Austrian bank engulfed in anti-Semitism dispute over BDS account

Jewish groups call for closure of BDS bank account.

March 30, 2016 17:09
2 minute read.

A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File]. (photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)


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The Vienna-based Erste Group bank – a financial giant in Central and Eastern Europe – has become embroiled in an anti-Semitism row because its provides an account to a BDS group in Austria.

“The bank should tell BDS Austria to take its business elsewhere, ” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

He said the account could give Erste Group “a black eye because of anti-Semitism.”

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targets the Jewish state with economic pressure to advance Palestinian interests.

The secretary-general of Vienna’s Jewish community, Raimund Fastenbauer, told the Post last week that Erste Group should close the account of BDS Austria. “Our president [Oskar Deutsch] said at a rally that the BDS campaign is anti-Semitic,” added Fastenbauer.

Cooper praised the leadership of the more than 7,000 Jews in Vienna for “standing up to an anti-peace movement [BDS] that has elements of anti-Semitism.”

“If BDS becomes embedded in mainstream society, the economy, academia, culture, it will have a long-term toxic effect,” said Cooper.

Asked about the BDS account, Christian Hromatka, a spokesman for Erste Group, told the Post, “For reasons of bank secrecy we are not allowed to exchange information regarding a bank account to a third party. Our internal security measures are suitable to employ the appropriate measures in the event of irregularities or legal problems.”

When questioned about the Austrian Jewish community’s call to close the account because of alleged anti-Semitism from BDS Austria, Michael Mauritz, a second spokesman for Erste Group, told the Post, “We are by law not allowed to comment on possible clients, but you can be sure that compliance is carefully observing the legal framework. If there is any legal action needed, Erste Group will act accordingly.”

New York State’s proposed anti-BDS legislation could impact Erste Group, which has its US headquarters in New York City. The state senate is working with the state assembly to pass a robust law that would penalize companies aiding BDS. Nearly 50 US states have passed anti-BDS measures.

Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) seeks to outlaw New York State from conducting business with companies and people who participate in the BDS movement.

Gianaris told the New York Daily News, “With anti-Semitism on the rise both at home and abroad, it is critical that we confront this hatred at its inception and send a strong message that New York will stand against discrimination,” A Post press query to BDS Austria was not immediately answered. BDS Austria wrote on its website: “From the beginning the international BDS campaign spoke out unequivocally against every form of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish stereotype or prejudice.”

Martin Ritzmaier, a spokesman for Vienna Mayor Michael Häupl, told the Post in February that the city rejects BDS. Austria’s national parliament and the city of Vienna pulled the plug on pro-BDS speakers and events in February and March.

After a coalition of student groups at the University of Vienna passed a resolution rejecting BDS and labeling BDS anti-Semitic in March, Martin Weiss, Austria’s ambassador to Israel, tweeted: “I think what the Austrian student organizations were saying is: BDS=bullshi*” According to Erste Group’s website, “The number of Erste Bank customers increased from 600,000 to 16.6 million in just over 10 years, through growth in Austria and expansion in Central and Eastern Europe, where it has so far acquired 10 banks.”

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