Does Europe stand behind the BDS Movement?

Does Europe fund the BDS Movement?  The facts point in that direction. For example, even though the German government is officially opposed to the BDS Movement, it funds groups that are pro-BDS. 

Rachel Avraham

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Recently, the BDS Movement has been dominating headlines.  Several Israeli academics were barred from speaking at a South African conference titled “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: the Light and Shadow of Historic Trauma,” which sought to understand trans-generational trauma and to develop strategies to cope with the repercussions of genocide, colonial oppression and mass violence.  The European Association of Social Anthropologists decided to boycott Israeli academic institutions in Judea and Samaria.  

And now, after much negative press on Israel when Airbnb decided to remove 200 homes in Judea and Samaria from their rental website following intense pressure from the BDS Movement, Airbnb is now dialoguing with the Israeli government about re-instating those listings after being warned by members of the Illinois State Legislature that this policy could be breaking the law.  

Still, the question remains, does European money stand behind the BDS Movement?

According to NGO Monitor, Human Rights Watch, the UN Human Rights Council, the Jewish Voice for Peace, three Israeli NGOs and the Palestinian Authority stood behind Airbnb initially removing all listings in Jewish communities over the green line: “Airbnb faced an intensive multi-year attack and threats of being included in the forthcoming UN HRC “blacklist,” boycotts, and other forms of negative publicity.

Indeed, the company acknowledged that offering listings in 'West Bank settlements’ was not illegal, meaning that its decision was the result of political pressure.”

NGO Monitor reported that one of the Israeli organizations that partook in this campaign, Kerem Navot, is funded by the European Union, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (the funding arm of the far left Die Linke political party in Germany); Diakonia (Sweden) and Broederliik Delen (Belgium).  

In addition, Who Profits, another Israeli NGO that partook in this campaign, is funded by the Church of Sweden, Trocaire (Ireland), CCDF-Terre Solidaire (France), HEKS-EPER (Switzlerland), DanChurchAid, Diakonia (Sweden), Medico International (Germany), and Fagborbunut (Norway).  

British researcher Paul Bogdonor claimed that the Jerusalem Van Leer Institute has been taken over almost exclusively by anti-Zionists.  
Given this, NGO Monitor concluded that the European sources are one of the funders responsible for Airbnb risking facing legal issues for violating the local anti-BDS law.

Furthermore, before the European Association of Social Anthropologists declared that they would boycott Israeli institutions located in Judea and Samaria, they received an appeal from BGU academic Prof. Nir Avieli, urging them to adopt such a measure. 

Prof. Avieli has received EU funding in the past.  According to Prof. Avieli’s CV, he received a research grant from the Volswagen Fund, a German foundation, and in the past, he worked for the Jerusalem Van Leer Institute, which is funded by the European Union.   British researcher Paul Bogdonor claimed that the Jerusalem Van Leer Institute has been taken over almost exclusively by anti-Zionists.  

Israel Academia Monitor reported that the South African conference decided to withdraw the participation of several Israeli academics due to a plea made by PACBI, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and Kairos South Africa.   Kairos Palestine officials have cooperated with the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation in the Netherlands, which does receive EU funding.   Kairos South Africa is merely the South African chapter of Kairos Palestine.  

Given this, is it possible that the EU had an indirect role in this latest boycott initiative in South Africa as well?  

Dr. Heni Clemens, who heads the Berlin International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, had the following to state about how Germany, one of Israel’s strongest allies in Europe, views the State of Israel: “BDS is on the rise in Germany. While the German Parliament (the Bundestag) declares BDS is anti-Semitic, in an important resolution in January 2018 (signed by all parties, except for the right-wing extremist Alternative for Germany (AfD)), the cultural and scientific establishment is very troublingly rather pro-BDS. I would say, we have a small political elite in Germany that is pro-Israel and anti-BDS but the much bigger academic, cultural and NGO establishment is rather anti-Israel and pro-BDS.”  

It is critical to note that even though the German government is officially opposed to the BDS Movement, it still funds groups that are pro-BDS.   According to Dr. Clemens, the German government paid 20 million Euros (66% of the cost) in order to build the Barenboim-Said Academy in the heart of Berlin.   In addition, he claimed that they pay them around 6 million annually.   Dr. Clemens said that Said’s widow Mariam Said is a supporter of BDS and she sees the Barenboim West-Eastern Divan Orchestra as part of the International BDS Movement: “This makes the Barenboim-Said Academy one of the best funded anti-Israel institutions, despite the proclaimed anti-BDS stance of Monika Grutters, who is the Representative for Culture and Media in the German Government.   WEDO organized events with Judith Bulter and Cornel West, both known for their pro-BDS agitation.” 

Nor is the Barenboim-Said Academy the only example.  Last July, pro-BDS Palestinian scholar Sa'ed Atshan spoke at the Jewish Museum in Berlin about “Being Queer and Palestinian,” even though the museum receives funding from the German government.  After the Israeli Ambassador to Germany objected to his appearance, the pro-BDS event was relocated to the Institute for Cultural Inquiry. However, according to a recent report, this did not stop the Jewish Museum in Berlin from putting up an anti-Israel display, which led to the Israeli Ambassador recently calling up the German government to stop funding the Jewish Museum in Berlin. 

These examples are not mere exceptions but rather are indicative of a larger trend of both the EU and German government associated money reaching groups that support the BDS Movement.  Dr. Clemens claims that both the Die Linke political party in Germany and the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation, which is closely associated with the German Green Party, fund a number of anti-Israel groups.  Furthermore, according to NGO Monitor, 29 out of 100 EU grants that were granted towards organizations in Israel, Judea and Samaria and Gaza went to organizations that support the BDS Movement.    

Eytan Meir, the director of external relations at Im Tirtzu, proclaimed: “Rather than respecting the wishes of the Israeli public to determine their own policy at the ballot box, foreign governments are bypassing the democratic process by funding organizations that work to change the country from within. There is no parallel to this phenomenon in the democratic world and this is how we have a situation in which millions of European dollars pour into radical NGOs that work to promote the BDS movement.”

So how should the State of Israel respond to European funding for the BDS Movement?  Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, believes that education is Israel’s best response.  He has held a series of meetings in recent days in order to raise awareness about the problems created by the BDS Movement.  Together with the Druze and Christian community as well as the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council David Ohayan, he plans to make films, to host lectures and to give tours raising awareness about the BDS Movement.  He recently distributed information on how the BDS Movement mainly harms Palestinians at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva:

“Every Palestinian who works in Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria earns around $1,200 per month while the Palestinian minimum wage is $250 per month.   When a factory closes in Judea and Samaria, 80% of the workers are Palestinians and they lose their jobs, as was the case with Soda Stream.”   Through raising awareness, he hopes that the Europeans will direct their funding towards better purposes than NGOs that support the BDS Movement.    

Rachel Avraham is the President of the Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi Center for Human Rights in Middle East (under formation) and is a political analyst working for the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights.  She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media.”