Uwe Becker, commissioner of the Hessian federal state government for Jewish life and the fight against antisemitism, announced in late May that pro-BDS charities and NGOs should not receive favorable tax reductions, demanding a public review of their nonprofit status.
In a statement sent to The Jerusalem Post titled, “Antisemitism must not be regarded as charitable: Hesse’s antisemitism commissioner demands review of associations,” Becker said: “If associations in our country support the work of antisemitic organizations, then these may not be privileged fiscally.”
Becker added that “For example, the association ‘Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East’ is an official supporter of the antisemitic BDS movement and resolutely supports its goals.”
The newly appointed commissioner, who served as the deputy mayor and treasurer for Frankfurt, said “The BDS movement supports the demand for boycotts, disinvestments and sanctions against Israel, and has been aggressively exerting pressure on artists, scientists and companies for years to prevent any cooperation with the Jewish state.”
In April 2018, Becker told the Post that the Cologne-based Bank for Social Economy was banned from conducting business with Frankfurt – Germany’s financial capital – because of the bank’s account with the pro-BDS group Jewish Voice.
“The city of Frankfurt will, in the future, only work with banks that do not maintain business relations with the antisemitic BDS movement, and, accordingly, with BDS organizations,” said Becker at the time.
Becker said in his statement as commissioner to combat antisemitism: “I am convinced that when an association joins forces with antisemites, it cannot be considered a privileged nonprofit organization. The association Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East does not only appear as a committed supporter of the antisemitic BDS movement, only recently the association has also supported the appearance of the convicted terrorist Rasmea Odeh in Germany. Anyone who acts in this way must not be privileged by the state, which is why I am in favor of a restrictive examination of the privileged nonprofit status of such associations.”
The removal of the favorable tax status of BDS groups could impact their fund-raising situation and cause banks to close BDS accounts. Germany’s federal parliament classified BDS as antisemitic in May.
Numerous Post queries to Harald Schmitz, CEO of the Bank for Social Economy, were not returned. The Simon Wiesenthal Center included the Bank for Social Economy in its 2018 top-10 list of worst outbreaks of antisemitism because the bank enables BDS.
The US and Israeli governments have repeatedly urged Schmitz to end the bank’s BDS business.
In 2018, the German branch of Keren Hayesod-UIA (United Israel Appeal) and the German LGBT organization Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation closed their accounts with the Bank for Social Economy to protest the bank’s BDS business.
In May, a spokesman for Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, commissioner for combating antisemitism in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia where the Bank for Social Economy has its headquarters, told the Post that she believes the bank should close the account of Jewish Voice.
The Post asked German organizations that claim to fight BDS – Berlin’s Jewish community and the Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany – if they plan to follow the lead of the 27 US states and the French Jewish community that have divested their business from BDS entities.
Gideon Joffe, head of the Berlin Jewish community, declined to comment.
Aron Schuster, executive director of the Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany (ZWST), a part-owner of the bank, also declined to comment. Schuster wrote an opinion article in December that ZWST plans to fight the bank’s BDS activities from within the financial organization. The Bank for Social Economy has repeatedly snubbed Schuster.
Benjamin Weinthal is a European correspondent at The Jerusalem Post and a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.