April 9, 2018 | The Jerusalem Post

International Jewish NGOs urge German bank to stop enabling BDS

Leading establishment Jewish organizations in Europe, the United States and Israel called on the German Bank for Social Economy last week to pull the plug on its accounts held with groups that promote the boycott, divestment, sanctions campaign against Israel.

The Cologne-based Bank for Social Economy maintains at least four BDS-related accounts – the highest number in Germany. The bank faces growing international opprobrium from mainstream Jewish organizations – the American Jewish Committee, European Jewish Congress, Israeli-Jewish Congress, Central Council of Jews in Germany and Zionist Organization of America – because of its assertive defense of the German BDS group Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East.

“A bank that stands for social and economic sustainability should not work with initiatives that call for severing economic and cultural ties to Israel. As a pioneer within the green economy, no other country is as committed to the environmentally friendly use of natural resources as Israel. Those who support the call for boycotts contradict their own high ethical standards. BDS is an attack upon human dignity and our democratic coexistence,” said Deidre Berger, the head of the American Jewish Committee office in Berlin.

“We therefore call on politicians, civil society, and business to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to this hateful campaign: no public platforms, no financial support, and no bank accounts,” she said.

Dr. Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, said: “We at the EJC have long condemned BDS and those associated with it. We further believe that just like any other racist, xenophobic or antisemitic organization or movement, those involved in BDS should not be allowed to go about their hate normally but should be shunned and excluded from mainstream society. We should have zero tolerance for hate whatever the guise it creates for itself. We hope all banks, businesses and other organizations will sever any ties they may have with a BDS affiliate.”

Within Germany, scores of Jewish leaders, including the president of the nearly 100,000-member Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dr. Josef Schuster, have called on German banks to terminate BDS accounts and praised the closures.

Gila Baumöhl, a spokeswoman for Schuster, said he “welcomes the decision of diverse banks to close BDS accounts thus expressing their protest and distancing themselves from the BDS movement.”

Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, DAB and Postbank have shut down BDS accounts since 2016, including the account of the German group BDS Campaign which in January was part of 20 BDS groups that were banned from entering Israel.

Stephanie Ruth, a spokeswoman for the Bank for Social Economy, wrote in an email to The Jerusalem Post: “We can only state once again that we strongly condemn every form of antisemitism and resolutely reject the objectives of the BDS campaign. We support the State of Israel’s right of existence with no ifs and buts. As far as the account management for the Jewish Voice is concerned, which is recognized in Germany as a registered association and is supported by people of Jewish descent… We strongly object to putting the Bank for Social Economy into a position in which it simply does not belong.”

Jewish Voice wrote on their Facebook page recently: “Our friends in Great Britain from Jewdas are attacked because they invited [British Labour Party leader] Jeremy Corbyn to a Seder.”

The anti-Zionist British group Jewdas described Israel in December as a “steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of.”

Jewish Voice also called in April for the prominent head of the World Jewish Congress Ron Lauder to resign, said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “remains a racist” and the IDF are murderers for their actions in defending Israel’s southern border from Hamas, a Palestinian group recognized by the US and EU as being a terrorist organization. 

In March, Jewish Voice signed a public letter titled “In Defense of BDS.”

Shir Hever, a board member for Jewish Voice, accused Israel of being “a colonialist regime in which there’s apartheid.” 

According to the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor’s Daniel Laufer, “Hever is also a member of the Alternative Information Center, an NGO with ties to the PFLP terror organization, which accuses Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing.’” The US and the EU designated the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as a terrorist organization.

Jewish Voice launched a boycott campaign of the German branch of the Jewish National Fund. The JNF, which has an account with the bank, has sent an letter of inquiry to the bank requesting an explanation for the bank’s BDS accounts.

Dr. Reinhard Schramm, the president of the Jewish community in the east German state of Thüringen, said the organization “Jewish Voice offensively supports the BDS movement and the destabilization of Israel and thereby, consciously or unconsciously, questions Israel’s right to exist.”

Schramm said all forms of antisemitism are dangerous for the community but challenging Israel’s existence is the “most dangerous” expression of antisemitism. Schramm said the bank’s decision to continue business relations with the Jewish Voice is “incomprehensible.”

Arsen Ostrovsky, the executive director of the Israeli-Jewish Congress in Israel, an organization that works with Jewish groups in Germany and Europe, said: “BDS is an insidious, racist, anti-peace movement, designed solely to attack, vilify and delegitimize the Jewish state. It is the very manifestation of modern antisemitism. Accordingly, IJC believes that no financial institution should in any way be complicit in enabling BDS groups to operate accounts in order to spread this hate and fund the boycott of the Jewish state, most certainly not in Germany given its unique history. We wholly support the Jewish community of Germany in voicing our unequivocal call on the bank to close the BDS accounts.”

Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, also urged the bank to close the account, saying: “ZOA strongly urges the German Bank for Social Economy to immediately close all accounts of groups promoting the antisemitic BDS movement whose goal, as proclaimed by its leaders, is destruction of the Jewish state. ZOA also urges all those doing business or having accounts with this bank to boycott it for their disgracefully aiding the antisemitic boycotters. And a German bank, due to Germany’s horrific history, has a special responsibility to never be involved with harming the Jewish State.”

Benjamin Weinthal reports on human rights in the Middle East and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal.

Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.