May 17, 2019 at 3:03 pm
Germany today voted to define the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic, becoming the first major European parliament to do so.
The German parliament – known as the Bundestag – this afternoon voted to accept a motion defining BDS as anti-Semitic. The motion, “Resist the BDS Movement – Fighting Antisemitism,” was sponsored by the Bundestag’s two largest parties – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian-Democratic Union and the Social Democrat party – as well as the Green Party and the Free Democratic Party.
The text of the motion stated that “the German Bundestag is unwavering in its commitment to condemn and combat anti-Semitism in all its forms,” stressing it will oppose “anyone who defames people because of their Jewish identity […] questions the right of the Jewish and democratic state of Israel to exist or Israel’s right to defend itself.”
On the BDS movement specifically, the motion claimed that “the arguments, patterns and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic”. As evidence of this, the motion argued that BDS’ “don’t buy” stickers – which aim to identify products of Israeli origin so consumers can refrain from purchasing them – “arouse associations [with] the Nazi slogan ‘Don’t buy from Jews’” and are “reminiscent of the most horrific phase in German history”.
Although the motion is non-binding, its significance both within Germany and across Europe is likely to be profound.
In practical terms, German newspaper Algemeiner explains that today’s passing of the motion will “prevent ‘organizations which express themselves in an antisemitic manner, or question the right of Israel to exist’ from using ‘premises and facilities under Bundestag administration’”. It will also require the Bundestag “not to financially promote organizations that do not respect Israel’s right to exist”.
On a European level, the motion could serve as a precedent for other parliaments to label BDS anti-Semitic. Several European countries have sought to crack down on the movement in recent years, most notably Spain which, at the behest of Israel, has dragged a number of municipal councils to court for announcing that they would support a boycott.
The move could also pave the way for other groups to be labelled anti-Semitic for their criticism of Israel. By arguing that “the state of Israel can also be understood as a Jewish collective,” the passing of the motion will further narrow the space for criticism of Israel’s government and its policies by conflating this with anti-Semitic rhetoric.
The Bundestag also voted today on two other anti-BDS resolutions: the first, which was submitted by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, called on the German government to outlaw the BDS altogether; meanwhile the second, submitted by the left-wing party Die Linke, called on the government to condemn “anti-Semitism within” the BDS movement.
The AfD’s proposed resolution called on the German government to “prohibit” BDS and “recognize the injustice done to Jewish settlers in Palestine by Arab calls for boycott, in cooperation and coordination with the Nazi regime”.
It went on to denounce the distinction made between Israel and its illegal settlements, including the European Union (EU)’s labelling of Israeli goods made in West Bank settlements. It claimed that, in labelling the products as such, the EU had created a “de facto economic recognition” of an independent Palestinian state “without this being legitimate in any form”.
At the time of writing, the results of the vote on the AfD’s proposed resolution have not been released. Die Linke’s motion, however, was rejected.
Germany has waged a long-term campaign against BDS. Algemeiner reported that, last month, Bundestag members demanded that “Germany’s GLS Bank — the country’s most long-established ethical investment bank — close the account of a pro-BDS group calling itself ‘Jewish Voice’”.
In March, three BDS activists stood trial for trumped-up claims of trespassing and assault after they protested against Israeli politician Aliza Lavie, who spoke at Berlin’s Humboldt University in 2017. The Humboldt3 as they have become known – Palestinian activist Majed Abusalama and Israeli activists Ronnie Barkan and Stavit Sinai – argued that “having criminal allegations leveled against activists is a common and standard practice in Germany.”
They added: “We are, however, determined to use our relative privilege in order to turn the tables against Israel and take it to court. We do not concern ourselves with the consequences, but rather with the opportunity of challenging Israel along with Germany’s complicity in crimes against humanity.”
Much of this crackdown comes at the behest of Israel, with whom Germany has historically maintained close relations. In October, Israel’s Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Ze’ev Elkin, attended a conference in Belgian capital Brussels in a bid to convince European political parties to brand BDS anti-Semitic. The move was seen as an escalation of Israel’s war against BDS, for which it has reportedly set aside a war chest of $72 million and which has seen a number of smear campaigns launched against activists affiliated with the movement.
World War II and the Holocaust: An Unspeakable Truth, Israel’s Vested Interest in Fueling German Guilt
Normalization is a word commonly used in the context of current Israeli-German relations. Its meaning: not quite forgiving, nor forgetting, but moving on. Yet while its users support their claim by pointing at the hordes of Israelis moving to Berlin and the young Germans discovering Tel Aviv’s night life, the underlining truth is different. The so-called normalization would never spread from the streets and beach bars to the diplomatic level, by Israel’s own design.
The spokeswoman of the Israeli embassy in Berlin met a few months ago with a group of Israeli reporters. What was said in the room only they know, but according to Haaretz, she openly admitted that it’s in Israel’s interest to maintain German guilt about the Holocaust. Seeking full normalization of relations is not a goal, she allegedly stated during the closed briefing.
Both the spokeswoman and the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Jerusalem claimed the statements were inaccurate and taken out of context, but regardless, it’s hard to argue with their content.
Suggesting that Israel benefits from German guilt is, in many ways, stating the obvious. Guilt is the reason Germany is building submarines for Israel and selling them far below cost, guilt is the reason Berlin often avoids criticizing Israel even when its European partners strongly condemn the Jewish state, and guilt was the reason chancellor Angela Merkel unprecedentedly defined Israel’s security as part of Germany’s raison d’état. So why would Israel want to dry up the well from which it drinks?
This policy may not be officially dictated to Berlin’s Israeli embassy from Jerusalem, but in this regard, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is already leading by example. His routine comparison between Nazi Germany and Iran, Hamas, and most recently the BDS movement, are designed to do just that – address the guilty conscience of the international community, and especially its leaders.
His insistence on reusing this metaphor time and again is only proof of its effectiveness, as opposed to the nuclear duck metaphor, for example, which was mentioned only once. There’s no reason to change a broken record if it still plays. The collective Israeli memory of the Holocaust may prefer to emphasize the manifestations of Jewish heroism during the Third Reich, but politically, playing the victim serves Israel much better.
Especially at a time when Europe is turning increasingly against Israel, when leading European states like France and Sweden are championing the Palestinian statehood bid, and in Hungary and Greece anti-Semitism raises its ugly head, Israel needs to hold on to every friend it has – and there’s no stronger glue than guilt.
But the use of remorse as a political tool must remain unspoken. The editorials criticizing Netanyahu after every Nazi comparison aren’t motivated strictly by the boredom of journalists. The blatantly cynical use of the Holocaust memory doesn’t sit well with the victim persona Israel is interested in projecting. Therefore, it must remain a state secret: an open admission of Israel’s undiplomatic fondness of its allies’ sore spots is a sure fire way of drying up that well.
Polina Garaev is the i24news correspondent in Germany.