the Bremen Jewish community announced its refusal to work with Keller – Kappert-Gonther told the Post
on Wednesday that “mutual trust, in the meantime, is so disturbed that I find it difficult to imagine that good cooperation in the Council for Integration is still possible.”
Keller serves on Bremen’s Council for Integration and plays a role in the absorption of migrants from Muslim- majority countries. He is the Church’s representative on the council for dialogue with religious communities, including the nearly 1,000-member Jewish community.
Kappert-Gonther’s rebuke of Keller comes ahead of a Thursday meeting between the Church and the Jewish community leadership to discuss, according to the community’s letter of protest, Keller’s openly anti-Semitic behavior and language.
Keller claims his email embracing anti-Semitism was sarcasm. He refused multiple interview requests from the Post
on Wednesday. The Post
obtained a 2013 circular email from Keller in which he slammed Israel’s security barrier and ignored Palestinian terrorism.
Sabine Hatscher, a spokeswoman for the Bremen Protestant Church, told the Post
on Wednesday the Church “has always expressly rejected the boycott calls of the Bremen Peace Forum.” Hatscher said it was not Keller’s “intention to play down anti-Semitism.”
She said that Keller has at no time behaved in an anti-Semitic way and dropped out of his NGO Nordbremer Citizens against War because of the calls to boycott Israel. The anti-Israel Nordbremer Citizens against War has stoked BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) against Israel since at least 2011.
However, according to media reports and demonstration announcements as late as 2016, Keller serves as a spokesman for the group and participates in its events.
When asked for documentation about Keller’s resignation from his anti-Israel group, Hatscher did not respond.
In a letter to the president of the Protestant Church in Bremen, Edda Bosse, the German-Israel friendship society (DIG) in Bremen termed Keller’s anti-Jewish statements “dangerous.” Dr.
Hermann Kuhn, the DIG chairman, wrote: “We now have concerns that this boycott movement in Bremen has won influence on Church institutions.” The DIG joined the Jewish community in calling for Keller to be sacked.
The Green Party is part of the Bremen coalition government with the Social Democrats. André Städler, a spokesman for Social Democratic Mayor Carsten Sieling, told the Post
on Wednesday that “Bremen condemns every form of anti-Semitism as well as all attempts to question Israel’s right to exist.” He added that the city condemns calls to boycott Israel. Städler declined to comment on the Green Party inquiry.
In March 2011, the Green Party in the Bundestag issued a questionnaire to the Federal government about calls to boycott Israel from activists of the Bremer Peace Forum, Working Group Middle East, the Working Circle SüdNord Bremen and the Initiative Nordbremer Citizens against War.
According to the German government, Bremen was the leading region engaged in BDS activity targeting Israel over a 12-month period. The Federal government was not aware of any calls elsewhere in Germany to boycott Israel during the same period.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration responded to the questionnaire that “such calls [by the Bremen anti-Israel groups] are deeply damaging for German-Israel relations and they show a blatant absence of consciousness for our special historical responsibility toward Israel.”