NGOs slam German politician for boycotting Israel

Left Party lawmaker’s support for boycotts targeting Jewish state thrust German-Israel Friendship Society into crisis last week.

BODO RAMELOW (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A Left Party lawmaker’s support for boycotts targeting the Jewish state thrust the German-Israel Friendship Society (DIG) into crisis last week.
There were calls for the politician’s expulsion from DIG and accusations that DIG’s new national leader was failing to tackle rising anti-Israel sentiments within Germany’s political establishment.
Bodo Ramelow, 56, a Left Party deputy in the state government of Thuringia and a member of the local DIG in the state’s capital Erfurt, wrote on his Facebook page that a Swiss company’s targeting of Israeli products was a “legitimate measure.”
Switzerland’s largest supermarket chain, Migros, decided to single out Israeli products originating in the West Bank and east Jerusalem for labeling in its stores. The company spokeswoman said Migros did not support boycotts but rather wanted to let customers make informed decisions.
Dr. Shimon Shimon Samuels, director for international relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post by in a telephone interview on Friday that the Migros action was “harming the Jewish state and was a continuation of Nazism.”
“They [DIG] have to expel” Ramelow, Samuels said.
“This is a test case” for DIG’s leader Reinhold Robbe, and “one should look carefully at what is happening at DIG,” Samuels said.
Sacha Stawski, who is currently in Israel and heads the Frankfurt-based pro-Israel media watchdog NGO Honestly Concerned, said Robbe had showed no appetite for combating inflammatory anti- Israel rhetoric within the Social Democratic Party. Robbe is a former Social Democratic deputy in the Bundestag and took over the reins of DIG in 2010.
Stawski said the Social Democratic Party was “looking to get into the next government, and the last thing he [Robbe] wanted to do was criticize the head of the Social Democrats.”
In March, party chairman Sigmar Gabriel commented during a visit to Israel, “This is an apartheid regime, for which there is no justification.”
According to Stawski, Robbe, in email exchanges with him, danced around the topic of criticizing Gabriel, and declined to issue a DIG press statement criticizing Gabriel’s remarks. Robbe told the mass-circulation Bild at the time that Gabriel was merely “misunderstood.”
DIG has roughly 5,500 members and 52 chapters.
Stawski, who also heads the group “I like Israel,” is a long-term observer of pro-Israel activity in the Federal Republic. He said that in sharp contrast to Robbe’s leadership style, his predecessor at DIG, Johaness Gerster (2006-2010), “had no trouble clearly positioning himself in support of Israel and criticizing fellow party members.”
Gerster was a Christian Democratic Union deputy in the Bundestag, and led the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Jerusalem from 1997 to 2006.
Stawksi called on Robbe and the DIG-Erfurt chapter to expel Ramelow from DIG. In an email to the Post, five members from the DIG executive board in Freiburg, Baden-Württemberg state, wrote, “Every DIG member who calls for a boycott of Israeli products should be excluded from DIG.”
Asked about the growing number of calls to expel Ramelow, Robbe declined to comment. He also declined to provide the Post with the by-laws regarding DIG members who advocate boycotts against the Jewish state.
He did, however, write the Post that “I have made clear on many different occasions that the DIG executive committee rejects Pax Christi’s call to boycott Israeli products.”
The Social Democratic mayor of Jena, Albrecht Schröter, and the German branch of Catholic peace group Pax Christi in late May called for a boycott of Israeli merchandise.
Kevin Zdiara, the former deputy chairman of DIG in Erfurt, resigned his position in protest on June 17 because Ramelow mounted a campaign to shield Schröter from criticism for his anti-Israel actions. The Post obtained email exchanges between Ramelow and members of the local DIG chapter showing Ramelow’s attempts to coordinate a campaign to slam Zdiara and to undermine efforts to stop criticism of Schröter.
The Wiesenthal Center has praised Zdiara efforts to stop Schröter and Pax Christi’s campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state. Zdiara, widely viewed by pro-Israel activists across Germany as one of Israel’s most robust supporters, wrote the Post by email that “the German-Israel Friendship Society had in the past spoke against every form of anti- Israeli boycotts. The society must, however, consider how it deals with members who show understanding for the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement or publicly spread untruths about Israel. In my view, members should be expelled because they violate the by-laws of DIG.”
Dr. Martin Borowsky, the head of DIG-Erfurt, did not immediately respond to a Post query.
Zdiara posted an essay on the website “The Axis of Good” titled, Ramelow: Christian, Socialist and Friend of Jew-hater.
On Ramelow’s micro-blog he maintained a friendly Twitter correspondence with a well-known poster named Glamypunk, who previously wrote, “Jews stink,” “We also hate on Facebook these Jewish pig spies,” and, “Jews cut the penis off from small children. That is OK?” Ramelow did not answer Post queries about the criticism leveled against him, including for his cordial Twitter exchanges with a raging anti- Semite.
Samuels told the Post that the “infiltration” into DIG of anti-Israel politicians was undermining its work. Ramelow’s party, the Left, contains the most anti-Zionist politicians in Western Europe. Left Party deputies recently argued in the parliament for the Pax Christi boycott of Israeli products, and participated in the Mavi Marmara’s attempt to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2010. The Left recently passed a pro-Iranian resolution at its party congress and blasted Israel.
Samuels said Ramelow and his fellow Left politicians should join the German-Iran Friendship Society.
Stawski noted that Christian Democratic Bundestag deputy Ruprecht Polenz invoked his membership in a DIG chapter to shield himself from criticism because he promoted Irena Wachendorff, a German poet and peace activist who bashed Israel while pretending she was Jewish.