Wiesenthal calls for Jewish NGOs to end business with German pro BDS bank

The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued an urgent appeal on Tuesday to Jewish organizations to terminate their business relations with Germany's top financial enabler of boycott Israel activity.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued an urgent appeal last week to Jewish organizations to terminate their business relations with Germany’s top financial enabler of Israeli boycott activities, Bank for Social Economy.
“This is not about Germany,” Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said. “This is about Jewish self-respect. The State of Israel and the overwhelming majority of Jews around the world have mobilized to confront and defeat the antisemitic BDS campaign wherever it raises its ugly head. The leadership of this bank [Bank for Social Economy] has gone on record that it will do business with BDS, and The Jerusalem Post has uncovered four such entities. That leaves no room for any Israel-affiliated or Israel supporting organization to do business with and be represented on the board of such a bank.”
He told the Post: “If Jewish groups, including those devoted to the State of Israel, won’t vote with their feet to protest BDS, what could possibly be expected of our non-Jewish friends, neighbors, elected officials and business associates.
Surely, there must be German banks who have made the ethical decision to throw out the BDSers... Those are the banks where German Jews and Jewish organizations should bring their business.”
The Bank for Social Economy (Bank für Sozialwirtschaft) holds at least four accounts with German NGOs that advocate the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting the Jewish state, as well as engaging in activities that seek to strip Israel of its legitimacy.
Independent of the Wiesenthal statement, the German branch of the United Israel Appeal (Keren Hayesod), which is the official fund-raising organization for Israel across the globe, told the Post that it is re-evaluating its business relationship with the Bank for Social Economy. Keren Hayesod along with three other Jewish organizations holds an account with the controversial bank.
“Keren Hayesod Germany sees providing bank accounts for customers that directly or indirectly support BDS as promotion of the antisemitic goals of the BDS campaign,” said Nathan Gelbart, the chairman of Keren Hayesod branch in Berlin. “The executive committee of Keren Hayesod Germany is presently examining the information presented by the Post as to whether the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft possibly services [such] organizations whose goals are opposed to the mission statement of Keren Hayesod Germany as well as the principles of peace, international understanding and friendship to the State of Israel.”
Gelbart is also the deputy chairman of Keren Hayesod Germany.
He told the Post: “Keren Hayesod Germany strongly condemns the so-called BDS campaign. Its goals are diametrically opposed to the mission goals of Keren Hayesod. Keren Hayesod strongly welcomes the initiatives of the state of Berlin as well as the city of Frankfurt am Main to not provide public space to BDS and its supporters.”
Gelbart said he would convey the findings of Keren Hayesod Germany’s investigation to the Bank for Social Economy and the Post.
The Post’s ongoing investigative series revealed that the Bank for Social Economy holds accounts with Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East in Germany and Connection e.V., both of which advocate the BDS campaign against the Jewish state.
Two additional German NGOs Bread for the World and forumZFD are involved in enabling BDS and other anti-Israel activities.
Daniel Laufer, a spokesman for the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, told the Post: “Bread for the World and forumZFD are well-established, government sponsored organizations in Germany. Unfortunately, German taxpayers money is funneled through them to a number of biased and politicized organizations in Israel, including some whose primary purpose is to promote BDS, such as Who Profits.”
He added that “in contrast, Connection and Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East in Germany are radical, anti-establishment fringe organizations. Jewish Voice for a Just Peace...in Germany in particular, supports the Palestinian call for BDS in its statute. One of its four board members is Shir Hever, an Israeli pro-BDS political activist who accuse Israel of being ‘a colonialist regime in which there’s apartheid.”’ Laufer said: “Hever is also a member of the Alternative Information Center, an NGO with ties to the PFLP terror[ist] organization, which accuses Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ‘apartheid-like discrimination,’ of being a ‘settler colonialist...
intransigent, racist and militarized...
regime,’ and [of] implementing a ‘multi-tiered system of oppression.”’ “Unfortunately most of these issues go undetected by the German government, which is why greater transparency of funding procedures is necessary,” he added.
Bank for Social Economy chairman Harald Schmitz told the Post: “We support the Jewish state’s right to exist with no ifs and buts.”
He added that the bank rejects the BDS campaign. However, he noted that “in the context of our criteria we accept that there are strongly divided opinions about the Middle East conflict and the relationship between Palestinians and the State of Israel... In light of German history, we view freedom of speech to be held in high esteem.”
In response to the Wiesenthal Center statement and Keren Hayesod’s probe into the bank’s alleged anti-Israel activity, Abraham Lehrer, chairman of the Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany, which is part owner of the Bank for Social Economy, declined to respond to numerous Post emails and telephone calls.
The Central Welfare group also holds an account with the bank. Malca Goldstein-Wolf, a prominent German Jewish activist who launched a successful petition campaign to prevent the pro-BDS singer Roger Waters from appearing on German public TV, said she is “disappointed with the cowardly behavior of Lehrer.”
Daniel Killy, the vice president of the German-Israel friendship society (DIG), told the Post he finds “it despicable for anyone to do business with the bank.”
“The DIG regrets the decision of the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft to reestablish business ties with the Jewish Voice,” he said. “The Jewish Voice is part of the BDS movement which thrives to fight and eventually destroy Israel. That may never happen with German institutions and money involved. The DIG is urging the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft to join the plenty of German cities and organizations saying ‘no’ to BDS and to drain the political swamp that allows BDS to flourish. So call in their account and be aware of the specific responsibility all of Germany has for Israel.”
Post queries to Michael Warman, who represents the Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany on the bank’s board of directors, were not returned.
The third Jewish organization to maintain an account with the bank is the Jewish National Fund branch in Germany.
JNF-Germany spokeswoman Maike Diehl said the Post inquiry will be a topic for JNF to discuss.
Diehl said that “the decision on how to deal with the account of Jewish Voice with the Bank for Social Economy will be decided in due time.”
She said that Sarah Singer, the president of the JNF in Germany, agrees with an earlier Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany statement rejecting BDS. Singer is also a deputy chairwoman of the Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany.
The Berlin Jewish community also holds an account with the bank. Gideon Joffe, who was born in Israel and speak fluent Hebrew, did not respond to Post queries regarding the Wiesenthal appeal.
Charlotte Knobloch, the head of Munich’s Jewish community and a Holocaust survivor, said: “I can only appeal to every individual and every company, whose concern is the fight against antisemitism,to follow the examples of the federal government and the city of Munich and ostracize BDS.”
Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan demanded in early February that the bank stop enabling anti-Zionist activity by permitting groups to raise funds to boycott the Jewish state and spread antisemitism.
“As minister of strategic affairs, I am leading an international campaign to defend Israel from the BDS movement’s hateful attacks against Israel’s right to exist,” he said. “This stance against BDS has been adopted by our close friends in Germany, including the CDU [Christian Democratic Union] and municipalities such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich. I call on the Bank for Social Economy to join the many German institutions, leaders and citizens who are uniting to reject the discriminatory and antisemitic boycott movement against Israel.”