May 10, 2016 | The Jerusalem Post
German mayor embroiled in row over anti-Semitic bank account
The mayor of Stuttgart, who served as one of the patrons of an event celebrating Israel’s 68th birthday on Wednesday, defended his city’s ownership stake in the BW bank that provides an account to an NGO that promotes a boycott of the Jewish state and plays down the Holocaust.
“The idea of facilitating – even in a most indirect way – a boycott of Jews is something that should be self-evident for business people and the city government that they should not be involved in,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“When people at the city-owned bank [BW] paid checks to people who minimize the Holocaust that is not something that Germans would want to be associated with,” he said. “BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] everyone knows it is anti-Semitic.”
The city of Stuttgart, which is located in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, owns nearly 20% of the BW bank. The state owns roughly 25% of the bank.
Sven Matis, a spokesman for Mayor Fritz Kuhn, told the Post by email on Tuesday that Mayor Kuhn “in no way shares the calls to boycott Israel. Mayor Kuhn is a patron of the Israel Day event and also has a deep connection to Israel.”
When pressed if his words have meaning when he defends the BW’s BDS account, he declined to comment.
Kuhn’s spokesman told the Post that the mayor does not comment on “the operating business of the BW Bank or LBBW and does comment on individual customers of the bank. The city is certain that both banks maintain legally proper bank accounts.”
The LBBW bank owns the BW bank.
The BW provides an account to the Palestine Committee Stuttgart, which devotes its funds to a full-blown boycott of the Jewish state. The Palestine Committee Stuttgart hosted an event in April with a Palestinian historian who has played down the Holocaust and compared Israel with Nazi Germany. The BW also provides an account to the local neo-Nazi party in Stuttgart.
Rüdiger Schoß, a spokesman for the BW bank, wrote the Post that “a refusal to provide an account is only possible when, according to German law objective impediments are present, for example, violations of sanctions guidelines, calls to violence or a documented denial of the Holocaust.”
Schoß has repeatedly declined to answer Post queries if the BDS account violates the bank’s non-discrimination policy because it targets Jews for bias.
“Today’s Germany has a responsibility to do no harm [toward Jews],” Rabbi Cooper said. “We are not calling on the bank to develop its own foreign policy. The issue is not a Palestinian account. The issue is a promotion of a boycott of Jews in Germany. The bank account could be a legal issue in New York State and a public relations disaster for the bank.”
“The New York [anti-BDS] legislation would certainly adversely affect those banks,” the New York State Democratic Assemblyman Charles Lavine told the Post last month. “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.”
The BW has a branch office in New York City.
In an apparent response to the assemblyman’s warning, the giant Austrian bank Erste Group pulled the plug on the account of BDS Austria last week.
Sybil Schmücker, a spokeswoman for Israel’s General Consul in Munich, referred a Post query to an earlier statement from Israel’s embassy in Berlin.
The diplomats at the embassy told the Post: “We consider this case seriously and looking into the legal options available to us.”
A spokesman for Winfried Kretschmann, the governor of Baden-Württemberg, did not immediately respond to a Post query about the state’s partial ownership of the BW and its anti-Israel account. Kretchmann also served as a patron for the Israel event on Wednesday.
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal