Palestinians: Germany's anti-BDS Motion 'Punishes Non-violent Resistance'

'Anti-Semitism represents one of the biggest evils of our era. But to fight it, you should not become part of another injustice,' chief negotiator Saeb Erekat writes to German lawmakers

Protesters stage a demonstration outside Germany's Representative Office in Ramallah in the West Bank following the Bundestag's condemnation of the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, May 22, 2019.
AFP

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat urged German lawmakers to reverse a motion adopted on Friday defining the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as anti-Semitic, marking the first time a major European parliament recognizes the movement as such.

In a letter to Bundestag members sent on Monday, the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator Saeb Erekat called it "a clear move towards criminalizing boycott, a peaceful and legal tool in the struggle against the Israeli occupation," adding "We find this resolution to be utterly biased, void of any context and an affront to the right to freedom of expression."

Erekat compared apartheid South Africa to the current situation in the Palestinian territories, arguing similarities between the two "are quite evident."

As Israel lacks accountability and doesn't comply with international law, according to Erekat, Palestinians had to "resort to non-violent resistance in the form of BDS to lobby for their rights."

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"Instead of punishing such efforts, the German Bundestag should uphold the right to boycott and defend against illegitimate attacks against members of this movement," Erekat added, urging lawmakers not to turn the non-binding resolution into law.

He contested the motion's definition of the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, saying the "Palestinian struggle for freedom, equality and return" is supported by people of all religions.

File photo: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat attend the opening of the 30th Arab Summit in Tunis, Tunisia, March 31, 2019.
Fethi Belaid/ Pool photo via AP

According to Erekat's letter, "Anti-Semitism is a reality and represents one of the biggest evils of our era. But to fight anti-Semitism, you should not become part of another injustice."

"The Israeli government has a ministry mandated to fight civil society organizations, including BDS," Erekat added, referring to the relatively recently established Strategic Affairs Ministry, currently headed by Gilad Erdan. "They have even gone to the extreme of attacking Israeli human rights organizations, such as B'Tselem and Breaking the Silence. By advancing this bill, the German Bundestag will be supporting the work of this fascist ministry."

The motion on "resisting the BDS movement" urges the German government not to support projects calling for a boycott of Israel or that actively support the BDS movement, and was backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party, as well as the social-democrat SPD and the FDP. Some members of the Green Party supported the motion, while others abstained at the last minute.

To support its argument that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic, the motion says its "Don't Buy" stickers evoke a Nazi slogan, "Don't buy from Jews." The motion also states that the German parliament "welcomes the many municipalities that have already decided to refuse financial support to the movement" and "strongly condemns campaigns against the sale of Israeli products or for boycotting prominent Israeli individuals."

Friday's vote has stirred public discourse in Germany, with some critics claiming the proposed motion is draconian, suppressing pro-Palestinian groups' freedom of expression. A group of about 50 Jewish academics from Germany and Israel published a petition opposing it.

File photo: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, members of her cabinet and delegates attend a debate at the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, in Berlin, May 16, 2019.
Odd Andersen/AFP

Knesset member Michal Rozin, of left-wing Meretz party, told SPD lawmakers in a letter send last week that the proposed pieces of legislation are "disturbing and destructive for the possibility of peace here on the ground," arguing they lack a distinction between criticism of Israel and criticism of Israel's occupation of the West Bank.

"We need the international community to intervene in order to stop this trend of legitimizing a right-wing and problematic conflation," Rozin added. "How can it be that a German group or NGO, which merely calls for a campaign against settlement products, could be labelled as anti-Semitic?"

Former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Ilan Baruch, who currently heads the Policy Working Group, a left-wing think tank, has written to Germany's former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, arguing "In Germany, permeated with guilt toward the Jews and Israel, equating BDS – however much we oppose it – and anti-Semitism is … has no moral basis."

"There are anti-Semites who are friends of the Netanyahu government," Baruch wrote, citing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache as examples, “and there are Jewish supporters of BDS. The fact that there are anti-Semites who are present in the BDS movement doesn't make it anti-Semitic. It is anti-Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated the decision in a statement, saying he hopes it will lead to "concrete" further steps and pave the way for other countries to follow. 

Israeli Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff also welcomed the move, saying the German parliament had taken "a clear and principled stand condemning BDS."