(photo credit: REUTERS/Ruben Sprich)
BERLIN - The general secretary of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Stephan J. Kramer, called Monday on the German-Israel Friendship Society (DIG) to take concrete action against the growing anti-Israel boycott activity within its ranks.
“Anyone who sees a boycott of Israeli goods as a legitimate answer to something or other has understood nothing, and should look in the mirror and leave DIG,” Kramer wrote in an email to The Jerusalem Post.
“I think supporting a call for a boycott of a democratic country, which Israel is, and at the same time being a member of DIG is an insoluble contradiction and a burden on DIG and its members. [deputy in the state government of Thuringia Bodo] Ramelow is part of a long tradition of anti-Israel leftists, and we can no longer whitewash this.”
Ramelow, a DIG member and Left Party politician, wrote on his Facebook site that the Swiss Migros supermarket chain’s labeling of Israeli products from the West Bank is a “legitimate measure.”
Dr. Shimon Samuels, the international affairs director for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris, told the Post that Migros’s action is a boycott measure and must viewed as a “continuation of Nazism.”
In a letter to the supermarket chain, Switzerland’s largest, diverse representatives of the country’s Jewish communities condemned the Migros action as “discrimination against the State of Israel.”
Ramelow has been accused in Germany of using his DIG membership to delegitimize Israel and pretend that he is a friend of Israel. In an email to the Post on Tuesday, he wrote, “I have neither called for a boycott of Israeli goods” nor “signed the Pax Christi call” to boycott Israel merchandise. The German branch of the left-wing Catholic peace organization Pax Christi has mounted an aggressive campaign to boycott Israeli products, including setting up stands in pedestrian zones to encourage people to not buy Israeli goods.
When asked repeatedly by the Post to clarify his Migros statements, Ramelow wrote that “the Migros firm decided independently to demand from producers a designation of origin when they want to sell their products to Migros. I mentioned this and did not know that the mentioning of facts should be banned.”
In response, Kramer, told the Post that Ramelow’s formulation regarding terming Migro’s action as a “legitimate measure” is clearly a call to boycott Israeli products.
Ramelow added that when he visited Ramallah,”I saw that enough products were labeled ‘Palestine’ and I consider that a permissible origin designation.” He asked what is the problem with Migros labeling products from its suppliers.
According to critics of Migros, including Swiss Jewish groups, Migros has singled out Israel for unique treatment in a pejorative sense.
Melody Sucharewicz, a German-Israeli expert who has written extensively about anti-Israel actions in Germany, told the Post on Tuesday, “Not only should DIG have a clear policy of separating itself from members who support or justify even the most harmlessly presented form of ‘kaufverzicht,’ alias boycott against Israel. It should further make it a priority to expose such campaigns for what they are: destructive for the future of German-Israeli relations and destructive to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Pro-Israel Germans have called on the head of the DIG branch in Erfurt, Thuringia, where Ramelow is a member, to expel him, as well as demanded that DIG national head Reinhold Robbe give Ramelow the boot and take action against anti-Israel sentiments within DIG and among German politicians.
Robbe did not answer several Post queries about tolerating anti-Israel sentiments and Ramelow’s alleged defense of Migros. The head of DIG in Erfurt, Dr. Martin Borowsky, also declined to respond to Post queries.
Sucharewicz , who won the second season of Channel 2’s HaShagrir (“The Ambassador”) competition in 2006, said, “DIG, through its members, infrastructure and image in Germany, has the power to make a substantial contribution to bringing Israelis and Germans closer on all levels, as it has been doing for many years. In this important role, there is no room for people who flirt with BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions]. Just as much as there is no room for people who publicly protect those who flirt with BDS.” Sucharewicz is a public ambassador to the Federal Republic, and the mass-circulation Bild paper designated her as one of the top 100 young German leaders.
Sacha Stawski, a German Jew who heads the Frankfurt-based pro-Israel media watchdog NGO Honestly Concerned, said national DIG leaders are in a conflict of interest. He told the Post that Robbe, a former Social Democratic politician, shies away from criticism of Social Democratic politicians who blast Israel because his party is jockeying to become part of the next government in 2013. Many of DIG’s national leaders are members of political parties and are reluctant to criticize their colleagues. The German government provides the funding for DIG.
DIG has roughly 5,500 members and 52 chapters. According to critics of the passive posture of the DIG national group in Berlin, many of the local chapters of DIG, including in Berlin-Brandenburg, Freiburg and Nuremberg, are seeking to reform the policies of DIG to create a more robust national approach to Israel solidarity, including a measure to demand that members who support boycotts of Israel be expelled from DIG