Op-Ed: BDS Has Arrived in Germany: "Don't Buy from Jews".
Kevin ZdiaraThe writer is a doctoral candidate in philosophy, witing on the Jewish-American philospher Horace M. Kallen. He is a frequent contributor to the German blog "Die Achse des Guten" (www.achgut.com).
It seems as if the boycott, disinvestment and sanction movement has finally arrived in Germany and what is most troubling is that not enough people seem to care.
Last week, the German branch of Pax Christi, an organization closely tied to the Catholic Church, issued the call “Occupation Tastes Bitter” in which it urged consumers not to buy goods from Israel as long as it is unclear whether they are from the “settlements” or from what they term “Israel”.
Although the organization claims not to aim at an indiscriminate boycott of Israeli products, the lack of any special label for goods produced in the territories makes it a de facto boycott of everything made in Israel.
When a pro-boycott protest supported by the leftwing party Die Linke, was held in Bremen last year, the national media reported about it, mostly negatively, and it helped to spark a debate about the traditional anti-Zionism in the German left.
Adding to the negative publicity were also pictures of the protesters with posters around their necks demanding a boycott of Israeli products. Those images reminded everyone of Nazi thugs standing in front of Jewish shops during the 1930s.
Only one year later, however, a similar campaign launched by a Christian group is being met by the national media, the Catholic Church and the major parties mostly with indifference.
This has something to do with Pax Christi’s emphasis on the so-called “settlements”. The German government regards them as illegal and in German newspapers “settlers” are regularly portrayed as thugs and fanatics. Therefore, there is a strong anti-settlement sentiment among Germans, and even friends of Israel voice their concern about them.
for people like Schröter, the Jewish people are interesting as long as they are dead, like the murdered Jews of the Nazi era.
The Catholic NGO takes advantage of this atmosphere to make its boycott seem legitimate, although a closer look at its policy statement reveals its absolutely one-sided, anti-Israel direction.
One only finds accusations against the Jewish state, its alleged “violations of international law and human rights” - and the settlements are denounced as “a main obstacle for a just peace in the Middle East”. Neither Hamas rockets, nor Palestinian Authority obstructionism are even mentioned.
In this way, they present an Israel that is the arch-criminal in the Middle East, a scapegoat for everything that is bad in the region. By demonizing the Jewish state, Pax Christi clearly crosses the line into modern anti-Semitism.
Pax Christi managed to give its accusation an aura of legitimacy, but in particular, its origin in the Christian peace camp is what helps it in portraying itself as an objective player in the Middle East.
They have garnered support from Albrecht Schröter, the mayor of the city of Jena in the federal state of Thuringia. Schröter is a high-ranking member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Thuringia and he is the first elected public official of that major German party to publicly support such an anti-Israel campaign in German post-war history.
Schröter is the poster boy of anti-Israel Protestantism in Germany. Growing up in East Germany, he studied theology, worked as a Lutheran priest in Jena and at the end of the 1980s he was involved in the dissident movement in the socialist country. In the 1990s he entered politics and, in 2006, won the mayoral election in Jena. In 2011, Schröter was awarded a civil courage prize for his anti-Nazi activism in his city.
But there is also the dark, anti-Israel side of Schröter. Since the mid-nineties, he has travelled regularly to the West Bank, making contacts with Christians there, particularly in Beit Jala, which he helped make the twin city of Jena.
Moreover, Schröter has also been active in voicing pro-Palestinian positions and at times even participating in pro-Palestinian activities.
In 2008, already the mayor of Jena, he took part in an anti-Israel demonstration at the security barrier. One year later, in a presentation at a Christian festival, he compared the security fence to the Berlin Wall. In 2010, Schröter participated in a pro-Hamas conference in Bad Boll, Germany.
Last year, in Beit Jala, at the signing ceremony for the twin city agreement with Jena, there was a minute of silence for Palestinian “martyrs” which, Schröter claims, caught him completely off guard. Still this incident didn’t lead to a postponement of the cooperation with the Palestinian city, and neither did it change his mind on the Palestinian cause.
Therefore, his support for the anti-Israel boycott does not come as a surprise, but simply marks the logical next step in his activities to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state.
After the author of this article criticized Schröter for signing Pax Christi’s call, he answered with the usual excuses. He pointed towards alleged Israeli “injustice” towards Palestinians and the “illegality” of the settlements.
In his press statement, he wrote that he couldn’t remain silent anymore and thereby was using the same language as Günter Grass, the Nobel laureate who two months ago accused Israel, in a widely discussed poem, of seeking the destruction of the Iranian people.
In a move to thwart any criticism of his support for the boycott campaign, he ingenuously wrote that Jewish and Israeli friends have urged him to do something about the situation in the territories. He also cited his commitment to strengthening contemporary Jewish life in Germany as well as for the remembrance of the Shoah.
Those statements make it clear that for people like Schröter, the Jewish people are interesting as long as they are dead, like the murdered Jews of the Nazi era - or constitute, like the contemporary Jewish communities in Germany, a small and somewhat exotic minority.
Israel, on the other hand, represents the very antithesis of that, a vibrant, strong and self-confident Jewish state.
Yet, Schröter’s distorted view of Jews and Israel hasn’t faced any major criticism. Initially no local or national politician has spoken out against it; no anti-racism organization has voiced a repudiation of his words.
Sadly again, it was the duty of the vice-president of the Jewish community of Thuringia, Reinhard Schramm, who is also a member of Schröter’s SPD, to write an open letter condemning in strong words Schröter’s support for the boycott.
Schramm told the mayor of Jena: “Your call affects all Jewish families. They are included in your call for a boycott. Practically this means, ‘Don’t buy from Jews.’”
Ending the letter, he wrote in gloomy words: “I have always been socially involved beyond the Jewish context, but in this atmosphere which increasingly fosters an anti-Semitism that is very painful to us Jews, this becomes ever more difficult for me.”
The German-Israel Friendship Association of Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia, and the Association of Christians and Jews, joined with Mr Schramm and issued a statement condemning the mayor and calling him to retract his support for the boycott. But beyond that, it seems as if Albrecht Schröter won’t have to face any major criticism.
Worse, this campaign to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state could mark the beginning of a wave of calls for a boycott of Israeli products and of Israel itself.
One has to hope that all true friends of Israel in Germany read the writing on the wall and understand its meaning before it’s too late.