BDS event triggers outrage in German city

"We live in a democracy and have free speech. And we are pleased about that. We won't be silenced."

BDS activists in Berlin (photo credit: REUTERS)
BDS activists in Berlin
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The German Jewish community in the city of Bonn and a leading social democratic MP on Friday called on a foundation to pull the plug on an event propagating a boycott against the Jewish state.
The boycott, divestment, sanctions event targeting Israel is “out-and-out antisemitic propaganda,” wrote Social Democratic deputy Michaela Engelmeier in a letter to the head of the Pfennigsdorf Foundation.
She said the slated March 27 event – titled “For human rights and international law in Palestine – what does BDS want?” – should be canceled, because it is a “new formulation of the inhumane demand: Don’t buy from Jews.”
Engelmeier said one of the organizers of the BDS talk, the German-Palestinian NRW-South organization, says it is dedicated to peace, but “stresses in many places that Israel is exclusively to blame for the Middle East conflict.”
The second organizer is the organization BDS-Bonn, which campaigns against Israel and its products in the city of nearly 320,000.
The executive board of the nearly 1,000-member Jewish community in Bonn, which is situated in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, wrote in a second letter to Manfred Lohmann, the executive director of the Pfennigsdorf Foundation: “We Jews in Bonn remember on November 10 the atrocities of Kristallnacht [the “Night of the Broken Glass” 1938 pogrom].
“This remembrance day should call attention to what can happen if one does not nip things in the bud. It began with a public call: ‘Don’t buy from Jews’.
The continuation and the consequences are sufficiently known. In this respect, we are of the view that any appearance from representatives of BDS groups – and those sympathetic to BDS – are not only anti-Israel, but tainted with antisemitic tendencies... and affects our Jewish citizens in Bonn.” The Bonn Jewish community ended its letter urging Lohmann to cancel the slated hate festival.
When asked about the growing boycott- Israel activity in the former capital city of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Christian Democratic Union party mayor of Bonn, Ashok-Alexander Sridharan, told The Jerusalem Post he “strictly rejects every form of antisemitism and in our city antisemitism has no place...” In a letter to Lohmann he called on the foundation to reconsider its event program.
The CDU passed a resolution at its party congress last year that condemned BDS as anti-Jewish measures comparable to the Hitler movement’s economic warfare against German Jews. An outbreak of boycott-Israel products and BDS events have unfolded recently in Bonn.
The Islamist and head of BDS South Africa Farid Esack delivered in January a BDS talk at a Catholic family education center in Bonn.
Esack had participated in fund-raising events with Leila Khaled of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 2015. The EU and the US have classified the PFLP as a terrorist organization.
“This is a man [Farid Esack] who expressed antisemitic statements and who is sympathetic to Holocaust denial. A person with such views has no place as an educator in a university, in particular not in Germany; due to both professional as well as moral and probably also legal reasons,” an official at the Israeli Embassy in Berlin told the Post in January.
The BDS-Bonn group conducted three “inspections” of Israeli products in 2015 and 2016 in the Galerai Kaufhof department store to see if their products are labeled as originating from Israeli settlements.
The announcement for the event at the foundation states the “BDS campaign calls for a “comprehensive and consequent boycott of all academic and cultural institutions in order to contribute to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and apartheid system.”
When asked about the allegations of antisemitism, the foundation’s Lohmann told the Post, “I support people who report about things that are not well-known and are worthy of discussion. I don’t find it good to place me or the foundation in the corner with antisemites. We live in a democracy and have free speech. And we are pleased about that. We won’t be silenced.”
Lohmann said UN resolutions that slammed Israel are slated to be discussed at the event, which also hosts the hardcore BDS activist and former pastor Martin Breidert.
Volker Beck, a Green Party deputy who is a leading activist and lawmaker in efforts to combat modern antisemitism in Germany, told the Post that Lohmann’s explanation shows he “has learned nothing from our history. That is repulsive and democratically insensitive.“
Beck added that whoever seeks to boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions, “like BDS Bonn, acts antisemitically.” He said the boycott targets equally Israeli peace activists and settlers and singles out “citizens of the Jewish and democratic state.”
Susanne Willer, a board member of the Pfennigsdorf Foundation who works at Bonn’s cultural history museum, declined to respond to multiple queries.
Lothar Altringer, a spokesman for the museum, said “The executive director is responsible for the formation of the program at the Pfennigsdorf Foundation and it is not voted on by executive board members.”
Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post, “BDS is not a political argument, but stems from deep-seated antisemitism and masquerades as anti-Zionism. Ms. Willer’s failure to oppose BDS can be construed as support for BDS and the event.”
Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi-hunter, added, “Unequivocal responses from the political leadership at both the national and municipal levels against BDS would make the efforts easier to counteract and eliminate this ugly antisemitic phenomenon.”