April 30, 2018 | The Jerusalem Post

Exclusive: German Jewish owner of bank demands bank stop enabling BDS

The Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany – a part owner of the Cologne-based Bank for Social Economy – called on its management to end all business relations with groups that support a boycott of the Jewish state.

“The Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany will henceforth use its influence to actively counter every form of the BDS movement. For this reason, the ZWST [the board] calls on the Bank for Social Economy [Bank für Sozialwirtschaft] to end its business relations with BDS organizations,” spokeswoman Renate Müller told The Jerusalem Post last week.

The Central Welfare Board owns 0.7% of the bank, is one of six main owners listed on the bank’s website, and has a member on its board of directors.

The bank maintains at least four accounts that directly or indirectly support the boycott, divestment, sanctions campaign.

It is unclear how the Central Welfare Board will act to change what it calls the bank’s antisemitic support of BDS. The board could sell its shares in the bank and close its account.

Aron Schuster is slated to be the next executive director of the Central Welfare Board. He will replace long-time executive director Benjamin Bloch, who played a key role in shutting down the account of the hardcore BDS group Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East in 2016. The bank later reversed its decision and re-opened the BDS account in 2017.

Jaffa Flohr, a spokesman for the new president of the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael in Germany, told the Post that she expressed solidarity with the Central Welfare Board of Jews and joined it in urging the Bank for Social Economy to terminate all BDS business relations. The Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael maintains an account with the bank.

Uwe Becker, the deputy mayor of Frankfurt and the city’s treasurer, told the Post last week, “The city of Frankfurt will, in the future, only work with banks who do not maintain business relations with the antisemitic BDS movement, and, accordingly, with BDS organizations.”

He added, “I consider it extremely problematic when banks, including in Germany, maintain business relations with organizations that incite antisemitism and place Israel’s existence in question. Against this background, the Bank for Social Economy should reconsider its position, particularly since the German Bundestag has also in the meantime assessed BDS as antisemitic.” 

In a stunning indictment of the bank’s three executives, who comprise the bank’s management team, the ZWST raised the stakes in a months-long antisemitism scandal that has engulfed the Bank for Social Economy. 

A week ago, the LGBT organization Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation terminated its account with the bank to protest the bank’s alleged Antisemitism. 

Critics argue the troika leadership of the has failed to recognize and combat antisemitism expressed as forms of BDS.

Numerous Post press queries to bank’s CEO Harald Schmitz were not returned.Oliver Luckner and Thomas Kahleis, two additional members of the bank’s top management team, refused to answer multiple Post media requests.

Sammy Endzweig, the president of the pro-Israel group Keren Hayesod Germany, told the Post by email, that he sent a strongly worded second letter to the bank. He added that the bank’s first answer to his organization’s complaint about the BDS activity was “unsatisfactory.”

He said the bank sent out a statement nearly identical to its website statement titled “Statement on The Jerusalem Post’s recent coverage on the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft and the BDS campaign.”

Leading Jewish human rights organizations in Germany, Israel and the US, including the Israeli government, have called on the bank to shut downs its BDS accounts in order to stop antisemitism.

The Post reached out to all of the bank’s twelve advisory board members for a comment on the alleged antisemitic BSD activity defended by Schmitz, Luckner and Kahleis. A spokesman for board member Christian Graf von Bassewitz found the Frankfurt decision to ban business business with the bank disturbing and said he would forward the information to the Graf von Bassewitz. 

Georg Bloch-Jessen, a spokesman for the the two board members Ulrich Lilie and Dr. Jörg Kruttschnitt, said that “The Protestant Agency for Diakonia and Development clearly advocates for Israel’s existence. It does not support projects that call for boycott of goods from Israel.”

Lilie and Kruttschnitt work for the protestant agency.

Katrin Mormann, a spokeswoman, for Wolfgang Altenbernd, said he is retired and declined to respond to further Post queries. Dieter Schütz, a spokesman for Norbert Emmerich, declined answer Post questions and referred the Post to the bank.

The board member Matthias Berger, refused to answer numerous Post queries. Board members

Dr. Robert Batkiewicz, Selvi Naidu and Dr. Ulrich Schneider did not respond to Post press questions.

The bank’s spokeswoman Stephanie Rüth did not return Post media queries.

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.