German state parliament bans BDS while anti-Israel bank defies resolution

“We condemn the antisemitic and anti-Israel BDS campaign and the call to boycott Israeli products and companies as well as Israeli academics and artists.”

September 19, 2018 21:34
3 minute read.
German state parliament bans BDS while anti-Israel bank defies resolution

The German flag is pictured at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, November 7, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE)


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The parliament of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia slammed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targeting the Jewish state as antisemitic, barring the parliament and other public facilities from hosting and supporting BDS groups.

The resolution, which garnered the support of all parties in the parliament and is expected to pass on Thursday, stated: “We condemn the antisemitic and anti-Israel BDS campaign and the call to boycott Israeli products and companies as well as Israeli academics and artists.”

“The state parliament and other institutions of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia are not permitted to provide rooms and events to the BDS campaign and other groups that pursue and support the goals of the BDS campaign,” noted the resolution supported and drafted by the Green Party, Christian Democratic Union, Social Democratic Party and the Free Democratic Party.

The anti-BDS measure stated, “We call on cities, communities, county and all public representatives to join this position. The state parliament supports the state government in the prevention and decisive fight against antisemitism and extremist movements of every form.”

The Bank for Social Economy, located in the city of Cologne in North Rhine-Westphalia, has been engulfed in an alleged antisemitism scandal for supporting one of Germany’s top BDS groups with an account that allows the organization Jewish Voice for Peace in the Middle East to raise funds to promote BDS. Prominent German Jews, who campaigned against BDS, say that Jewish Voice spreads antisemitism.

When asked by The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday if the Bank for Social Economy is in violation of the state’s anti-BDS measure, the bank’s CEO Harald Schmitz refused to answer numerous queries by the Post. Human rights organization Simon Wiesenthal Center is considering the inclusion of Schmitz and his two top deputies, Oliver Luckner and Thomas Kahleis, in its top 10 list of worst outbreaks of antisemitism and anti-Israelism in 2018.

The pro-Israel activist Frau Malca Goldstein-Wolf wrote on Twitter: “No support for Jew haters, No BDS. When will the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft [Bank for Social Economy] finally position itself on the right side?”

The anti-BDS resolution in North Rhine-Westphalia states “Jewish life and the Jewish communities are an enrichment for our country. Antisemitism threatens this and our democratic society.” German Jewish leaders in the state and across Germany have urged Schmitz to shut down the BDS account.

The anti-BDS resolution slated to be passed by the state parliament was sparked by the Ruhrtriennale music festival, which provided a platform for a pro-BDS discussion. The Ruhrtriennale’s director Stefanie Carp has expressed sympathy for BDS and re-invited the pro-BDS Scottish band Young Fathers to perform at the festival in August in the city of Bochum in North Rhine-Westphalia. The band rejected the invitation after it had been initially excluded for its promotion of BDS.

“Whoever calls to boycott Israel should not complain when he himself is boycotted,” Volker Beck, a Green Party politician and lecturer in the Center for Religious Studies at Ruhr University in Bochum, told the Post on Wednesday. “No one should voluntarily maintain business relations with organizations that support the BDS movement. That also applies for relations of the Bank for Social Economy to Jewish Voice for Peace in the Middle East. I cannot accept the previous arguments of the Bank for Social Economy.”

In response to Beck's demand, the bank's spokeswoman Stephanie Rüth wrote the Post by email on Wednesday that bank is conducting "bi-lateral talks" with Beck and won't comment about those talks in the media.

Margaret Traub, head of the Jewish community in Bonn – a city that is a 25-minute train ride from Cologne – told the Post in February that there “should be no more business with this bank [the Bank for Social Economy] as long as the account of this anti-Israel group is not closed.”

“I can only encourage every organization to follow the example of Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal] and immediately end business relations with the bank [for Social Economy] that supports BDS,” Berlin-based attorney Nathan Gelbart told The Jerusalem Post.

Gelbart has won a series of high-profile cases against pro-BDS German antisemites. He currently represents an Israeli who sued Kuwait Airways for denying him service based on his nationality at the Frankfurt airport.

In late August, the German branch of the Keren Hayesod, or United Israel Appeal – a prominent Israeli public fund-raising global organization to advance the security of the Jewish state – terminated its account with Bank for Social Economy (Bank für Sozialwirtschaft) because the financial institution refused to shut down the bank account belonging to Jewish Voice for Peace.

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