OpinionBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

Germany must implement its anti-BDS policy

Pro-boycott sentiments are present in many federal ministries and state governments.

The Reichstag building in Berlin, where the Bundestag meets. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The Reichstag building in Berlin, where the Bundestag meets. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Benjamin Weinthal
Benjamin Weinthal is a Jerusalem-based journalist who covers the Middle East and is a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.

The German parliament, or Bundestag, passed a resolution in 2019 declaring that the “arguments and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic.” The tactics of the BDS campaign “inevitably evoke associations with the Nazi slogan, Kauft nicht bei Juden! (‘Don’t buy from Jews!’),” the motion stated.

Regrettably, there has been little tangible progress on the ground in Germany since the Bundestag passed the resolution. One of the more disturbing examples of the German government’s failure to combat BDS is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s failure to act against Kuwait Airways’ boycott of Israeli passengers in the Federal Republic.

In 2016, an Israeli student in Germany sued the state-owned airline after it canceled his booking on a flight from Frankfurt to Bangkok with a stopover in Kuwait City. In 2017, a German court ruled that Kuwait Airways can boycott Israel. The Central Council of Jews in Germany said, “It is unacceptable that a foreign company operating on the basis of deeply anti-Semitic laws should be allowed to do business in Germany.”

When Kuwait Airways similarly discriminated against Israel in the United States in 2015, the American authorities threatened legal action. As a result, the airline ended all flights from New York to London rather than sell tickets to Israeli citizens.

For Merkel and her government, commerce trumps the fight against Jew-hatred, in Germany and abroad.

Pro-BDS sentiments are present in many German federal ministries and state governments. In 2018, German diplomats said accusations of bias against Kuwait Airways for its refusal to serve Israelis were exaggerated, the Düsseldorf-based business daily Handelsblatt reported.

In 2020, I was the first reporter to expose Andreas Görgen, the director of the foreign ministry’s department for culture and communication, for tweeting in support of the pro-BDS academic Achille Mbembe. Görgen sought to defend Mbembe against criticism of his energetic advocacy of boycott sanctions against Israel.

Mbembe, who teaches at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, has said the “time has come for global isolation” of Israel and belittled the Holocaust.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center cited Görgen in its list of 2020’s top 10 worst outbreaks of anti-Semitism.

If the foreign ministry and Chancellery were serious about combating the anti-Semitic BDS campaign in Germany, they would cancel Kuwait Airways’ landing rights and summarily discharge Görgen.

On the regional level, the southwestern German state of BadenWürttemberg is a stronghold of state-sponsored anti-Semitic BDS activity. To its credit, the state’s parliament rejected BDS. Yet the parties that control the government—the Greens and the Christian Democratic Union—continue to support the pro-BDS Baden-Württembergische Bank (BW-Bank).

Donations to BDS organizations furnish the financial oxygen that keeps these groups alive and kicking.

BW-Bank provides accounts to the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and the pro-BDS Palestine Committee Stuttgart organization. In 2009, Jürgen Rieger, a Holocaust denier and avowed anti-Semite, then-deputy chairman of the NPD, called on Germans to boycott Israel.

Sadly, the commissioner tasked with combating anti-Semitism in the state, Michael Blume, spends significant time on social media attacking Jews, Zionism and Israel. Blume liked a Facebook post equating Zionists with Nazis.

After new outbreaks of Blume’s anti-Israel activity on social media in July, Rabbi Abraham Cooper from the Simon Wiesenthal Center said regarding Blume that the “job of an anti-Semitism commissioner is to fight it and not spread it.”

Arye Sharuz Shalicar, a German-born Israeli expert on anti-Semitism and a former IDF spokesman, also criticized Blume’s crude social-media activity.

As early as 2016, then-Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said regarding BW-Bank: “We continue to urge all financial institutions to carefully consider the potential legal, reputational and ethical consequences of facilitating the activities of BDS groups.”

Blume reportedly wrote an email in 2018, after I raised the Baden-Württembergische Bank issue, saying he believes the bank should close the account of the Palestine Committee Stuttgart.

“Because the state parliament of Baden-Württemberg rejected the [BDS] campaign, I would like to speak to the state’s bank about its business relations with BDS organizations and ask them to end the relations,” wrote Blume.

However, Blume later denied he had called on the bank to close the account. Blume lied about his activity, probably to protect the state and its partial ownership of BW-Bank. The city of Stuttgart and the state government together own nearly half of the bank.

Felix Klein, the federal commissioner for combating anti-Semitism, has urged BW-Bank and other financial institutions to not engage in business with BDS entities.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has urged Blume to resign. It is long overdue that Baden-Württemberg appoints a qualified commissioner to combat anti-Semitism, including the BDS-anti-Semitism promoted by the state and its capital and largest city, Stuttgart.

Anti-Semitism is deeply entrenched in the power politics and atmosphere of Baden-Württemberg. The state first elected the former Nazi naval judge Hans Filbinger as governor in 1966, and he won re-election, holding the post through 1978 and enjoying enormous popularity as a patriarchal figure. Filbinger later defended his Nazi-era work imposing executions on deserters, saying: “What was right then cannot be wrong now.”

The current governor, Winfried Kretschmann, hails from the Greens, a party that initiated a BDS Bundestag motion in 2013 whose language largely mirrored a neo-Nazi party legislative demand to single out Jewish products from the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria for labeling and punishment.

When I asked Kretschmann, Blume and the state’s interior minister Thomas Strobl whether BW-Bank should cease its BDS activity, they refused to answer.

Merkel should use her few remaining months in government (federal elections are set for September, and she is not running) and sanction Kuwait Airways for its anti-Semitic BDS activity. The German foreign ministry should swiftly fire all officials who oppose the anti-BDS policy of the Bundestag. The state of Baden-Württemberg needs to radically overhaul its system for combating Jew-hatred, for it is currently engaged in state-sponsored anti-Semitism.

Benjamin Weinthal is a research fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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