German antisemitism commissioner calls on bank to shut BDS account

“In past years, Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin decided to deny financial support and municipal rooms, in the future, to the BDS campaign that is hostile to Israel.”

May 15, 2019 04:22
3 minute read.
Commissioner to combat antisemitism in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany and former federal justice mi

Commissioner to combat antisemitism in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany and former federal justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)


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The recently appointed commissioner to combat antisemitism in Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who served as Germany’s federal justice minister, joined the Israeli and American governments in calling for the Bank for Social Economy to close the account of an allegedly antisemitic pro-BDS group that is currently promoting a boycott of the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.

A spokesman for Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, the commissioner for combating antisemitism in the state, wrote to The Jerusalem Post by email on Tuesday:

“Both Ms. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and the state government have made public statements on the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] campaign several times and have expressed their position unequivocally. Regarding your question about closing the account of the Jewish Voice, your question was answered because the state government and the antisemitism commissioner reject the BDS campaign. In this case, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger agrees with the assessments of Dr. Felix Klein, too.”

Dr. Felix Klein, the German federal government’s commissioner for combating antisemitism, told the Post in May 2018: “I condemn this bank relationship,” in connection with the Bank for Social Economy providing an account to the hardcore BDS group Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East.

Klein added the voice of Germany’s federal government to leading Jewish human rights groups in the US, Israel and Germany – including Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan – who have called on the bank’s executive board to pull the plug on its BDS account.

“My assessment is the BDS movement incites antisemitism in its methods and goals,” Klein said. “The call of BDS to boycott Israeli businesses as well as the ‘Don’t buy!’ stickers on products from the Jewish state are to be condemned without qualifications.”

“In past years, Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin decided to deny financial support and municipal rooms, in the future, to the BDS campaign that is hostile to Israel,” he said. “The city of Frankfurt works since the beginning of the year only with banks that do not maintain business relations with BDS. In my judgment, both [anti-BDS measures] are an important signal that antisemitism, as well as the international isolation and defamation of Israel as an alleged ‘apartheid state,’ will not be tolerated.”

IN SEPTEMBER, the state parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia blasted the BDS campaign targeting the Jewish state as antisemitic, barring the parliament and other public facilities from hosting and supporting BDS groups.

Numerous press queries to the CEO of the Bank for Social Economy Harald Schmitz were not returned. The bank’s headquarters is located the city of Cologne in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told the Post that, “From my many years of work, I am also well acquainted with antisemitism disguised as criticism of Israel, and I resolutely reject this as a means of political influence. As the first antisemitism commissioner of North Rhine-Westphalia, my focus is on strengthening the freedom of Jewish worship and combating all forms of antisemitism, including the coordination of preventive measures to combat antisemitism and victim assistance in the event of antisemitic attacks.”

The commissioner helped initiate the LGBT organization Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation, which seeks to combat bias against members of the LGBT community in Germany. She is one of the founding members of the foundation – named after a gay German Jewish physician who was persecuted during the Hitler period. The foundation closed its account with the Bank for Social Economy in April 2018 to protest the banks anti-Israel policies. The German branch of the pro-Israel Keren Hayesod organization also terminated its account with the bank last year because it enables BDS fundraising via Jewish Voice.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post: “North Rhine-Westphalia is blessed with a veteran who previously took firm action against those who wanted to criminalize brit milah [circumcision]. Dr. Felix Klein called for the Bank for Social Economy to close the BDS account. It would be important to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Klein.”

The Post reached out to Aron Schuster, executive director of the Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany (ZWST), a part-owner of the bank. When asked if ZWST plans to follow the 27 US states and divest from banks and companies that promote or support BDS, Schuster refused to comment.

When the Post asked Gideon Joffe, head of Berlin’s Jewish community, if he plans to close the community’s account, Joffe refused to comment.

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