May 2, 2016 | The Jerusalem Post
Giant Austrian bank shuts down BDS account
One of Austria's largest companies – the Erste Group – closed a bank account held by BDS Austria.
The Vienna-based BDS Austria announced on Friday on its website and Facebook pages: “bank account of BDS Austria closed by bank as a result of political pressure…
We therefore are obliged to cancel the account and until further notice will not have any bank account.”
The Jerusalem Post investigative series on the shadowy world of Israel-boycott funding and terrorism finance transactions revealed the Erste Group bank account with BDS Austria in late March.
The BDS campaign targets the Jewish state with economic pressure to advance Palestinian interests.
Post queries on Saturday to the Erste Group in Vienna and its New York City office were not immediately returned. Christian Hromatka, a spokesman for Erste Group, told the Post in March, “Our internal security measures are suitable to employ the appropriate measures in the event of irregularities or legal problems.”
Michael Mauritz, a second spokesman for the Erste Group, told the Post, ”We are by law not allowed to comment on possible clients, but you can be sure that compliance is carefully observing the legal framework. If there is any legal action needed, Erste Group will act accordingly.”
This is the second instance in which a European BDS bank account was closed due to stepped up measures to stop illicit or unsavory transactions.
In February, the Post reported on the closure of the main German BDS bank account. DAB Bank Munich, owned by the massive French bank BNP Paribas, pulled the plug on an accountheld by the German BDS campaign.
The Erste Group, along with a host of German, French and Austrian banks, has offices in the US. Robust anti-BDS laws in the US are designed to punish companies that enable or participate in Israel-boycott activities.
“The New York [anti-BDS] 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,” Assemblyman Charles Lavine told the Post in March.
Lavine added, “DAB discontinued a BDS account and other major banks should discontinue their relationship with purveyors of hate and anti-Semitism.”
The Post reported on Thursday that Austria’s BAWAG bank maintains an account belonging to the pro-BDS Austrian-Arab Culture Center – OKAZ. In mid-April, OKAZ sponsored a lecture with Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has been designated by the US and the EU as a terrorist organization. Khaled was part of a terrorist cell that hijacked TWA Flight 840 in 1969. A year later, she participated in the hijacking of EL AL Flight 219.
“Allowing a convicted terrorist to present her opinions can only serve as an incentive for other terrorists,” Israel’s Ambassador to Austria, Talya Lador-Fresher, told the Post.
The main shareholders in BAWAG are two New York-based investment companies. Cerberus Capital Management Company owns 52 percent of the bank and GoldenTree Asset Management has a 40 percent ownership stake.
Spokespeople for both investment firms declined to comment.
Germany’s second largest bank, Commerzbank, which has offices in New York City and Chicago, hosts a BDS account near its Frankfurt headquarters. Sen. Mark Kirk from Illinois called in April for an investigation into Commerzbank because of the bank’s office in Chicago. France’s government indicated to the Post on Tuesday that BDS France’s account with Credit Mutuel violates the country’s anti-boycott law. “The French opposition against any form of boycott is well known. There are strict rules in France against calls for a boycott. These rules apply notably to all economic operators,” France’s embassy wrote the Post by email.
The French law says boycotts of the Jewish state discriminate against Israelis based on national origin.
The BW Bank, which has a branch in New York City, and Sparkasse banks across Germany maintain BDS accounts.
The BW Bank in Stuttgart defended its accounts with two pro-BDS groups: a neo-Nazi party and the Palestine Committee Stuttgart.
“The [neo-Nazi party] account belongs to a permitted party in Germany,” Rüdiger Schoss, a spokesman for BW, wrote the Post. He declined to comment on whether the accounts violate the bank’s anti-discrimination policies.
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal