German Parliament to Pass Motion Condemning BDS as anti-Semitic

In first for major European parliament, the move urges government not to fund or support any groups that 'question Israel's right to exist'

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 is expected to adopt on Friday a motion on "resisting the BDS movement," defining the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as anti-Semitic. If approved, it will mark the first time a major European parliament defines the movement as anti-Semitic.

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The proposed motion, backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party, as well as social-democrat SPD, the Green Party and FPD, also calls on the German government to refrain from funding or supporting any groups that "question Israel's right to exist." However, it is not binding.

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. 

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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."

According to reports in Germany, a clause ensuring that criticism of Israeli policies remains legitimate, as long as it doesn't call for boycott, has been removed from the motion.

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 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.

The upcoming 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 has 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.