Exclusive: New York politician's anti-BDS law would penalize German, Austrian banks

Israel considers legal actions against pro-BDS bank/NGO.

April 6, 2016 02:36
3 minute read.
Boycott Israel sign

Boycott Israel sign. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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NEW YORK – A prominent Democratic New York state assemblyman who has introduced a bill to combat boycotts of Israel in the state legislature, urged on Tuesday a group of German and Austrian banks with branches in Manhattan to close accounts of BDS groups.

“The New York legislation would certainly adversely affect those banks. In a time of crisis that is growing more acute by the day, Americans and New Yorkers want to stand with our strategic democratic ally Israel and against hatred peddled by the BDS movement,” Assemblyman Charles Lavine told The Jerusalem Post.

“DAB [Direkt Anlagen Bank] discontinued a BDS [organization’s] account and other major banks should discontinue their relationship with purveyors of hate and anti-Semitism,” Lavine said.

The Post reported in February that the Munich-based DAB pulled the plug on the BDS campaign group’s account with the bank in Germany. New York State is gearing up to pass robust legislation that would outlaw state business with companies or individuals who are involved in the boycott of Israel.

A bill barring state contracts with businesses conducting deals with BDS activity passed the Senate in January. Two German banks and one Austrian bank are mired in the BDS row: The Landesbank Baden-Württemberg (BW) in Stuttgart, the Commerzbank in Frankfurt and the Austrian Erste Group bank in Vienna.

BW’s role in allowing the Palestine Committee Stuttgart, a hardcore anti-Israel group, to have an account for years triggered a sharp response from Israel’s embassy in Berlin. The Palestine Committee Stuttgart hosted a Palestinian historian on Saturday who played down the Holocaust and compared Israel to Nazi Germany. Salman Abu Sitta spoke to the Palestine Committee Stuttgart.

“We consider this case seriously and looking into the legal options available to us,” Adi Farjon, the embassy’s spokeswoman, told the Post on Monday.

Germany has anti-Holocaust denial and anti-hate incitement laws that may assist in backing such possibilities.

According to a translation by MEMRI, Abu Sitta told Egyptian Dream2 TV channel on February 14, 2015: “Under the clout of the sword of the Holocaust, which has become a means to inflame the world’s conscience, Israel managed to establish its state. Even though decades have passed, Israel is still extorting the world by means of this notion. The revelations that my guest today has made come as a surprise to many: The same country that has extorted the world with its ‘holocausts’ in Nazi Germany – which was not directed only against the Jews – has perpetrated, and perhaps still is perpetrating, its own holocausts in the Palestinian lands.”

Abu Sitta served on the Palestine National Council for 20 years.

Abu Sitta also said, “I found that the Israelis used the same [Nazi] methods on the Palestinians.

They had the necessary experience, because the Nazi camps were shut down only three years earlier [i.e., three years before Israel’s establishment].”

Bärbel Illi, a representative of the German-Israel Friendship Society in Stuttgart Mittlerer Neckar, told the Post, “We are seriously disappointed that our bank, the BW bank Stuttgart, apparently refuses to close the account of the Palestine Committee Stuttgart. We made the bank aware that the committee wants to damage Israel and that it contests Israel’s right to exist.

“Nevertheless, BW bank declined to talk with us about the scandal because of alleged protection of data.”

Illi termed Abu Sitta, the historian who spoke at the Palestine Committee Stuttgart event, a “Holocaust denier.” The friendship society uncovered the anti-Israel Sitta talk.

Should BW not shut down the Palestine Committee Stuttgart bank account, Illi said the German Israel Friendship Society would cancel its account with the bank.

Post email queries to the Palestine Committee Stuttgart were not immediately returned.

In February, Rüdiger Schoss, a spokesman for BW, told the Post that the Palestine Committee Stuttgart account “belongs to an association which is allowed in Germany and therefore there was no reason not to open the account.”

BW in New York City and Stuttgart did not immediately answer Post queries.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post, “It is intolerable that BW would facilitate any dealings of an organization devoted more to hatred of Jews than to helping a single Palestinian.”

Commerzbank’s New York representative Martin Preissler did not immediately respond to Post queries. Commerzbank in 2015 paid US financial regulators a $1.45 billion fine for illegal dealings with Iran. An obscure BDS website and magazine has an account with Commerzbank.

Sandra Peterson, the Erste Group’s New York representative, declined to comment. BDSAustria, which sponsors the Israeli Apartheid Week events in Vienna, has an account with the Erste Group.

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