German Parliament Passes Motion Condemning BDS as anti-Semitic

Motion calls on Berlin to cut funding to projects which call for a boycott of Israel ■ Some lawmakers supporting motion release statement reiterating support for freedom to criticize Israel

File photo: A woman holds a sign which reads 'Boycott Israel' during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Berlin, Germany, August 1, 2014.
Steffi Loos/Reuters

Germany's Bundestag adopted on Friday a motion on "resisting the BDS movement," defining the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as anti-Semitic, marking the first time a major European parliament recognizes the movement as such. The German government is urged not to support projects calling for a boycott of Israel or that actively support the BDS movement. 

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The motion, backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party, as well as the social-democrat SPD and the FDP, is non-binding. Some members of the Green Party supported the motion, while others abstained at the last minute. 

It stipulates that in light of the Bundestag’s recognition of the importance of combatting anti-Semitism, Germany must resolutely condemn calls to boycott Israel. 

>> Read more: Hosting Eurovision doesn't make Israel part of Europe | Opinion ■ Democrats, Republicans endorse anti-BDS resolution in rare bipartisan agreement

Ahead of the vote, members from the Green Party and the SPD issued a statement emphasizing their commitment to freedom of speech and criticism of Israeli policies.

"In view of Germany's historical responsibility, it is of great value that a large majority of the German Bundestag, across faction boundaries, has repeatedly committed itself to security and the protection of Israel as well as to the fight against anti-Semitism," the statement read. 

The statement, signed by dozens of lawmakers from the SPD and Green Party, added that calls for boycotts, as issued by the BDS movement, are also an attempt to restrict freedom of opinion, art and science, and are among the obstacles to a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "It is therefore of crucial importance for us that the Federal Republic of Germany and its civil society, for example through political foundations, cooperate with a broad spectrum of civil society organizations in Israel and Palestine that are committed to these goals and that reject violence as a means of political conflict," the statement added.

To support its argument that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic, the motion passed Friday 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."

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 said he welcomed the move, saying the German parliament had taken "a clear and principled stand condemning BDS. The resolution has received widespread support from across the political spectrum and limits BDS activities, which it sees as a form of anti-Semitism. This is an important decision in its own right and especially as it was adopted in a leading parliament in Europe. The decision reflects the understanding that BDS makes no attempt to build bridges, to engage in dialogue and to encourage coexistence for stability and peace between Israel and all its neighbors."

Two other anti-BDS proposals are also slated to be voted on Friday, but are expected to fail to pass the vote. One of them is sponsored by the far-right AfD, calling to outlaw the BDS movement altogether, and the other, sponsored by far-left Die Linke, proposes a softer version of the motion, condemning "anti-Semitic incidents" in the movement.

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.

Knesset member Michal Rozin, of left-wing Meretz party, told SPD lawmakers in a letter send Sunday 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?"

Urging her German counterparts to vote against the motion, Rozin concluded: "I rely on you at this critical hour to prevent Israel from falling into the deep abyss of annexation. That scenario unfolding should be our main concern – not the campaign of the Israeli government against the BDS movement, which distracts from this grim reality."

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.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry has announced Thursday that for the first time it would award anti-BDS activists and organizations around the world with 5.7 million shekels ($1.6 million) for events and online initiatives combatting the boycott movement.