A Left Party lawmaker’s support for boycotts targeting the Jewish state thrust
the German-Israel Friendship Society (DIG) into crisis last week.
were calls for the politician’s expulsion from DIG and accusations that DIG’s
new national leader was failing to tackle rising anti-Israel sentiments within
Germany’s political establishment.
Bodo Ramelow, 56, a Left Party deputy
in the state government of Thuringia and a member of the local DIG in the
state’s capital Erfurt, wrote on his Facebook page that a Swiss company’s
targeting of Israeli products was a “legitimate measure.”
largest supermarket chain, Migros, decided to single out Israeli products
originating in the West Bank and east Jerusalem for labeling in its stores. The
company spokeswoman said Migros did not support boycotts but rather wanted to
let customers make informed decisions.
Dr. Shimon Shimon Samuels,
director for international relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The
Jerusalem Post by in a telephone interview on Friday that the Migros action was
“harming the Jewish state and was a continuation of Nazism.”
have to expel” Ramelow, Samuels said.
“This is a test case” for DIG’s
leader Reinhold Robbe, and “one should look carefully at what is happening at
DIG,” Samuels said.
Sacha Stawski, who is currently in Israel and heads
the Frankfurt-based pro-Israel media watchdog NGO Honestly Concerned, said Robbe
had showed no appetite for combating inflammatory anti- Israel rhetoric within
the Social Democratic Party. Robbe is a former Social Democratic deputy in the
Bundestag and took over the reins of DIG in 2010.
Stawski said the Social
Democratic Party was “looking to get into the next government, and the last
thing he [Robbe] wanted to do was criticize the head of the Social
In March, party chairman Sigmar Gabriel commented during a
visit to Israel, “This is an apartheid regime, for which there is no
According to Stawski, Robbe, in email exchanges with him,
danced around the topic of criticizing Gabriel, and declined to issue a DIG
press statement criticizing Gabriel’s remarks. Robbe told the mass-circulation
Bild at the time that Gabriel was merely “misunderstood.”
DIG has roughly
5,500 members and 52 chapters.
Stawski, who also heads the group “I like
Israel,” is a long-term observer of pro-Israel activity in the Federal Republic.
He said that in sharp contrast to Robbe’s leadership style, his predecessor at
DIG, Johaness Gerster (2006-2010), “had no trouble clearly positioning himself
in support of Israel and criticizing fellow party members.”
Gerster was a
Christian Democratic Union deputy in the Bundestag, and led the CDU-affiliated
Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Jerusalem from 1997 to 2006.
on Robbe and the DIG-Erfurt chapter to expel Ramelow from DIG. In an email to
the Post, five members from the DIG executive board in Freiburg,
Baden-Württemberg state, wrote, “Every DIG member who calls for a boycott of
Israeli products should be excluded from DIG.”
Asked about the growing
number of calls to expel Ramelow, Robbe declined to comment. He also declined to
provide the Post with the by-laws regarding DIG members who advocate boycotts
against the Jewish state.
He did, however, write the Post that “I have
made clear on many different occasions that the DIG executive committee rejects
Pax Christi’s call to boycott Israeli products.”
The Social Democratic
mayor of Jena, Albrecht Schröter, and the German branch of Catholic peace group
Pax Christi in late May called for a boycott of Israeli
Kevin Zdiara, the former deputy chairman of DIG in Erfurt,
resigned his position in protest on June 17 because Ramelow mounted a campaign
to shield Schröter from criticism for his anti-Israel actions. The Post obtained
email exchanges between Ramelow and members of the local DIG chapter showing
Ramelow’s attempts to coordinate a campaign to slam Zdiara and to undermine
efforts to stop criticism of Schröter.
The Wiesenthal Center has praised
Zdiara efforts to stop Schröter and Pax Christi’s campaign to delegitimize the
Jewish state. Zdiara, widely viewed by pro-Israel activists across Germany as
one of Israel’s most robust supporters, wrote the Post by email that “the
German-Israel Friendship Society had in the past spoke against every form of
anti- Israeli boycotts. The society must, however, consider how it deals with
members who show understanding for the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions]
movement or publicly spread untruths about Israel. In my view, members should be
expelled because they violate the by-laws of DIG.”
Dr. Martin Borowsky,
the head of DIG-Erfurt, did not immediately respond to a Post
Zdiara posted an essay on the website “The Axis of Good” titled,
Ramelow: Christian, Socialist and Friend of Jew-hater.
micro-blog he maintained a friendly Twitter correspondence with a well-known
poster named Glamypunk, who previously wrote, “Jews stink,” “We also hate on
Facebook these Jewish pig spies,” and, “Jews cut the penis off from small
children. That is OK?” Ramelow did not answer Post queries about the criticism
leveled against him, including for his cordial Twitter exchanges with a raging
Samuels told the Post that the “infiltration” into DIG of
anti-Israel politicians was undermining its work. Ramelow’s party, the Left,
contains the most anti-Zionist politicians in Western Europe. Left Party
deputies recently argued in the parliament for the Pax Christi boycott of
Israeli products, and participated in the Mavi Marmara’s attempt to break
Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2010. The Left recently passed a
pro-Iranian resolution at its party congress and blasted Israel.
said Ramelow and his fellow Left politicians should join the German-Iran
Stawski noted that Christian Democratic Bundestag
deputy Ruprecht Polenz invoked his membership in a DIG chapter to shield himself
from criticism because he promoted Irena Wachendorff, a German poet and peace
activist who bashed Israel while pretending she was Jewish.