Exclusive: Israel warns German banks over anti-Semitic BDS accounts

“We continue to urge all financial institutions to carefully consider the potential legal, reputational and ethical consequences of facilitating the activities of BDS groups,” Erdan writes to 'Post.'

A man walks past a logo of Commerzbank (photo credit: REUTERS)
A man walks past a logo of Commerzbank
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK CITY -- Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan put a number of German banks on notice that they could face penalties for enabling anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) groups to raise money through their financial accounts.
“We continue to urge all financial institutions to carefully consider the potential legal, reputational and ethical consequences of facilitating the activities of BDS groups,” Erdan wrote The Jerusalem Post by email on Friday.
The financial industry in Germany, where scores of banks provide accounts to hardcore BDS groups, is on a collision course with Israel and a growing number of anti-BDS laws in the US.
"We have been working extensively over the past half year to increase awareness among decision-makers in Europe and North America of the anti-Semitic, anti-democratic, and discriminatory nature of the BDS movement, which seeks Israel's destruction and often has ties to terror-supporting organizations,” said Erdan.
He added, “This awareness is growing, and is increasingly being translated into counter-BDS legislation, legal rulings against BDS activities, and decisions by Western institutions to end their financial relationships with BDS organizations.”
A Post investigation of German banks revealed a long-standing network of BDS groups using leading German financial institutions to damage Israel’s economy.
Germany’s second largest bank, Commerzbank, provides an account to a BDS website and magazine that seeks to dismantle the Jewish state. Spokespeople for Commerzbank have remained tight-lipped over their services to the BDS group.
“We expressly point out again that Commerzbank adheres to the applicable compliance guidelines and regulations regarding the conduct of an account,” Gunnar Meyer, a Commerzbank spokesman,told the Post on Friday.
Commerzbank has financial branches in New York City and in Illinois. The State of Illinois has one of the country’s toughest anti-BDS laws. New York State’s legislature is slated to pass a strict anti-BDS.
“The New York legislation would certainly adversely affect those banks. In a time of crisis that is growing more acute by the day, Americans and New Yorkers want to stand with our strategic democratic ally.  Israel and against hatred peddled by the BDS movement,”  New York State democratic Assemblyman Charles Lavine told the Post on Tuesday.
Commerzbank paid the US government a massive $1.45 billion fine in 2015 for sanctions and banking violations.
Commerzbank engaged in illicit transactions with sanctioned regimes in Iran and Sudan. Commerzbank’s history is eyebrow-raising for Jews and the State of Israel.
According to a 2004 study by Ludolf Herbs and Thomas Weihe titled “The Commerzbank and the Jews 1933-1945,” Commerzbank’s “participation in anti-Semitic measures was an important part of the business practices of the Commerzbank” during the Holocaust.
The BW bank in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg is embroiled in an anti-Semitism row over its account with a BDS group that urges the destruction of Israel and provided a forum to a Palestinian speaker who has played down the Shoah.
The Post has learned that BW customers announced the termination of their accounts because BW’s support of a BDS group titled Palestine Committee Stuttgart. BW has a financial branch in New York City.
Rüdiger Schoß, a spokesman for BW, told the Post that “an analysis of the internet site of our customer admittedly contains many statements that we expressly do not share but we cannot find objective reasons for a closure of business relationship.”
He added that “BW-Bank neither supports the goals of the association [Palestine Committee Stuttgart] nor the boycott calls against the State of Israel.”
Erdan’s warning about legal implications for BW—and other banks—could lead to thorny judicial disputes because of the bank’s anti-discrimination policy and laws banning racism and anti-Semitism.
According to the “Respect and Tolerance” section of BW’s Code of Conduct, the bank bars discrimination because of one's nationality, origin, and religion. The Spanish pro-Israel group ACOM, as well as a robust French anti-BDS law based on combating racism and discrimination, has secured legal victories against BDS groups based on disparate treatment of the Jewish state.
According to Commerzbank’s Code of Conduct, the bank says it will “take action against any kind of discrimination in our company” and  “Part of our managers’ responsibility is to live our corporate culture by example and take decisive action against any conduct that goes against the law or the rules in this Code of Conduct.”
Palestine Committee Stuttgart sponsored the Second Palestine Solidary Conference in 2013 in Europe, which was attended by extremists and fringe groups, and called for “one secular democratic state for its citizens.” The goal of a one-state solution would, according to critics, spell the dissolution of the Jewish state.
The German public bank system Sparkasse contains multiple BDS accounts, including in such cities as Cologne, Bonn, Dortmund and Hamburg. Berlin’s Sparkasse denied an Israeli an account and apologized in March for the refusal to open his account. In 2015, the Sparkasse branch in the city of Düren provided a space in its building to a BDS group and anti-Zionist speaker who advocates the destruction of Israel.
Israel’s embassy spokeswoman told the Post at time: “We regret that certain organizations provide a platform for hatred.”
“The BDS campaign disguises the socially unacceptable,” Charlotte Knobloch, the head of Munich’s small Jewish community and a Holocaust survivor, told the Post in November.” It has modernized the Nazi slogan “Don’t buy from Jews!” by demanding, “Don’t buy from the Jewish State,” she said.