December 4, 2017 | The Jerusalem Post

German University Town Under Fire For Boycott Activity Against Israel

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor and pro-Israel advocates in Germany have expressed their disgust and outrage at the southern German city of Heidelberg for its activity and financial support of an alleged antisemitic boycott campaign against the Jewish state.

The university town's adult educational center provided a room to Jeff Halper, a left-wing Israeli advocate of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign targeting the Jewish state, on Monday. The pro-BDS Palestinian Middle East Initiative Heidelberg organized Halper's talk and previously sponsored an event with an alleged pro-Hamas advocate, Abed Schokry, at the educational center in July.

“Heidelberg, associated with pursuit of higher learning and truth since the 14th century, is witness to and facilitating a campaign that would punish a democracy and empower those who would destroy it. It is shameful that grant money from the city was bestowed on a school that lets protests from German Jews fall on deaf ears while speakers and programs associated with BDS are welcomed,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

He added, “The SWC hopes that most German leaders, political, educational and NGOs, will continue to recognize that they can best help hasten a peaceful Holy Land by desisting from validating BDS and everything this scam stands for. Scam because it was never designed to help a single Palestinian, not economically, not socially or educationally. It is a scam because it turns reality on its head in The Holy Land by seeking to isolate Israel’s institutions of higher learning and silence the robust dialogues that take place daily between Jews and Arabs, while never condemning the stifling of dissent in Palestinian society — especially in Hamas-controlled Gaza.”

He said, “BDS is antisemitic because BDS seeks the demise of the Jewish state and because its advocates and (German in this case) facilitators hold no other society to the same standard.”

The city of Heidelberg provided the educational center with a nearly 1.5 million euro grant.

Ahead of Halper's talk titled “How Israel 'pacifies' Palestine: Guidelines for control systems worldwide,” the Heidelberg Young Forum of the German-Israeli Society published an open letter urging the educational center to pull the plug on Halper's talk.

Jakob Flemming, a spokesman for the pro-Israel Young Forum, noted that Heidelberg University's Forum for International Security cancelled a slated event with Halper after the group, along with student organizations, protested Halper's appearance.

The youth group said in its letter that “BDS is tied, witting or unwittingly, to antisemitic actions against Jews during the National Socialist period that is a painful reminder that more than 70 years ago a 'Jewish boycott' on German territory took place.”

The group's letter stated that the educational center provided space to Abed Schokry, who voted for Hamas. He visited the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in 2017, according to online letters published on pro-Palestinian German websites from his time in the Gaza Strip. The EU and the US classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.

The pro-Israel group urged the city of Heidelberg to follow the example of the anti-BDS policies of the cities of Munich, Berlin, and Frankfurt. The mayors of Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt have pledged to ban municipal funds and organizational support, including rooms, to BDS groups.

An unnamed spokesperson from the city of the Heidelberg sent the Post an email, stating that “the educational center is not a city institution, which is why we cannot answer questions about decisions of the educational center or its reservation plans.”

The spokesperson said Heidelberg “is a tolerant and world-open city and engages in many projects against antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia.”

Heidelberg's mayor Eckart Würzner declined to respond to multiple Post emails and telephone calls seeking a comment on whether he rejects BDS and will replicate the anti-BDS initiatives of other German cities.

The spokesperson says Heidelberg has a city partnership with Rehovot. Heidelberg is located in the German state Baden-Württemberg. The town's population numbers over 156,000.

The BDS Palestinian Middle East Initiative Heidelberg did not return email press queries from the Post about BDS and Schokry. Numerous Post emails and telephone calls to the director of the educational center, Silke Reck, were not returned.

Reck has defended the pro-BDS presentation in the local press. Reck told the Rhein-Neckar paper that the accusation that the educational center is promoting antisemitism is “absurd.” Reck told the paper, “We are as a educational center obligated to ideological and religious neutrality.”

Prof. Gerald Steinberg, the head of NGO-Monitor, told the Post, “Jeff Halper was an early example of how the anti-Israel BDS campaign exploits fringe Israelis to legitimize this immoral warfare. His mini-NGO had no impact in Israel, but the money received from the EU and other sources gave him the image as a 'peace advocate.' In reality, Halper is a radical who denies the legitimacy of Israel and repeats Palestinian rejectionism — the opposite of peace. After belatedly recognizing the facade, the EU and other donors ended his NGO funding. At Heidelberg, however, the BDS campaign is still trying to sell the mythology.”

Halper, who immigrated to Israel from the US in 1973, heads the left-wing Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.

Charlotte Knobloch, the president of the Munich Jewish community, told the Post that Heidelberg “should in the future reject every form of BDS support.” Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor, said “BDS is antisemitic” and seeks the destruction of the Jewish state. She urged Heidelberg to pass a meausre to ban BDS in its facilities.  “Week after week there are BDS events or BDS-affiliated events across the Federal Republic. That is an intolerable situation, especially when city, university or church spaces ” are used for BDS activity.

“BDS is an antisemitic, hate ideology that must be named as such and outlawed and fought,” said Knobloch. 

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

Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD.