Pro-Israel Groups Promoted anti-BDS Resolution in German Parliament, Der Spiegel Reports

German magazine claims these organizations were involved in the Bundestag decision against the boycott movement, using 'donations to politicians' ■ Bild newspaper sharply criticizes report, calls claims 'anti-Semitic'

A demonstrator holds a placard reading "I boycott Israel, but not the Jews", during a demonstration marking al-Quds Day (Jerusalem Day), in Berlin, Germany June 1, 2019.
\ FABRIZIO BENSCH/ REUTERS

The German magazine Der Spiegel published an investigative report last weekend which suggested the involvement of pro-Israel groups  in Germany in last May’s Bundestag resolution, which defined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic.

The report claims that local groups such as the Middle East Peace Forum and WerteInitiative (Values Initiative) worked together with Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs in order to promote the resolution, an enterprise that included “donations to politicians.” The groups deny these charges, but the story has evoked a stormy public debate. Bild, the most widely-read newspaper in Germany, sharply criticized the report, calling it anti-Semitic.

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Der Spiegel said that pro-Israel groups operated a lobbying network inside Germany’s parliament, aimed at promoting Israeli government policies. Among these efforts, the report said, was encouraging Bundestag members to call on the government to act against the boycott of Israel. This included a condemnation of the BDS movement, defining it as anti-Semitic and passing a resolution calling on the government to not allocate public resources to organizations that support it. This was the first time a European parliament has defined a movement advocating sanctions against Israel as an anti-Semitic organization.

The proposal was widely supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian-Democratic Union, the Social Democratic Party and the Free Democratic Party, and even some members of the Green Party (a few others abstained at the last minute). The resolution also says that stickers calling on shoppers not to buy Israeli products evoke the Nazi slogan commanding people not to buy from Jews.

The Strategic Affairs Ministry responded to the story, saying that "The claims that arose from the Der Spiegel article lack any basis. The Strategic Affairs Ministry had no connection to the German Parliament’s decision, which it views as a decision that is principled, ethical, and important."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the resolution, calling it an “important one,” as did Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan. It was previously reported in Germany that Netanyahu asked Merkel to stop financing organizations he labeled as anti-Israel, including the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which highlighted the Muslim-Palestinian perspective in its exhibition on Jerusalem. Netanyahu never denied these reports.

Though the controversial resolution is not binding, Germany’s government is considering whether to adopt it. The Israeli government and pro-Israel lobbying groups have recently been pressuring Germany to do so, but Merkel’s bureau has yet to take an official stance on the matter. Sources in Germany told Haaretz that the interior ministry, led by the special commissioner for combating anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, is leaning towards adopting the resolution, whereas the foreign ministry is opposed.

In a press briefing, the foreign ministry recently told correspondents that it stands against a boycott of Israel, but that the boycott movement includes a wide spectrum of positions, and each group and incident should be examined for anti-Semitic characteristics on an individual basis.

Der Spiegel quotes an anonymous Bundestag member who claims that he was subjected to political pressure to support the resolution, and that among its supporters were people who were concerned they would be branded as anti-Semitic if they voted against the resolution. The report also describes small donations of about $1,400 made by the Middle East Peace Forum to the Green Party, as well as organizing trips to Israel for the party members.

The Middle East Peace Forum rebutted the claims, saying that it does not only represent the Israeli government’s position, but that it had also invited leaders form Israel's opposition such as Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni to Germany, and that the trips to Israel were partially funded by Bundestag members. Any donations were private and were made not on behalf of the organization.

Bild, Germany's most widely read newspaper, strongly criticized Der Spiegel's report. Under the headline “Anti-Semitism: Sharp criticism of the Der Spiegel story,” its website claimed on Saturday that this report could strengthen anti-Jewish sentiments and play into the hands of people who are already swayed by them.

Bild said that between the lines of Der Spiegel's story are typical anti-Semitic motifs, such as global Jewish domination and Jewish money buying influence. It quoted German-Jewish journalist and filmmaker Esther Schapira, who said she was shocked by the report and that the Der Spiegel story was "the opposite of serious journalism." The story was unfounded and had provided no proof for its statements, Bild claimed, and also quoted German journalists who said that the report included speculations and distorted information.