The German flag is pictured at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, November 7, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE)
Germany’s commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against antisem- itism has denounced the Bank for Social Economy in his strongest statement to date because the bank has not distanced itself from its support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.
Dr. Felix Klein told The Jerusalem Post last week, “Whoever actively supports antisemitic organizations such as BDS contributes to the further strengthening of antisemitism and Israel-hatred.” The Cologne-based Bank for Social Economy (Bank für Sozialwirtschaft) provides an account to the hardcore German-based BDS group Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East. “The Bank for Social Economy should unambiguously distance itself from every form of antisemitism,” said Klein, adding, “I consider the business relationship between the Bank for Social Economy and Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East as problematic and condemn it.
“The closures of the accounts by Keren Hayesod and the Magnus-Hirschfeld Foundation are strong messages. The bank sector also has an obligation to not maintain business relations with antisemites and their supporters,” Klein said.
In August, the pro-Israel organization Keren Hayesod closed its account with the Bank for Social Economy because of CEO Harald Schmitz’s defense of its business with Jewish Voice.
The LGBT organization Magnus-Hirschfeld Foundation also terminated its account with the bank in April to protest the bank’s pro-BDS activity. Germany’s financial sector has experienced a series of bank account closures due to BDS support. The Deutsche Bank, Postbank, DAB in Munich, and Commerzbank have all shut down BDS accounts since 2016. In September, the US online payment service PayPal closed its account for the German BDS organization International Alliance.
A third pro-Israel organization, Jewish National Fund in Germany, informed the Post last week that it plans to close its account with the Bank for Social Economy.
Klein said, “Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East and the BDS movement regularly hold joint actions. This joint work is highly problematic because BDS is decidedly antisemitic in its actions and goals. Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East has repeatedly stated its support for the BDS movement.
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“When BDS and Jewish Voice defame Israel as an alleged apartheid state and seek to isolate and ostracize Israel – that is intolerable,” Klein added. “Israel’s right to exist is part of the German raison d’état, including the defense of Israel, when the country is to be delegitimized bit by bit by groups like Jewish Voice.”
Klein wrote that the Bank for Social Economy previously closed the account for Jewish Voice. In a 2016 press statement, he said the pro-BDS group’s goal was the destabilization of Israel, which was not compatible with the bank’s principles.
“What the bank said at that time is still valid today,” said Klein.
The Bank for Social Economy re-opened the Jewish Voice account in 2017. CEO Schmitz emailed the Post saying the bank was considering obtaining an expert opin- ion from a renowned academic regarding Jewish Voice. The bank’s controversial chief executive said the bank “rejects decisively the BDS campaign and the supports the Jewish state’s right to exist.... The BDS campaign itself would never receive an account from us.”
Schmitz said Jewish Voice “deals with people of Jewish origin who have plausibly assured us that they reject violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
German Jewish attorney Nathan Gelbart disagreed. He told the Post, “It makes no difference if the Bank for Social Economy supports BDS directly or is servicing supporters of this racist and antisemitic gang. The reference to the Jewish faith of some of their pro-BDS clients is both ridiculous and antisemitic itself. Would the bank keep accounts of Nazi supporters only because they are of Christian faith?”
Scores of German Jews, organizations combating antisemitism in Germany and Jewish leaders in the US have expressed outrage over Schmitz’s defense of the BDS group and his failure to understand hatred of the Jewish state. Critics believe Schmitz and the bank are seeking an expert opinion from a dubious academic to whitewash their role in stoking antisemitism against Israel and endangering Jews in Germany.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post , “You would think he [Schmitz] would learn one basic lesson from history to not go shopping for an unjustifiable position. The overwhelming majority of world Jewry and leaders of the German Jewry say that BDS is antisemitic. Even if you have the title ‘Jewish’ in the name of your organization, when you say you endorse BDS, you are endorsing antisemitism.”
“We now have between now and December,” Cooper said, to decide whether to include Schmitz and his deputies, Oliver Luckner and Thomas Kahleis, in the list of those people who engaged in the top 10 worst outbreaks of antisemitic and anti-Is- rael activity in 2018. Cooper said Schmitz should not delude himself into thinking the bank can find an academic opinion or a Jewish person to say Jewish Voice is not promoting antisemitism. Cooper said an expert opinion will have no impact on the decision to include Schmitz, Luckner and Kahleis in the top 10 list.
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