German controversy over Israel boycott

Politicians reject German mayor’s Israel boycott. Schröter: goal is to label goods from ‘illegal’ settlements.

Schroter (second left) (photo credit: Thomas Peter/Reuters)
Schroter (second left)
(photo credit: Thomas Peter/Reuters)
BERLIN – Social Democratic, Left Party and Christian Democratic politicians rejected last week Jena Mayor Albrecht Schröter’s campaign for a wide-ranging boycott of Israeli products.
Critics accused Schröter, 57, the Social Democratic mayor of Jena in Thuringia state, of fostering modern anti-Semitism with his support for a call by the German branch of Pax Christi, an international Catholic “peace movement,” to not buy Israeli goods.
Wiltrud Rösch-Metzler, Pax Christi vice president, wrote last week, “I am not buying goods with the origin specification ‘Israel’ because under this designation products could come from the settlements.
Our action goes against policies that do not designate settlement products.”
Schröter signed a Pax Christi petition for labeling products from Israel.
Tobias Dünow, a spokesman at the Berlin headquarters of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), told The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview on Friday, the “SPD does not support boycotts against Israel. The SPD does not support the Pax Christi boycott.”
René Lindenberg, the party’s state secretary in Thuringia, wrote in an email to the Post, “The SPD Thuringia would not have signed the call to action.”
Kevin Zdiara, deputy chairman of the German-Israel friendship society (DIG) in Thuringia’s capital Erfurt, equated the boycott effort with the Nazi-era slogan “Don’t Buy from Jews.”
DIG-Erfurt garnered support from Katharina König, a Left Party state representative in Thuringia and a Jena city councilwoman.
Schröter’s signature on the Pax Christi petition and his support for a boycott are “false and inappropriate,” König told the Post.
In the final analysis, the boycott “has the same meaning as ‘Don’t Buy from Jews,’” she said.
In a two-page page statement sent to the Post on Thursday, Schröter wrote, “The conclusion that Pax Christi calls for a wholesale boycott of all Israeli goods... is incorrect and misleading. In particular, the impertinent connection with the fatal slogan of the German Nazis ‘Do not buy from Jews’ deliberately distorts the concern of Pax Christi.”
He added, “I reject the maliciously pronounced accusation against me of anti-Semitism!” The mayor wrote that his “aim is to demand mandatory labeling of goods from illegal Israeli settlements that occupy Palestinian territory – an initiative that exists for example in the UK for quite some time. The consumer should be able to decide whether he wants to buy goods which disobey international law or not.”
Schröter cited his participation in Holocaust remembrance events and commitment against neo-Nazis, which was honored last year with the Award of Courage of the Foundation for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin and the local Jewish community.
Kevin Zdiara, from DIG, said the “organization should reconsider rescinding the award” because Schröter has not “engaged in reconciliation, but rather has divided.”
Levi Salomon, a spokesman for the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism, told the Post that “there are people who fight against right-wing extremism and at the same time are strong critics of Israel.
This took place in the German Democratic Republic [East Germany] and the Soviet Union.” He added that the Pax Christi boycott campaign “Occupation tastes bitter” contributes to the “delegitimization of Israel.”
Thuringia was part of the East German socialist state.
Vera Lengsfeld, a prominent civil rights activist who fought against the now-defunct German Democratic Republic and was born in Thuringia, wrote on the popular website “The Axis of Good” that “Jena must immediately vote in a new head of the city because the good man can no longer govern. It would be better for the city.”
The mayor failed to focus the city’s resources on preventing the delivery of weapons to a neo-Nazi terrorist group, the National Socialist Underground, and is consumed instead with criticizing Israel, Lengsfeld wrote. She blasted Schröter for seeking to keep the city “pure from Jewish goods.”
Lengsfeld served as a deputy from Christian Democratic Union in the Bundestag.
Barbara Glasser, a spokeswoman for Schröter, told the Post that the mayor did not plan to resign.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, the head of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, wrote in an email to the Post on Friday that the boycott sponsored by Pax Christi and the mayor “is fundamentally immoral. The goal of this campaign, as clearly stated, is to demonize the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and sovereign equality. This agenda is inherently discriminatory and erases the history of brutal warfare and Arab terrorism waged against Israel, which is the cause of the post-1967 ‘occupation.’ By promoting the false Palestinian narrative, the organizations involved in BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] campaigns become combatants in this form of warfare.”
He continued, “If Pax Christi, as a Christian organization claiming an ethical agenda, were actually interested in promoting peace and human rights, it would focus its resources on the real abuses in Syria, Gaza and elsewhere, instead of joining the latest efforts to deprive the Jewish people of sovereign equality.”
Christine Hoffmann, the general secretary of the German division of Pax Christi, wrote the Post that “the call for customary market standards has nothing to do with discrimination against persons or with anti-Semitism.”
It was a matter of “consumer- friendly designation for purchase decisions,” she said.
Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, a Middle East expert and head of relief assistance NGO Wadi, told the Post that “so long as one does not find a call by Pax Christi that from now on products from Syria, Iran or Saudi Arabia (to name just three examples) should come with the logo that the goods come from a country in which torture exists in violation of human rights, the action [to boycott] is completely anti- Israel and anti-Semitic, because Israel is issued special treatment.”