May 7, 2018 | The Jerusalem Post
Germany’s antisemitism Czar wants banks to boot antisemitic BDS groups
The newly appointed federal government commissioner for combating Antisemitism in Germany, Felix Klein, condemned the Bank for Social Economy on Thursday for providing bank accounts to antisemitic BDS groups and expressed support for the city of Frankfurt's ban of business with financial institutions that support, directly or indirectly, the campaign to boycott the Jewish state.
“I condemn this bank relationship,” said Klein in response to a Jerusalem Post press query about the Cologne-based Bank for Social Economy providing accounts to at least four organizations that enable–or explicitly advocate— the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign against Israel.
Klein adds the voice of Germany's federal government to leading Jewish human rights groups in the US, Israel and Germany–including public security minister Gilad Erdan– who have called on the bank's executive board to pull the plug on its BDS accounts. “My assessment is the BDS-movement incites Antisemitism in its methods and goals. The call of BDS to boycott Israeli businesses as well as the “Don't buy! stickers on products from the Jewish state are to be condemned without qualifications.”
In the past years, the cities Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin decided to deny financial support and municipal rooms, in the future, to the BDS campaign that is hostile to Israel. The city of Frankfurt works since the beginning of the year only with banks that do not maintain business relations with BDS. In my judgment, both [anti-BDS measures] are an important signal that Antisemitism as well as the international isolation and defamation of Israel as alleged 'apartheid state' will not be tolerated.”
The Bank for Social Economy vigorously supports its bank account to the hardcore BDS group Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East in Germany, as well as other BDS activities enabled by the bank. The BDS groups use their accounts with Bank for Social Economy to raise funds in Europe.
Klaus Faber, the chairman of the Coordinating Council of German Non-governmental Organizations against Antisemitism, told the Post on Thursday that the bank should shut down its BDS accounts. He said “BDS groups are antisemitic and hostile to Israel…that target the isolation and destruction of Israel. Antisemitic activities are, in the view of the Coordinating Council, not compatible with Germany's history and constitution.”
The prominent German LGBT organization Magnus Hirschfeld shut down its account with the Bank for Social Economy to protest the bank's anti-Israel bank accounts. On May 14, the Magnus Hirschfeld is slated to honor the 150th birthday of the gay German-Jewish sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin. Faber said the “people, NGOs, companies should , in this case, follow the example of the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation and cancel their accounts.”
The Bank for Social Economy's executive board member Oliver Luckner doubled-down on Twitter in the bank's defense of its BDS accounts. He tweeted the bank's website statement defending the bank's alleged antisemitic accounts.
The bank's March statement said it rejects BDS but “The Bank für Sozialwirtschaft rejects any form of anti-Semitism, but we nevertheless accept that there are widely diverging views on the Middle East conflict and the relationship between the Palestinians and the State of Israel. Underpinning this approach is the principle of freedom of expression, which in the light of German history we consider especially important.”
Numerous Post telephone and email queries to Harald Schmitz, the bank's chairperson, on Thursday were not returned in response to the the call of Germany's antisemitism czar for the bank to stop its alleged antisemitic activity. A third bank executive, Thomas Kahleis, declined to answer multiple Post queries.
Hellmut Königshaus, the chairman of the German-Israel friendship society (DIG), told the Post on Thursday that the” DIG condemns the activities of the BDS movement and considers BDS to be motivated by antisemitism.” He said a lot of what is called “criticism of Israel” is motivated by antisemitism. “Of course, the bank should end every relation with this [BDS] movement and its representatives,” he added.
Königshaus said that now the bank's executives are aware of the antisemitic activities of BDS they must act against it.
Klein was appointed Germany's first commissioner to combat the rising level of contemporary antisemitism in Germany and to help protect Jewish life in the federal republic. The German banks Deutsche Bank, Postbank, Commerzbank and DAB have terminated accounts of BDS groups since 2016 due to reasons ranging form connections to Palestinian terrorism and antisemitism. Banks in Austria, Ireland, the United States and France have shut down BDS accounts over the last two years. The online payment service PayPal shut down four BDS French accounts in the first four months of 2018.
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.