September 17, 2018 | The Jerusalem Post
Prominent German Jews want JNF to close account with BDS-enabling bank
The German branch of the Jewish National Fund has been swept up in a widening antisemitism scandal because it won’t immediately close its account with the Bank for Social Economy that enables a fiercely anti-Israel NGO to raise funds to boycott the Jewish state and compare Israel to Nazi Germany.
A range of German Jews who have fought over the years the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel in the Federal Republic urged on Thursday the JNF and its new president, Jaffa Flohr, to swiftly shut its account with the Cologne-based bank to help stymie the rise of BDS and modern antisemitism in Germany.
“I can only encourage every organization to follow the example of Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal] and immediately end business relations with the bank [for Social Economy] that supports BDS,” Berlin-based attorney Nathan Gelbart told The Jerusalem Post.
Gelbart has won a series of high-profile cases against pro-BDS German antisemites. He currently represents an Israeli who sued Kuwait Airways for denying him service based on his nationality at the Frankfurt airport.
In late August, the German branch of the Keren Hayesod, or United Israel Appeal – a prominent Israeli public fund-raising global organization to advance the security of the Jewish state – terminated its account with Bank for Social Economy (Bank für Sozialwirtschaft) because the financial institution refuses to shut down a bank account belonging to the hardcore anti-Israel BDS group Jewish Voice for Peace.
The branch relocated its business to a Sparkasse bank that does not support BDS.
“There must be no free pass for antisemitism and hatred of Israel in Germany,” said Sammy Endzweig, the chairman of Keren Hayesod in Germany, in a statement explaining the account closure. “And only because an organization is labeled ‘Jewish’ and partly founded by Jewish people does not mean that this is the view of the Jewish community in Germany and has distanced itself from the goals of the BDS movement.”
Flohr, the president of JNF Germany, wrote the Post by email on Friday. She said the JNF executive committee met on September 2 and wants to wait for a planned expert opinion on Jewish Voice.
“The executive committee welcomes this step of the Bank for Social Economy to make contact with Dr. Felix Klein, the Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against antisemitism,” she said.
Flohr said the executive committee hopes that with the result of the expert opinion that there will be clarity for all participants.
Flohr added, that “a decision about the disposition of our account we will make depending on how the corresponding judgment is handled about the [Jewish Voice] expert opinion.”
Gelbart, Germany’s leading legal expert on antisemitism, countered Flohr, saying, “It is regrettable that expert opinions are required to obtain the clear recognition of anti-Zionism and antisemitism.”
Flohr told the Post she would respond to follow-up queries in connection with Gelbart and anti-BDS activists in Germany who criticized JNF’s decision to not close its account. Flohr and the JNF executive reversed their July decision to switch accounts.
“We have called on the Bank for Social Economy to end its business relations with BDS-affiliated organizations. If the BDS does not act, we look forward to changing to another financial institution,” said Heike Hausweiler, a spokeswoman for Flohr emailed the Post in July.
THE JEWISH National Fund, according to its website, states it was founded in 1901: “Our single driving focus has been to ensure a strong, secure and prosperous Israel for the Jewish people everywhere… Together with our partners, we re-established our ancestral Jewish homeland in modern Israel. We planted more than a quarter-billion trees in what was once a barren desert.” The German branch was re-opened in 1953.
Felix Klein, the federal commissioner to combat antisemitism in Germany, wrote the Post on Friday that the bank has not contacted him to obtain an expert opinion.
Klein “condemned” the Bank for Social Economy for its pro-BDS business with Jewish Voice. He wrote that “the Bank for Social Economy should unambiguously distance itself from every form of antisemitism.”
He added, “BDS is decidedly antisemitic in its actions and goals.”
The JNF in Germany finds itself in a position where it conducts business with a bank that works against its financial health and the security of Israel. The Jewish Voice has campaigned to boycott JNF in Germany.
A leading member of the Germany-based Action Forum Israel (Aktionsforum Israel) group sent the Post a photograph of the JNF calendar for 2018-2019 that shows an advertisement for the Bank for Social Economy.
The bank’s top executive, Harald Schmitz, who has energetically defended the Jewish Voice account, refused to respond to Post queries.
It is unclear whom the bank reached out to for an expert opinion.
Gelbart, the attorney, told the Post, with biting sarcasm: “I think the Bank for Social Economy should commission an additonal expert opinion. Was the NSDAP [The National Socialist German Workers' Party] national socialist?” The NSDAP is typically refered to as the Nazi party in English.
Dr. Elvira Grözinger, an expert on antisemitism and the head of the German branch of Scholars for Peace in Middle East, said, “The German Jewish Voice for a Just Peace, led by Israel-hating exile Israelis, is known as a BDS advocating association and is closely collaborating with Palestinian Arab activists, aiming at the destruction of the State of Israel. Its one-sided pro-Arab activities are aggressive towards the Jewish State they call ‘an apartheid state,’ using Nazi comparisons. This is the new form of Israel-related antisemitism.”
She added, “This antisemitic Jewish association has an account at the Bank for Social Economy which professes to reject antisemitism but does not act accordingly, and that is why the German branch of the Keren Hayesod has cut its business ties with this bank recently, earning a lot of applause. I expect other, not only Jewish, organizations opposing antisemitism and BDS to act accordingly.”
“The German Committee of the JNF is still hesitating to follow the good example of the Keren Hayesod,” Grözinger said. “This is an absolutely wrong and incomprehensible signal for the renowned pioneer Jewish organization. I don’t understand JNF’s hesitation and hope that this once so renowned fund will decide to follow Keren Hayesod as soon as possible.”
LAST WEEK, German state-run news outlet Deutsche Welle wrote “Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, a German organization that supports BDS.”
Gabriella Meros, the chairwoman of the Holocaust memorial NGO Respect & Remember Europe e.V., who has waged successful fights to stop BDS in the Bavarian capital city, wrote in an email to Flohr that it was long overdue for JNF to close its account with the Bank for Social Economy.
“It is shameful that a traditional institution does not have the courage to oppose BDS,” she wrote. “You are making yourself not credible or believable.” She said the philosophy of JNF, for her, was no longer authentic.
Malca Goldstein-Wolf, who sparked the campaign to cause German television outlets to not broadcast pro-BDS singer Roger Waters concerts, told the Post that she wrote in an email to Flohr: “The Bank for Social Economy doggedly refuses to close the account of the antisemitic organization Jewish Voice. Bad enough… when we Jews do not stick together, and even the Jewish National Fund shies away from taking necessary consequences, namely, the closure of its accounts by the Bank for Social Economy.”
She added if the JNF does not terminate its account, “we have not a chance against this enemy.”
The German lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation, which receives the majority of its funds from the federal government, closed its Bank for Social Economy account in April to protest the pro-BDS activity of the bank.
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.
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