Israel Lobbies German Government to Enforce Motion Defining BDS as anti-Semitic

The Bundestag motion, passed with broad multiparty support last month, has drawn wide opposition, including from Jewish intellectuals

Palestinian protester holding sign asking "No freedom of speech for Palestinians and their supporters?" Ramallah, West Bank, May 22, 2019.
AFP

The German government is examining whether to adopt a motion by its parliament that defines the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic and bans it from use of public buildings – and how such a decision would affect German funding to groups that support the movement.

Haaretz has learned that Israel and various public diplomacy groups are pressuring Germany to adopt the motion, stirring strong disagreements among government ministries. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bureau has yet to decide on an official position.

German sources told Haaretz that the country’s Interior Ministry, led by the commissioner for battling anti-Semitism Felix Klein, generally supports the motion, while the Foreign Ministry opposes it. Foreign Ministry officials recently told journalists that they oppose a boycott of Israel, but that the BDS movement includes a broad spectrum of positions and each instance and organization must be examined individually to determine if it’s anti-Semitic.

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The Bundestag’s motion last month marked the first time a European parliament had officially defined the BDS movement as anti-Semitic. The motion, which is a call to the government and isn’t legally binding, won broad multiparty support from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the Social Democrats and the Free Democratic Party. Some members of the Greens Party also supported the motion, though others abstained at the last minute. The motion stated that the BDS movement’s “Don’t Buy” stickers on Israeli products evoke the Nazi slogan “Don’t buy from Jews.”

Last week, 240 Jewish intellectuals published a petition against the Bundestag’s motion, saying “boycotts are a legitimate and nonviolent tool of resistance.” The signatories, among them Avraham Burg and Eva Illouz, called on the German government not to adopt the motion, to protect freedom of speech and continue funding of Israeli and Palestinian organizations “that peacefully challenge the Israeli occupation, expose severe violations of international law and strengthen civil society. These organizations defend the principles and values at the heart of liberal democracy and rule of law, in Germany and elsewhere. More than ever, they need financial support and political backing.”

The Jewish Museum in Berlin shared the petition on Twitter, generating an online backlash. Israeli Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff called the museum’s sharing of the petition “shameful.”

Last year, it was reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded from Merkel that Germany stop funding the museum because it had held an exhibition about Jerusalem, “that presents a Muslim-Palestinian perspective.” Merkel was asked to halt funding to other organizations as well, on grounds that they were anti-Israel, among them the Berlin International Film Festival, pro-Palestinian Christian organizations, and the Israeli news website +972, which receives funding from the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

Netanyahu did not deny the report and his bureau confirmed that he had raised “with various leaders the issue of funding Palestinian and Israeli groups and nonprofit organizations that depict the Israel Defense Forces as war criminals, support Palestinian terrorism and call for boycotting the State of Israel.”