On Friday, Germany’s Bundestag voted to brand support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) as anti-Semitic in response to a motion submitted by the Christian Democratic Party, the Greens and the Free Democrats. The resolution cited stickers urging consumers not to buy Israeli goods and appeals to blacklist Israeli artists as echoing Germany’s dark Second World War history.
One deluded lawmaker claimed the movement’s campaigns are influenced by Nazi propaganda. “We hopefully remember the many hate-filled images from the Third Reich, where one could see signs with the writing, ‘Germans don’t buy from Jews’, a first step on the way to genocide,” he said.
Several others showed concern that the success of Eurovision Song Contest, reluctantly held in Tel Aviv’s Expo Centre because of its organiser’s refusal of an occupied Jerusalem venue, had been undermined by BDS campaigns.
In that case should one assume that Israelis who attended a pro-Palestinian protest rally outside the event are anti-Semites in Berlin’s book? Can the same be said for the Jewish Voice for Peace Community that lends it support to BDS and similar campaigns “to secure a common future where Palestinians, Israeli Jews and all the people of Israel/Palestine may live with dignity, security and peace?”
Last year, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, 39 Jewish groups around the world penned a letter in support of BDS. According to Germany’s branding, all members of those groups must be self-hating anti-Semites.
Likewise, the Jewish Israeli actor and director Itay Tiran has fiercely declared his support for the movement saying it is a legitimate form of resistance. In 2010, he signed an open letter asking actors to reject a performance at a cultural centre in an Israeli colony on the West Bank. More recently, he outlined his reasoning. “If the nation-state law is a reference point from which you calculate where Israeli society is, then clearly it’s a racist, non-egalitarian law, another step in the nationalist shift taking place here.”
What is Germany trying to prove and what does this measure say about democratic values, in particular free speech in Europe’s most influential democracy? Try as it might, the past is the past and cannot be whitewashed with the passing of resolutions to the detriment of Palestinian supporters highlighting Israel’s oppression of an occupied people.
German parliamentarians should be more worried about the rise of neo-Nazis and the growing popularity of the racist far right-wing National Party of Germany (NDP) founded as a successor to the German Reich Party that has succeeded in winning town hall seats in the eastern part of the country. Oddly, although the Constitutional Court recognises the party’s resemblance to the Nazis it has ruled against a ban.
The NDP is a legitimate threat to Germany in an era where far-right parties are gaining traction in several European countries but little is being done to stop its march. Conversely, people who protest against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians by choosing to avoid Israel’s entertainment and artistic events while excluding products from illegal West Bank colonies from their shopping baskets are being slandered.
I can only conclude the Bundestag’s resolution on BDS as a grand show designed to impress Benjamin Netanyahu. It goes without saying that the Israeli prime minister is delighted, tweeting, “I hope that this decision will bring about concrete steps and I call upon other countries to adopt similar legislation.”
He may get his way. I wouldn’t be surprised if the US Congress complies. This month, the State Department issued a report to Congress asserting criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic in response to a Tel Aviv university study that found anti-Semitic incidents are increasing worldwide.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May has praised Israel’s “thriving democracy” and characterised the BDS movement as “wrong”.
“Our focus is just the opposite,” she said. We are “taking our trading and investing relationship with Israel to the next level.”
Sure, the UK will need all the trading partners it can dig up if and when it quits the EU.
Contrast the above attitudes towards BDS with the South African anti-apartheid movement that was widely acclaimed for promoting awareness of non-white subjugation and was the driver behind the collapse of the apartheid government.
Conflating Jews with Israeli government policies is not only wrong but insulting. Jewish people sometimes quip ‘Where you have two Jews, you get three opinions.” In fact, many American Jews are distancing themselves from Israel, writes New York Times deputy editor Jonathan Weisman under the heading “American Jews and Israeli Jews are heading for a messy break-up”.
Jewish people around the world do not necessarily condone Israel’s crimes against Palestinians and the same goes for Jewish Israelis.
The bottom line is this. Anti-Semitism is a form of racism/bigotry and should be condemned. But the freedom to shine a light on injustice through boycotts or any other peaceful method has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and that right should be upheld.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.