Amid growing concern over antisemitic violence on German streets and anti-Israel activism on the country’s campuses, the U.S.-based policy research institute Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has published a detailed report looking at the activities of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Germany. 

The 27-page monograph authored by Benjamin Weinthal, a FDD research fellow and Jerusalem Posts’s Europe correspondent, is perhaps the most comprehensive overview of the BDS movement in Germany so far. The report examines the emergence of the BDS movement in Germany (Germany is “a late arrival to the campaign,” the monograph explains) and makes policy recommendations on how Germany can help fight the antisemitic activism in Europe given its historical responsibility. 

While the report lauds the German government and parliament for taking a unequivocal stand against the anti-Israel boycott campaign, it calls on Berlin to go beyond symbolic gestures and take effective steps in combating BDS-driven antisemitism 

On May 17,  2019, German parliament Bundestag passed a landmark resolution condemning BDS as antisemitic. It received overwhelming support from lawmakers belonging to the ruling Christian Conservatives (CDU-CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD), as well as the center-right Free Democrats (FDP) and the ecological Green party. 

The Bundestag resolution “brought a new sense of democratic legitimacy to the effort to counter BDS initiatives, since the parliament spoke on behalf of more than 80 million inhabitants of the most populous country in the European Union,” the report says. 

“I commend the German Bundestag for labeling BDS antisemitic. And that is important. However, there is much more that can be done to advance the impact of the non-binding resolution,” Weinthal told Legal Insurrection. 

The report urges Germany to take the leadership in Europe as it assumes six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union.

One issue worth tackling would be the EU-recommended labeling of Israeli products, the report suggests. In 2015,  the European Commission, EU’s executive arm, approved the labeling of Israeli exports to Europe if they come the region of Judea and Samaria, also referred to as the West Bank. Merkel’s government, despite its vocal opposition to anti-Israel boycott, accepted the EU labeling guidance. 

The BDS movement is expanding its footprint in Germany. The “BDS campaign has managed to build an infrastructure in Germany that resembles its base in other countries,” the report reveals. The anti-Israel campaign “draws support from a range of organizations that see Israel as the aggressor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many hailing from the far left,” it further adds. 

Describing the activist network of the BDS, the reports says:

The BDS campaign in Germany draws support from existing Palestinian organizations, such as Fatah, the PFLP, and affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood.35 But it also includes organizations such as AK Nahost Berlin (The Middle East Working Group Berlin) and KoPI (The German Coordination Committee Palestine Israel). The founder of AK Nahost Berlin was the late Alisa Fuss, a German-born Jew who later joined the anti-Zionist Palestine Communist Party. While very few German Jews hold favorable views of BDS, German Jews and Israelis in Germany are prominent within the campaign. Their views are primarily heard through a group called Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East.

The antisemitic movement has is its supporters deep in the ranks of German political establishment, including prominent members of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the Bundestag; and not just within the ecologist Green Party or the Linke, the successor to East Germany’s communist party. 

According to the report, BDS in Germany is rearing its head in various walks of public life, from politics to churches: 

Germany’s financial institutions, courts, and churches have now become prominent arenas for debating BDS. Banks, in particular, have come under to pressure to halt business with pro-BDS organizations. Meanwhile, German courts have wrestled with the question of whether foreign companies, such as Kuwait Airways, may implement discriminatory anti-Israel policies within Germany’s borders. While some German religious leaders have condemned all forms of anti-Semitism, there remain pockets within the religious community where hostility to Israel is tolerated or even welcome.

The creeping influence of the BDS movement is fueling antisemitism in Germany. In recent years, the country has seen a sharp rise in violent antisemitism. In 2019, Berlin alone witnessed 881 antisemitic incidents, the German watchdog RIAS reported. The figures for the rest of the country are just as alarming.

The report quotes Chancellor Angela Merkel own words to describe the situation in Germany: “There is to this day not a single synagogue, not a single daycare center for Jewish children, not a single school for Jewish children that does not need to be guarded by German policemen.”

One silver lining in face of the BDS onslaught has been the proactive role played of German student bodies. Students on various German campuses have stood up to the BDS incitement. Universities in Cologne, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Leipzig, and Mainz have all passed resolutions cutting the funding for BDS-affiliated groups and isolating them on campus.

The monograph praises the role played by German student organisations in standing up to the antisemitic boycott campaign: 

Amidst heightened concern for the safety of German Jews, the country’s political parties and student councils worked to expose the anti-Semitism of anti-Israel groups. Such activism among students and politicians is not unusual, thanks to the prominent role the major political parties’ youth organizations play in the country. The student groups in Germany mark a sharp contrast from the United States, where students have shown a greater inclination to support BDS.

The report concludes with a series of policy recommendations for the German government, which include a ban on Palestinian terrorist groups, monitoring the banking activities of BDS and antisemitic organizations, and encouraging other European countries to adopt anti-BDS measures similar to the one taken by the Bundestag. 

“The government should prohibit all PFLP, DFLP, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah activities and deny entry to all individuals with terrorist ties,” one of the recommendations said. “There is no excuse for permissiveness toward violent, pro-BDS, anti-Semitic organizations that the United States and European Union have designated for terrorism.”

‘German parliament denounces Israel boycott movement’ (May 2019)

 

 
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