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Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

German bank shuts down account belonging to Jewish peace group

Bank für Sozialwirtschaft tells members of Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, which includes a number of Israelis, that its account has been closed due to their support for BDS.

Members of Jewish Voice for Peace at a demonstration in Seattle, October 2007. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Joe Mabel)

Members of Jewish Voice for Peace at a demonstration in Seattle, October 2007. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Joe Mabel)

Can a Jewish organization with Israeli members be considered anti-Semitic? Is it the job of a German bank to make that call? According to Bank für Sozialwirtschaft (Bank for Social Economy) the answer to those two questions is a resounding yes.

Six weeks ago members of the group Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, based in Germany, received a message from their bank that their account was being closed, without any additional explanations. The organization, which was founded as a local chapter of European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP), a federation of Jewish groups aimed at bringing about peace in the Middle East and ensuring human rights for Palestinians. (Full disclosure: Inna Michaeli, who serves on +972’s board, is also a member of the group.)

Only after the bank’s surprising decision to close the account did the organization’s board members discover an article published by Benjamin Weinthal that had been published earlier in the Jerusalem Post. Weinthal’s article described how various Jewish groups asked the bank to close Jewish Voice’s account, allegedly due to its support for the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. The bank provides services to various civil society groups, including a number of Jewish groups, such as the Jewish National Fund (JNF-KKL) in Germany (the Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany owns 0.7 percent of the bank’s stock). German law allows banks to shut down their clients’ accounts without explanation.

Following protests by Jewish Voice activists, supported by members of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, the bank agreed to meet with the organization. “We met with the head and spokesperson of the bank and explained to them that we are a Jewish organization with many Israeli members, and that we cannot be anti-Israel,” says Shir Hever, an Israeli who lives in Germany and serves on Jewish Voice’s board. “We said that our support for BDS is general, as a nonviolent campaign for human rights, and that we support actions directed at companies that directly profit from the occupation, and that even our platform includes support for two states.”

Alleged support for Hamas

The bank was unconvinced. On Tuesday the bank published a statement according to which the goal of the boycott is to “undermine the foundations of the State of Israel,” and that support for BDS violates the “acceptable rules of democratic dialogue.” The bank’s statement also included a quote by a German sociologist who called the boycott campaign “anti-Semitic.” The bank, which has a number of Jewish shareholders, believes in improving ties between Israel and Germany, and thus cannot allow itself to continue managing the organization’s account.

“That we as Jews and Israelis are accused by a German bank of opposing Israel’s right to exist is something we find outrageous,” wrote the group in a statement published on their website. The activists emphasized that alongside their general support for nonviolent resistance in the mold of BDS, the organization itself supports targeted boycotts on companies that directly profit from the occupation rather than a wholesale boycott of Israel.

A second article published by the Jerusalem Post accused the activists of taking part in a conference alongside members of Hamas. “This is a completely baseless accusation,” Hever told +972. “A member of our organization gave a speech at a conference of Palestinian organizations in Berlin, which also included Mustafa Barghouti [a member of the Palestinian parliament who is dedicated to nonviolence, h.m.].”

Jewish Voice activists are now organizing a public campaign against the bank’s decision. The organization describes the move as an attempt to silence criticism by a left-wing group against Israel’s policies in the occupied territories, viewing it as part of Germany’s importing of Netanyahu’s policies against left-wing NGOs. JV member Inna Michaeli recently published a piece on these pages describing the attempt by politicians and journalists (from the German Left) to try and pull public funding from a Palestinian cultural festival, reminiscent of Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev’s policies in Israel. Jewish Voice is now calling on their supporters to protest against the bank’s decision, and demand the account be re-opened.

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

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    COMMENTS

    1. R5

      “Can a Jewish organization with Israeli members be considered anti-Semitic?” You’re in luck here because the answer is very easy – yes. Yes, if you associate with an effort to economic cripple a State security apparatus that protects half of the world’s Jews from massacre and expulsion by Iran and its proxies, you are very much is anti-Semitic. If you wanted to boycott Estonia so that Russia can invade, you are anti-Estonian. If you want to boycott India until Pakistan can take it over you are anti-Indian. If you want to boycott Japan until China can invade you are anti-Japanese. Really, if you’re trying to take sovereignty away from a country of millions of people who need a State to protect them from mortal enemies, you are exhibiting prejudice against those people. Pretty simple stuff.

      Reply to Comment
      • Baal

        If I boycot Estonia, I’m maybe anti-estonian, but not anti-russian.orthodox, or whatever crap they’re worshiping.
        If I boycott Japan, I’m maybe anti-japan, but not anti-shinto or anti-zenbuddhism.
        Only if I boycott the colonialistic stat of Israel, I’m magically ant-jewish.
        The crude logic of a Hasbara-R2D2

        Reply to Comment
        • R5

          So as long as the Judaism is a nation and not a just religion, your argument fails? Ok cool.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            But this is the whole point. Japan does not call itself, and demand its neighbors call it, the Japanese-Shinto-Buddhist State. Estonia does not demand it be formally recognized as the “Estonian-White-Russian-Orthodox State.” What is constantly left out, on purpose, by the right wing propagandists, is what Israel means and intends and practices on the ground as we speak by “Jewish State.” I can guarantee you that if Israel truly meant and practiced what the English mean by “Anglican Church” or “Church of England” nobody, me included, would care. But we know, and you know, that that is utterly false, and so we know that you are deliberately being dishonest. You are disingenuous and you are playing dumb. End of discussion. This whole utterly dishonest nonsense is nicely exposed. Really, come up with more plausible hasbara.

            Reply to Comment
          • R5

            You are staggeringly ignorant about how Japan’s current policies are designed to preserve the ethnic purity of Japanese society. And once more – accusing a stranger who has no affiliation whatsoever with any Jewish, Israeli or Zionist organization of being an agent of ‘hasbara’ is plainly anti-Semitic. You should be ashamed, and +972 should ban you.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @R5: You have half a point. Yes, the Japanese are probably as racist as anyone on earth, in a quietly non-aggressive way (these days). I wouldn’t hold them up as a model. But they are also not occupying anyone (since 1945) and they are certainly not, with hidden motives, aggressively demanding their neighbors recognize them as a Japanese-Shinto-Buddhist State. They are an ancient island nation, not a nation formed less than 70 years ago in complex circumstances; they are not a nation with 25% of their population being indigenous and non-Japanese. (Imagine that as a thought exercise.) I think the Japanese lack of forthright public apology and full restitution for their behaviors in WWII, including, among many other atrocities, their treatment of Korean sex-slaves, is atrocious, totally unacceptable. I’ve said it many times. I do not look to the Japanese as a model for a modern state or as a moral guidepost. If you are looking to the Japanese as such a model, that certainly is interesting. “You are staggeringly ignorant about how Japan’s current policies are designed to preserve the ethnic purity of Japanese society.” I do understand that Jewish ethnic purity is your goal. But see the differences between Japan’s *behavior* and Israel’s *behavior*, noted above. In fact, the idea of Japan, island nation, its borders defined and settled, ethnically homogeneous, as a model for Israel….well the absurdities multiply. It is instructive. And now what about those Estonian-White-Orthodox-Russians? You didn’t mention them.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Now, on “hasbara.” “Hasbara” has long since fallen into use as a generic term for Israeli-government-favoring propaganda on the I-P issue practiced by anyone anywhere. I certainly meant it as such. The idea never occurred to me that I was implying you are a “secret agent” for god’s sake. Unbelievable. It takes the cake for you to use even this, even my use of this ordinary term used thousands of times on this site by many people, to aggressively anti-Semitize me. You are the one who ought to be ashamed, R5. Or at least embarrassed. Ban me? Ban me for using the word “hasbara”? (And not ban the likes of some of these extremist right wing visitors here with their aggressively denigrating language?) You have got to be kidding me, R5. Read this:

            “The Israeli government encourages all citizens to actively engage in Hasbara. Recently, it even distributed brochures with talking points to all Israelis traveling abroad…. Israelis are asked to engage in politically-oriented conversations with their hosts and contacts abroad.“
            http://972mag.com/hasbara-why-does-the-world-fail-to-understand-us/27551/

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Baal put it pretty well. R5 responded by saying “So as long as the Judaism is a nation and not a just religion, your argument fails? Ok cool.” But this is the whole point. Japan does not call itself, and demand its neighbors call it, the Japanese-Shinto-Buddhist State. Estonia does not demand it be formally recognized as the “Estonian-White-Russian-Orthodox State.” Nor do these states enact a whole regime of discrimination tied to these (non-existent) demands. What is constantly left out, on purpose, by the right wing propagandists, is what Israel means and intends and practices on the ground as we speak by “Jewish State.” I can guarantee you that if Israel truly meant and practiced what the English mean by “Anglican Church” or “Church of England” nobody, me included, would care. But we know, and you know, that that is utterly false. You are disingenuous and you are playing dumb. End of discussion. This whole utterly dishonest nonsense is nicely exposed. Really, come up with more plausible hasbara.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “Japan does not call itself, and demand its neighbors call it, the Japanese-Shinto-Buddhist State.”

            Benny with his apples and oranges comparison again.

            Tell me Benny, are you aware of something of which no one else is aware of? Have any of Japan’s neighbors ever insisted that the Japanese-Shinto-Buddhist State has NO RIGHT TO EXIST and then attacked Japan in order to attempt to eradicate Japanese society? OF COURSE NOT! Therefore Japan’s neighbors have no need to demonstrate that they gave up such ideas BY RECOGNISING the Japanese-Shinto-Buddhist State.

            Contrast that to Palestinian Arabs who tried to prevent the Jewish state from coming to existence by making war on it for many years. Therefore, in order to signify that they are willing to end the war to eradicate the Jewish state, they need to show that they are willing to recognise the Jewish state in exchange for which the occupation can end.

            This has been explained to you many times Benny. So stop feigning ignorance about it. Then again, please do. It just gives me the chance to show others who don’t know, Israel’s perspective. Thank you Ben for giving me the opportunity.

            Have a nice day.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Average American

      This is interesting. Part owner of Bank für Sozialwirtschaft is Central Welfare Office of Jews in Germany (ZWST). This was headed by Heinz Galinski, an prominent Zionist. Yet
      Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, the daughter of Heinz Galinski, is an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies and political tactics. She is a member of another pro-BDS organization European Jews for a Just Peace. She believes as do many people who posess eyes and a brain that comparisons of Zionism to Aryanism are completely and obviously valid. She believes that ZWST is just a mouthpiece of the Israeli government in Germany, which is apparently accurate since it cut off an organization that conflicts with the Israeli government’s desires and plans. The Israeli government’s desires and plans are the same as Zionism, on which Israel was founded, which are to annex most of the Middle East into an ethnic Jewish State through territorial aggression. Hey, that’s another obvious comparison. Hopefully it’s possible for Jewish Voice to find a bank that is not under the thumb of Zionism.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        http://www.israeltoday.co.il/NewsItem/tabid/178/nid/29826/Default.aspx

        A new Facebook page for Arab supporters of Israel has attracted about 20,000 followers. The page, which shares content in English, Arabic, and Hebrew, was founded by a religious Jewish woman and an Arab man. It posts examples of Israel treating Arabs and Muslims with kindness and shares surprising Arab support for Israel from across the Middle East, including Tunisians who created an Israeli flag after being unable to buy one, and who have faced threats for their views.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          In the recent past I read two articles in Israeli newspapers about two Israelis who set up blogs in the Arabic language to send out Israel’s message to the Arabic speaking world. Although they both admit they get a lot of hate messages, they were surprised to see how many Arabs are curious about Israel and Judaism and even express friendship for Israel. Some even say they want to join the IDF. These Arabs live in all the Arab countries.
          This doesn’t surprise me. Many Arabs know their political and that many of their religious leaders have been lying to them over the generations about Jews and Zionism. Without any real knowledge about Israel, they think to themselves “well, if they say Judaism and Zionism are bad, there must be something good about them!”. No doubt, Israel’s success in developing itself as compared to the miserable failure of the Arab world in the economic, social, military and political realms opens many Arab eyes as well.

          Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      Regarding Haggai’s initial question, yes, a Jew and an Israeli can be an antisemite. There is nothing new about this phenomenon. If someone thinks that Judaism as a religion and the Jews as a nation with a distinct identity must be eradicated, that is antisemitism, whether that one is a Jew or a non-Jew. There have unfortunately been too many examples in history. A good example was the “Yevsektsia” which was the Jewish branch of the Soviet Communist Party. Jews set up that organization in order to eradicate all Jewish religious observance and Zionist activity. Members would spy on other Jews and then report them to the authorities.
      No doubt they convinced themselves that they were “idealists” committed to the Bolshevik Revolution. The irony is that Stalin had most of its leadership liquidated. To him a Jew was a Jew was a Jew no matter how much he may have tried to deny it. This current batch of Jewish and Israeli BDS’ers will be committed to the dustbin of history just as the Yevsetksia and all the other Jews who fought against their people did.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “If someone thinks that Judaism as a religion and the Jews as a nation with a distinct identity must be eradicated, that is antisemitism, whether that one is a Jew or a non-Jew.”

        Aaaand…that has what to do with these good folks?:

        “That we as Jews and Israelis are accused by a German bank of opposing Israel’s right to exist is something we find outrageous,” wrote the group in a statement published on their website. The activists emphasized that alongside their general support for nonviolent resistance in the mold of BDS, the organization itself supports targeted boycotts on companies that directly profit from the occupation rather than a wholesale boycott of Israel.

        Reply to Comment
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