The Central Council of Jews in Germany and American Jewish organizations blasted the Roland Röhl Foundation for its decision to award in March a peace prize to a BDS group which is widely considered to be antisemitic.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that “Honoring a group devoted to Israel’s demonization and demise, home to the world’s largest Jewish community, is a horrible attack on Jewry by a German bestower of a ‘peace prize.”’
The group is called Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East and is an energetic supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that targets the Jewish state.
The nearly 100,000 member Central Council of Jews in Germany classified Jewish Voice as an “antisemitic association,” according to a German DPA wire service report.
Dr. Josef Schuster, the president of the council, wrote a letter last week the city of Göttingen’s Mayor Rolf-Georg Köhler urging him to take a stand against the antisemitism prevalent in the group.
“The association is an active supporter of events of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel,” wrote Schuster, adding “I certainly do not have to explain which historical precursors have had boycotts against Jewish institutions or Jews in Germany, and what associations are created with such actions.”
Schuster was referring to Hitler movement to boycott Jewish businesses – a nascent phase in the Holocaust. Köhler, who is a member of the foundation’s board, announced on Wednesday that the city will not participate in the award ceremony this year, according to a report in the daily paper Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten by the journalists Thoralf Cleven and Ansgar Nehls.
In response to Schuster’s criticism, the mayor called for the slated March 9 event to be suspended until the antisemitic allegation could be clarified.
Schuster told Köhler that BDS targets “all living Israelis” and that the direction of BDS is “undoubtedly antisemitic.” His letter to the mayor was sent to the media group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND) – a Hanover-based joint corporate newsroom of German Madsack Media Group – that first reported the alleged antisemitic scandal.
Deidre Berger, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s office in Berlin, told the Post: “We reject categorically the awarding of the Peace Prize to the Jewish Voice.” She noted that there is irony about an organization that “should receive a Peace Prize that actively supports the BDS campaign. The central demands of BDS are ultimately aimed at questioning the right of existence of the Jewish state, and are by no means a contribution to a peaceful solution of the conflict.”
Berger said that because of the nature of BDS, “we are not surprised that there are always antisemitic incidents in the BDS environment, especially in times when antisemitism is increasing, we expect prizes to be awarded to organizations that actively speak out against antisemitism and Israel hatred rather than fueling it.”
The Sparkassen bank in Göttingen wrote the Post by email on Wednesday, saying that it pulled the plug on its financial support for the Göttinger Peace Prize to Jewish Voice. The bank provides a 3,000 euro award. The bank said that it is obligated to remain “politically neutral” and “expressly distances itself from every form of antisemitism.” Schuster urged the Bank for Social Economy to close the account of Jewish Voice in January, saying last month, “It is overdue that the Bank for Social Economy finally take the consequences and close the account of the Jewish Voice,” adding “For months now, the bank’s executive board has beat around the bush about this issue.”
“There can be no compromise on antisemitism,” he said. “Determination is needed here.”
The University of Göttingen also withdrew its support for the award ceremony. The university’s president Ulrike Beisiegel said that the academic institution will not allow the event to take place at the university. She is a member of the board as well.
Felix Klein, Germany’s federal commissioner for combating antisemitism, sharply criticized the award to Jewish Voice. He said that “In particular, the support of the BDS movement by this organization and its American offshoot is highly problematic.”
Jewish Voice in Germany describes the US-based Jewish Voice for Peace as its “sister organization.” In 2017, Jewish Voice in the US hosted the convicted Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh at its spring conference in Chicago. The head of the NGO said at the time that Jewish Voice for Peace was “honored to hear from her.”
Odeh, a former member of the US – and EU-classified terrorist organization Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was responsible for a 1969 bombing that murdered two students, Leon Kanner and Eddie Joffe, in a Jerusalem supermarket. In 2017, she pleaded guilty to US naturalization fraud, and was deported in September to Jordan because she lied about her terrorism conviction when she entered the US. Israel banned the US-based Jewish Voice from entering the country as well.
The Göttinger Peace Prize, which is awarded by the Roland Röhl Foundation, is devoted to peace and conflict research. Schuster said that the jury for the peace prize should be dismissed.
The head of the peace prize jury – the left-wing journalist Andreas Zumach – who was accused by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi-hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff of stoking antisemitism, said that the jury will not revoke the prize to Jewish Voice, according to Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten. Zumach called the city and the university “cowardly” and “dishonest” for withdrawing their support for the award.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, told the Post last week that Zumach has engaged “in clearly antisemitic activity” citing his support of BDS. Zumach is a member of the advisory board of the pro-BDS organization Alliance to End the Israeli Occupation.
Zuroff said that Zumach used language that is an “antisemitic trope,” because “he accuses Jews of being powerful and implies [that there is] Jewish control of the media and finance.” He added that Zumach’s alleged antisemitic discourse suggests that “Jews run a lobby to control Germany.” Zumach refused to respond to requests for an interview and declined to answer e-mail queries about Zuroff’s criticisms. Zumach declined to answer previous Post queries. He was awarded the Göttinger Peace Prize in 2009.
The Roland Röhl Foundation sent a statement to the Post on Thursday, stating that it will not withdraw the prize to the pro-BDS group. “The foundation condemns every form of antisemitism,” wrote the organization.
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