BERLIN – A group conducting an aggressive anti-Israel boycott campaign has its headquarters in Bremen city-owned property that has received federal funding, an investigation by The Jerusalem Post found.
“The Bremen Peace Forum has already publicly supported the BDS movement for some time. This [BDS] is nothing other than an anti-Israel, yes, anti-Semitic idea. It intolerable when such institutions are still publicly supported,” Gitta Connemann, a leading Bundestag deputy and a member of the German-Israel parliamentary group, told the Post on Thursday.
According to the Bremen Peace Forum’s website, “it is the time to boycott merchandise from Israel, some of which is produced in Israeli settlements, but also other goods that come directly from Israel.”
The forum has staged protests in front of supermarkets urging Germans to boycott Israeli products. Its protesters showed pictures of bloody oranges on their placards to denigrate Israeli fruits.
Connemann, from the Christian Democratic Union, said, “The Bremen Peace Forum may be convinced that it is not anti-Semitic. But it uses, whether conscious or unconscious, anti-Semitic clichés, prejudices and language.”
She continued, “Where do the politicians and the administration of the city of Bremen stand? Shouldn’t they distance themselves from BDS and the Peace Forum? Clearly, yes!”
In an email to the Post
, André Städler, the spokesman for the Social Democratic Mayor Carsten Sieling, said, “The City of Bremen, as the owner of the Villa Ichon [where the Bremen Peace Forum has its headquarters], agreed to a leasehold contract with the management company of the Villa Ichon.”
Städler said that the agreement expires in 2031 and cannot be cut short. He declined to send the Post a copy of the agreement. The spokesman said the City of Bremen condemns calls to boycott Israel.
When the Post
asked Klaus Hübotter, the head of Villa Ichon’s management organization, for a copy of the full lease agreement, he declined and sent one page of what appears to be a lengthy agreement from 1981. A paragraph highlighted in red states that the building will be used as a “place to meet for associations, especially for cultural and social life.”
Hübotter told the Post
that the sponsors and friends of the Villa Ichon management board “decided to not rent to the ‘average person,’... in no way to neo-Nazi organizations. Our tolerance stops here.”
Critics note, however, that the Bremen Peace Forum shares the same Israel-boycott goals as the neo-Nazi organization Der Dritte Weg and the neo-Nazi party NPD.
Hübotter declined to answer Post questions about the rental relationship with the Bremen Peace Forum.
When asked about the city’s lease agreement with the Ichon Villa, Marieluise Beck, a Green Party Bundestag deputy whose constituency includes Bremen, told the Post she had referred the lease-agreement matter for “a judicial examination.”
When asked repeatedly if the city of Bremen should terminate the lease agreement, she declined to comment.
Beck was engulfed in an anti-Israel scandal in 2013 because of her and her party’s support for labeling Israeli products as a sanction.
Beck said she “rejects publicly and decisively all BDS campaigns.” Chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU oppose boycotts of the Jewish state. Beck is member of the German-Israel Friendship Society.
It is unclear if the lease violates Germany’s anti-incitement laws that ban Jew-hatred. France’s 2003 “Lellouche law,” for example, has been applied to punish Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions activists for singling out a national origin – Israeli – for discrimination.
According to a city archivist in Bremen, the amount of federal funding provided to the Villa Ichon in the 1980s is not known.
Post calls and emails sent to the Bremen Peace Forum were not immediately returned. When reached on the telephone, Ekkehard Lentz, the head of the forum, hung up.
In 2013, the Villa Ichon was embroiled in a scandal because it barred Jewish music teacher Noemi Köster and Israeli student Maor Shani from attending a lecture on anti-Semitism.
The event was organized by various peace activists and a local Left Party group.
The doorman at the event insulted Shani, who was wearing a kippa, and Köster, saying “Everything belongs to you already anyway, also the media,” the Bild newspaper reported.
Bremen is the center of anti-Israel activity in Germany.
BDS activists are permitted to hold anti-Israel lectures in municipality-funded institutions ranging from the Überseemuseum natural history and ethnographic museum to the city library to the Weserterrassen community center.
Also on Thursday, Pastor Volker Keller from the Bremen Protestant Church resigned from his position as the church’s representative for interreligious affairs on the city’s Council for Integration, because he had declared himself an anti-Semite to the Post.
Keller co-founded the NGO Nord-Bremen Citizens against War, which supports BDS.
While municipalities such as Munich, Oldenburg and Vienna have prohibited BDS activities in public facilities, Bremen’s mayor has backed away from roping in the mushrooming anti-Israel movement in his city.
In May, the German-Israel Friendship Society in Oldenburg led the charge in preventing a BDS lecture in the city-funded PFL cultural center.
The group termed the event part of the “anti-Israel and anti-Semitic campaign.” Connemann said, “BDS is a more than an economic boycott.
Scientific and cultural exchange is torpedoed, and often destroyed, under the disguises of an alleged peace movement. Here’s what’s macabre: The Palestinians suffer because they work in affected companies. BDS does not lead to peace, rather to misery, to the isolation of the State of Israel, and finally it endangers it existence.
BDS damages, in the end, everybody. We should not and cannot tolerate that.”