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German bank to determine whether Jewish peace group is anti-Semitic

Bank für Sozialwirtschaft says it will conduct a ‘scientific review’ of Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East after the group was accused anti-Semitism by a leading Jewish organization over its support for the BDS movement.

Activists from the 'International Block', hold a BDS sign, during the annual May Day demonstration, Berlin, Germany, May 1, 2017. (Activestills.org)

Activists from the ‘International Block’, hold a BDS sign, during the annual May Day demonstration, Berlin, Germany, May 1, 2017. (Activestills.org)

A German bank is trying to determine whether a German-Jewish group that supports Palestinian rights is anti-Semitic.

In December of last year, Bank für Sozialwirtschaft (Bank for Social Economy) said it would conduct a “scientific review” of German-Jewish group Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East after the latter was accused of anti-Semitism by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, one of the most well-known Jewish human rights organizations, placed the group at number seven in its annual “Top 10 Most anti-Semitic Incidents List” over its support for the BDS movement.

The list, published late last year, includes the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the appearance of swastikas across university campuses in the U.S. It also lists Bank für Sozialwirtschaft for providing services to Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, which operates in Germany. The bank decided to appoint an expert on anti-Semitism to determine whether the Jewish organization is in fact anti-Semitic.

The pressure on both Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East and Bank für Sozialwirtschaft, began in 2016, after the Jerusalem Post published an article on several Jewish German groups that had demanded the bank shut down the organization’s account over the latter’s support for BDS. The bank gave in and the account was shut down — the first time a German bank had shut down a Jewish organization’s account since the fall of the Nazi regime — only to be re-opened in 2017.



The pressure from pro-Israel groups, however, did not cease.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list includes not only anti-Semitic incidents, but also organizations, figures, and political decisions — including Airbnb’s decision to pull listings in West Bank settlements, UNRWA’s activities in the Gaza Strip, and UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. According to the list, Bank für Sozialwirtschaft earned the number seven spot because it “insists on doing business with the radical ‘Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East,’ which strongly endorses boycotting the Jewish state.”

Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, which consists of a few dozen members, was first established in the early 2000s. All members of the group are volunteers; some of them are German-Jews, while others are Israelis who now live in Germany.

The pressure worked. Following the publishing of the list, Bank für Sozialwirtschaft pledged to carry out a “scientific review” to determine whether the Wiesenthal Center’s claims are true. To do so, the bank appointed Juliane Wezel, a German historian from the Centre for Research on Antisemitism, to investigate the matter and submit an expert “scientific” opinion. The results are expected to be published in March.

A statement published by Bank für Sozialwirtschaft, which has been under criticism from both the right and the left, laid out the sensitivity of the current situation: “During the discussion on hosting the Jewish Voice bank account, we realized that we were in a lose-lose situation. Both shutting down as well as the opening of the account have brought renewed accusations of anti-Semitism.”

“We know that no matter what we decide, we will be forced to deal with accusations of anti-Semitism. This is regrettable, and we hope to contribute to a fact-based discussion with a scientific assessment of the issue,” the bank concluded.

The bank says Westel’s review will be conducted according to the working definition of anti-Semitism as laid out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental organization founded in 1998. The definition, which was formulated in 2016 and has recently been at the center of controversy, is made up of 11 guidelines — four of which are directly related to criticism of Israel.

<p>Protesters carry Palestinian flags during a Black Lives Matter protest march, Berlin, Germany, June 29, 2018. (Activestills.org)

Protesters carry Palestinian flags during a Black Lives Matter protest march, Berlin, Germany, June 29, 2018. (Activestills.org)

“The [anti-Semitism] definition has been manipulated by Israel,” says Iris Hefets, a former Israeli and member of Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East. “They want to turn anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism.”

While Bank für Sozialwirtschaft has no qualms shutting down a bank account of an organization dedicated to human rights and peace, it maintains an account for the German branch of the Jewish National Fund, an organization that is complicit in the removal of Bedouins from their land in the Negev-Naqab Desert in southern Israel. Recently, the branch moved its account to a different bank.

Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East has roundly rejected the bank’s decision. “They are looking into whether the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are anti-Semites,” says Hefets. “The review is illegitimate because it uses a definition designed to protect us as Jews against anti-Semitism, which is now directed at the minority group it is supposed to defend.”

In some areas of Germany, says Hefets, the far-right won over 20 percent of the vote in the last elections, asylum seekers are murdered by right-wing terrorists, and there is a general sense that the state is doing little to protect minorities. “In this kind of atmosphere, it is absurd to choose a Jewish group that deals with human rights and determine whether it is anti-Semitic.”

In mid-January, more than 90 renowned Jewish scholars and intellectuals — including Noam Chomsky, Eva Illouz, and Judith Butler — signed an open letter condemning the attacks against Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East and demanding the bank stop conducting its review: “We call upon the members of German civil society to fight antisemitism relentlessly while maintaining a clear distinction between criticism of the state of Israel, harsh as it may be, and antisemitism, and to preserve free speech for those who reject Israeli repression against the Palestinian people and insist that it comes to an end.”

“We are signed on to the BDS call as laid out by Palestinian civil society, to which we offer our solidarity,” she continues. “We are glad to see a change in the Palestinian struggle, which supports using nonviolence as a way of pushing Israeli Jews to bring about change.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. itshak Gordine

      Even the French government has said that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

      Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          Unfortunately, there have always been Jewish traitors and kapos. They disappeared in the dustbins of History

          Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            @Itshak: I’m having trouble telling the good from the bad Jews, can you help me? I’d like your opinion on this guy Yehuda Shaul – he’s with Breaking the Silence, he’s been on speaking tours in the U.S.:

            If you watch his videos – they’re all over Youtube – he often says very clearly: I’m a Jew, my home is Israel, I’m not leaving, I don’t care what you think. Then he turns around and talks about the brutality of the Occupation and how it’s gone too far. What’s the verdict: good Jew, bad kapo Jew…?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            Just like Goering, Israeli Jews get to decide who is a “real” Jew. What a nice system you and your countrymen have got worked out. How does it make you feel to know how alone you are, among the world’s Jews, in your beliefs?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “there have always been Jewish traitors and kapos”

            What a stupid, knee-jerk slogan. What a misguided and brutal, but all too typical, milking of the Holocaust. What fake victimology. What slander. Exceedingly poorly thought out, cynical and manipulative. Really, you think shame would stay people like this.

            Tell us, Itshak , is Yehuda Shaul a “kapo”? I wager he and his fellow soldiers in Breaking the Silence have more strength, character and integrity than you and your Eli Ben Dahan Brigades could ever dream of having. Moron.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “It’s not that the extreme, religious right has gotten closer to Netanyahu, but Netanyahu has become the face of the extreme right. Netanyahu likes to be compared to Churchill, but a comparison to an early Slobodan Milosevic is more appropriate.
        In his early years, Milosevic wasn’t considered extreme, but he gave free reign for extreme movements in Serbia for his own cynical reasons, until he identified a moment of crisis and propelled one of the twentieth century’s most brutal regimes.”
        “How can there be so much discussion of “Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism” when Israel’s prime minister invites anti-Semites to dinner….?

        Reply to Comment
    2. Rafa Santisteban

      “We know that no matter what we decide, we will be forced to deal with accusations of anti-Semitism.”

      So true. These antisemitic campaigns have to be fought. The choice is clear: you can be either pro-Israeli-occupation and antisemitic or anti-Israeli-occupation and antisemitic. Whatever your position on the M.E., you’re antisemitic. If you’re Jewish, you are by present definition antisemitic.

      Obviously this antisemitic nonsense is an attempt to repress free speech, because Israel has no defense of its military occupation of 5 million people. They can argue about everything else, but no one has ever presented a defense of that.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Larry Saltzman

      Why bother with this phony investigation. You are going take away the accounts of a Jewish group because their stance is uncomfortable for defenders of Israeli crimes against humanity. In many ways Germany has been complicit in the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine because of misplaced guilt over it’s actions in World War II. This is no way to atone for the Holocaust by helping out with another Holocaust.

      Reply to Comment
      • itshak Gordine

        What holocaust against “Palestinian” Arabs? Do you have pictures of gas chambers? What is the number of daily victims of this “Holocaust”? How is it that the victims of this “Holocaust” come to work in Israel? How is it that we see so many on Friday morning in shopping centers and fashionable cafes in Jerusalem? They laugh, do not look unhappy and are rather fat.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Itshak Gordine Ha-Levy, people like you are responsible for the ugly distortion of Jewish culture in the early 21st century.

          “The current situation, in which important voices are eulogizing Israeli democracy and viewing Judaism as little more than a fading ethnic phenomenon, in the best case, and as a license to apartheid, in the worst case, betokens the crisis that has already struck us: the ugly distortion of Jewish culture in the early 21st century…
          When our best friends, the countries with which we like to boast that we “share values,” increasingly perceive Israel’s Judaism as an antithesis to the state’s democratic character and a threat to the liberal approach and equality of rights to which Israel committed itself in its Declaration of Independence – it appears that we are closer than ever to having the Jewish tradition relegated to the abhorrent status of Communism in the past and of Salafi Islam in the present. We are witnessing Judaism being tarred-and-feathered, and the charges will stick to it more than any anti-Semitic calumny in the past, simply because this time no blood libel will be involved….
          the Western world is becoming used to thinking that Judaism is tyranny…
          The debacle here is above all cultural: It concerns the failure of Israeli society to forge a Judaism that is substantively democratic, a Judaism that self-evidently does not contradict democracy but, on the contrary, buttresses it. Instead, Judaism is being shaped as a violent ethnic identity, a Spartan religion of a nation of masters, an atavistic, nationalist entity, which instead of conducting a dialogue with modernity is choosing to divest itself of liberal traits it had already internalized, including some that were always ingrained in it…
          This cultural debacle will become a historical disaster if, heaven forbid, Israel truly becomes exclusively “Jewish” in the future. Democracy will obviously suffer in that case, and along with it the population between the Jordan and the sea. A terrible period will ensue, but as with every past tyranny, this one, too, will collapse. When that happens, the true tragedy will be revealed: It will emerge that for the whole world, Judaism has become synonymous with apartheid and occupation, violence and oppression, despotism and subjugation.
          Judaism has survived many disasters. This is one disaster it will not survive.”

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “…If the Knesset had done its job as an enlightened legislative body, there would have been no need to wage a battle over the state’s character as if it had been established just yesterday.

            Another aspect of this early failure is the fact that the founders made laws for themselves, not for human beings as such. They never imagined that the Feiglins and Elkins would have ruling power in the most persecuted nation in modern history. Their great foe was Jabotinsky, whom Ben-Gurion and Katznelson knew, and against whom they fought for power and for the means to achieve their common goal, but not for the goal itself.

            Even in the second generation, that of Menachem Begin and his comrades in the underground, the type of politicians such as Naftali Bennett, Uri Ariel, Miri Regev and Ayelet Shaked would not have existed because the occupation and the settlements that created them did not exist at the time.

            No one ever envisioned the actual possibility that power would fall one day into the hands of people with the demeanor of masters, for whom the oppression of another nation was second nature. Who ever imagined that the Jewish community might one day turn into a colonialist entity and lay the foundations of an apartheid regime as a permanent condition, and would want to engrave that shame in its law books on top of that?

            The gravediggers of liberty and equality of our time are dragging Israel down toward the violent and fanatic Third World that surrounds us. The politicians of the centrist parties would do well to draw their own conclusions as the election approaches, and use all the energy and honesty that they still have to prevent the disasters that are on their way.”


            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            ‘The question of Jerusalem illustrates best the enormous difference between historical Zionism and the ideology that has replaced it. Jerusalem contains the holy places of three world religions, and elementary prudence if not basic tolerance should have prevented declarations according to which Jerusalem was to remain forever undivided under Israeli rule. It was in any case an empty declaration, for in actual fact Jerusalem is of course a divided city. When Herzl first visited Jerusalem he saw only the musty deposits of two thousand years of inhumanity, intolerance, and impurity; he perceived superstition and fanaticism on all sides. It was not surprising that he suggested Haifa as the capital of the new Jewish state. But it was not only Herzl, the assimilated Jew, who reacted in this unsentimental manner. Chaim Weizmann always feared becoming involved in the Jerusalem imbroglio. And because their emotional attachment to the city was not overwhelming, David Ben Gurion and other leaders of the second aliya did not visit Jerusalem for the first time until two or three years after their arrival in the country. For many years not a single pre-state Zionist leader chose to live in Jerusalem. For them, Jerusalem symbolized the negative past of Jewish history, that part of the tradition from which they wanted to disassociate themselves. The idea that Jerusalem was the beginning and the end of Zionism, that Israel could not exist without having full sovereignty over the entire city, emerged only after 1967 and with the growth of a religious fanaticism and aggressive nationalism that had more in common with the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood than the founding fathers of Zionism. And so, guarding the holy sites has become a nightmare and Jerusalem itself has become a dangerous flashpoint. The insanity of a few religious fanatics—Jewish, Muslim, or Christian—has the potential for transforming a local conflict into a religious war with incalculable consequences.’
            –Walter Laquer in “A History of Zionism”, p. 13

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Larry Saltzman is correct in every word he chose except the last one. One should not throw the term “Holocaust” around like this. Ha-Levy capitalized on this single error to run 100 light years in the other direction and say, in effect, “Occupation, what occupation? What’s the problem? Everybody is fat and happy down here on Occupation Farm. Never mind the gruesome statistics on the B’Tselem site Bruce links to. Nothing to see here folks. Move right along.”

        It’s very smugly offensive.

        Replace Saltzman’s last word with “brutal 50-year dispossession and subjugation of another people in the service of land theft and idol worship and the ugly distortion of Judaism in the 21st century” and you have an accurate comment.

        However, when you think about it Itshak Gordine (Ha-Levy) rises to new levels of dim-witted hypocrisy here (you wouldn’t think it possible) because he just got done with a fake, cynical milking the Holocaust for all its worth with his employment of the exceedingly offensive, stupid phrase, “Jewish traitors and kapos.” And yet has the chutzpah to lecture others on what is the Holocaust.

        As I’ve told you before, Halevy, when you pull stuff like this one no longer feels sorry for you because your real nature comes to the fore and one realizes what smug, small-minded supremacists one is dealing with underneath the stupid slogans of the national religious. And that you are not alone by a long shot but merely average. That, you represent the dull, smug narcissistic nastiness that underlies the whole ruthless “settlement enterprise” and that fuels, for example, it’s vicious “hilltop youths.” Youths who act with the utter impunity they know the state will afford them at every turn.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Average American

      I’m curious how Simon Wiesenthal Center and Several German Jewish Groups forced a bank to close an account. By what authority or power? Are SWC and SGJG majority stockholders in the bank? Are SWC or SGJG members of the board of directors? Did SWC and SGJG gather the stockholders to vote to close the account?

      Reply to Comment