June 6, 2016 | The Jerusalem Post

Wiesenthal Center: Officials in German city complicit in Israel boycott

The Simon Wiesenthal accused city officials and politicians in Bremen on Friday of complicity in boycotts against Israel.

In a blistering letter to Carsten Sieling, the Social Democratic mayor of the northern Germany city, obtained by The Jerusalem Post, Dr. Shimon Samuels, director for International Relations for the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, wrote: ”Our members are most concerned by the inaction of your municipality against a reportedly, increasingly violent anti-Semitic campaign, otherwise known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), reminiscent of the 1930s ‘Kauf nicht bei Juden’ (“Do Not Buy From Jews”) assaults in Nazi Germany.”

Bremen city-funded and owned facilities have provided space for years to anti-Semites and BDS advocates to attack the Jewish state, according to critics.

Samuels wrote, “Apparently, the German BDS movement operates from Villa Ichon, owned by the City of Bremen and seat of the ‘Bremen Peace Forum,’ ostensibly leased as a place to meet for associations, especially for cultural and social life.”

The Bremen Peace Forum calls for a boycott of Israeli goods, and has staged protests in front of supermarkets urging customers not to buy Israeli fruit.

Samuels added: “We urge you to invoke your municipal integrity to publicly condemn BDS and take measures for the rapid eviction of these hooligans from Villa Ichon.”

Deidre Berger, the head of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, told the Post, “Given ongoing anti-Israel activities in Bremen, the AJC urges community leaders and politicians to continue working with Bremen’s Jewish community in fighting anti-Semitism, including distorted, one-sided portrayals of Israel that incite hatred against Israel and the Jewish people.”

In response to a Post query, a spokeswoman for Bremen’s cultural department, Alexandra Albrecht, said the city councilor for culture, Carmen Emigholz, “called at an institutional meeting a year ago for those present to not allow events in their buildings that agitate against Israel.”

Albrecht said cultural institutions are allowed autonomy in their programming. Emigholz opposes the boycott of Israel.

However, Bremen’s cultural centers – Villa Ichon, the Überseemuseum natural history and ethnographic museum, the municipal library and the Weserterrassen community center – have continued providing space to BDS advocates.

Speaking from Jerusalem, Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi-hunter, told the Post, “I find it incomprehensible that Bremen’s culture minister [Emigholz], who can play a positive role in preventing the use of public buildings for BDS, is refraining from taking action. It should be now be quite clear to everyone, particularly Germany, that BDS is another form of anti-Semitism.”

Marieluise Beck, a Green Party Bundestag deputy whose constituency includes Bremen, told the Post regarding “the Bremen Peace Forum, that unfortunately one cannot outlaw anti-Semitism.”

Beck said she referred the Villa Ichon lease-agreement with the municipality for “a judicial examination.” Beck said she rejects BDS.

Klaus Hübotter, the head of Villa Ichon’s management organization, told The Post, “The Peace Forum is not an anti-Semitic organization. We don’t tolerate anti-Semitic organizations in our Villa Ichon.”

The Bremen Peace Forum lists the Villa Ichon on its website as its headquarters.

Critics of BDS, such as France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls, see BDS as an expression of the “loathing of Jews.” France has outlawed BDS as discriminatory.

Beck was embroiled in an anti-Israel scandal in 2013 because of her party’s support for sanctioning Israeli products from the disputed territories. A member of the German-Israel Society, she told the Post, “I voiced clear concerns to my faction in the foreign policy working circle [of the Green Party] about the questionnaire [regarding sanction of Israeli products]. I was not present for the working circle vote. My name was included in the questionnaire because all members of the working circle are listed in the caption, in alphabetical order. Our office at that time failed to delete my name in a timely manner.”

Grigori Pantijelew, the deputy representative of the Bremen Jewish community, told The Post on Saturday: “Our common position, which is represented by the Jewish community and the City of Bremen, is to make sure that in no way anti-Israeli propaganda, or any one-sided planned events, which alone target Israel with anti-Jewish calls, posters and slogans, is sponsored by the city.”

Samuels, from the Wiesenthal Center, wrote: “Mr. Mayor, If you are proud to see BDS as a ‘cultural and social’ phenomenon, the image of Bremen is sadly tarnished.”

André Städler, spokesman for Mayor Sieling, said on Saturday that the mayor will respond to the Wiesenthal letter. The mayor opposes BDS.

The Bremen Peace Forum declined to respond to Post emails and telephone calls.

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