Exclusive: German bank pulls plug on anti-Israel BDS bank account

Shutdown reasons may include terrorism and antisemitism.

BDS activists in Berlin (photo credit: REUTERS)
BDS activists in Berlin
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Bank für Sozialwirtschaft (Bank for Social Economy) has closed the account of a German group that promotes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the Jewish state.
The Cologne-based bank notified the anti-Israel NGO Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East that its account will be shut down by the end of the year, according to an article that appeared on the anti-Zionist website Der Semit on Thursday.
The Jerusalem Post, as part of its reporting earlier this year on European banks that maintain BDS and terrorism-related accounts, found that the Bank for Social Economy account was listed on the NGO’s website, in an effort to attract donations.
After receiving a Post query in September alleging Hamas links to the Jewish Voice group, as well as that it was spreading contemporary antisemitism and engaging in BDS activities, the bank opened an investigation, spokeswoman Stephanie Rüth said.
Rüth told the Post last week that the bank “cannot, on account of bank secrecy policy, provide internal information to the public.” Several Post queries to members of Jewish Voice were not returned.
It is unclear when the Bank for Social Economy informed the NGO that its account will be shut. The membership of Jewish Voice includes a who’s who of anti-Zionist German Jews, a number of whom have been accused of modern antisemitism.
The Jewish Voice member who announced on his website, Der Semit, that the bank dropped the account spoke at the 13th Palestinians in Europe Conference in the German capital in April 2015. The conference attracted supporters of Hamas, the Berlin-based Der Tagesspiegel daily reported.
The London-based Palestinian Return Center sponsored the conference. Then-defense minister Ehud Barak said in 2010 that the Return Center is an “unlawful association” because of its association with Hamas. Germany’s best-selling newspaper, Bild, headlined its article on the 2015 event: “The Hamas conference in Berlin.”
The Palestinian Association in Germany was also a key organizer of the conference.
Many large European banks have this year initiated broad internal checks and compliance tightening mechanisms to shed accounts that are illegal or held by organizations that engage in proscribed activity. Banks’ anti-financial crime and anti-money laundering units are on alert because of the growth of terrorism finance activities related to Palestinian groups including Hamas, as well as to Hezbollah, Iran and Islamic State.
In June, the Post first reported that Commerzbank, Germany’s second-largest bank, closed the Der Semit account held by the Jewish Voice member who spoke at the pro-Hamas event. In February, DAB Bank in Munich pulled shut the account of the Berlin-based BDS Campaign NGO.
The Jewish Voice group, which lists six members on its executive board, has targeted the Jewish National Fund in Germany with an economic boycott; Jewish Voice posted on its website a photograph of a banner reading “Stop the JNF.”
JNF works to develop land in Israel and to strengthen connections between Jewish people and its homeland.
Jewish Voice was registered as an NGO in 2007 and is a member of the anti-Zionist network European Jews for a Just Peace.
Widely considered to be a fringe group, Jewish Voice on its website accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” and seeks a boycott of Ahava skin care products. The group has protested against Israel with signs reading “No nuclear submarines as reparation for National Socialist crimes.”
Germany has sold submarines to Israel at a discount.
Jewish Voice on its website lauds Günter Grass for his “candid statements” in his 2012 poem “What Must Be Said.” Grass – the 1999 Nobel laureate in Literature and former Nazi SS member – accused Israel of warmongering and planning a first nuclear strike on the Islamic
Republic to “extinguish the Iranian people.” He wrote that Israel was a main impediment to world peace. Critics in Germany and Israel charged Grass with stoking antisemitism.
In September, the Bank of Ireland—the country’s oldest financial institution—closed the accounts of the pro-Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions organization’s Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).
The PSC said it opened a new account with Allied Irish Banks (AIB)—one of the largest banks in Ireland. When asked about the AIB account, Helen Leonard, a spokeswoman for AIB, told the Post in November: “I am sorry but I can't comment on individual cases.”
In 2016, financial organizations and banks across Europe shed BDS accounts. Paypal, Crédit Mutuel and BNP Paribas shut accounts in France and Germany. The Austrian banks Erste Group and BAWAG closed BDS and Palestinian terrorism accounts in Vienna.
A number of banks in Belgium and Germany declined to close BDS accounts. The Belgium-based BDS group holds a Paribas account called Association Belgo-Palestinienne (BNP). Hans Mariën, the head of public relations and press for BNP Paribas Fortis in Brussels, told the Post that he cannot comment because of bank privacy rules
The Stuttgart-based Baden-Württembergische Bank (BW) has defended its pro- BDS account with the group Palestine Committee Stuttgart. The BW bank is a public bank that is partly owned by the city of Stuttgart and the state of Baden-Württemberg.
The city of Stuttgart, which is located in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, owns nearly 20% of the BW bank. The state owns roughly 25% of the bank.
The supervisory board of the BW lists among its members: Edith Sitzmann, Minister of Finance of the State of Baden-Württemberg, Fritz Kuhn, the Mayor of Stuttgart, Wolfgang Dietz Mayor of the town of Weil am Rhein, and  Klaus-Peter Murawski, the  State Secretary and Head of the State Chancellery in the State Ministry of Baden-Württemberg.
Kuhn has taken no action to stop the boycott Israel activities of the BDS account for Palestine Committee Stuttgart. Sven Matis, a spokesman for Mayor Fritz Kuhn, told the Post in May Mayor Kuhn “in no way shares the calls to boycott Israel. Mayor Kuhn is a patron of the Israel Day event and also has a deep connection to Israel.” The BW also holds an account for the local neo-Nazi NPD party, which, like the Palestine Committee Stuttgart, calls for a complete boycott of Israel.