Natalia Gutman

How BDS in Germany comes from a well of antisemitism

Reichstag building in Berlin, seat of the Bundestag (Jewish News)
Reichstag building in Berlin, seat of the Bundestag (Jewish News)

As an on-campus Jewish representative and Israel advocate, I often hear from other student activists that BDS is not a campaign against the Jewish people, but rather the Israeli government and some prominent Israelis. If this is the case, then why are companies both big and small targeted? And how can this argument be upheld for academic BDS, which is a branch of the campaign that fixates on individual professors and students as well as universities? When these institutions are attacked, there are real-world consequences for the civilians that exist alongside and within their framework. It seems to me that most activists do not want to consider the small-scale and personal impact that the BDS modes and methods have, nor that in a Jewish state, these tactics are used against Jews, no matter what. It is therefore impossible to attack Israel without also attacking Israeli citizens.

Some important figures and bodies have recognised this fact, such as the German government, who made headlines last month with their historic declaration that BDS campaigns are, indeed, antisemitic. As the leading parliament in Europe to acknowledge the movement’s foundational partisanship, this resolution was adapted in the midst of increasing antisemitic attacks across the continent.

In December of 2018, for example, an appraisal of antisemitism discovered that almost half of Jews in twelve major European countries are worried about harassment in public, with more than a third fearing violence. The German government’s concern about these trends can be seen in the resolution’s comparison of the ‘Don’t Buy’ stickers to the Nazi slogan ‘don’t buy from Jews’, which puts forth the argument that BDS uses antisemitic tactics to fulfil its political goals, with added historical context. The anti-BDS declaration thus represents a crucial commitment to the Jewish people and their state.

Almost as if to prove these fears correct, since the motion condemning BDS was passed, neo-Nazi and far-right German parties have increased their support for the movement. For example, Die Rechte, whose chairwoman Ursula Haverbeck is serving a sentence for Holocaust denial, released an election poster before the recent EU parliament vote calling on German citizens to ‘Boycott Israel. Stop ethnic cleansing’.

In a more insidious vein, The Jewish Museum in Berlin has recently come under fire from the Central Council of Jews in Germany for their pro-BDS tweet endorsing an article to reverse last month’s motion – but again, this isn’t support isn’t new, nor are its motivations. In March, Peter Schäfer, the non-Jewish director of the museum, hosted a diplomat from the Islamic Republic of Iran, despite the regime’s genocidal antisemitism.

Schäfer has since resigned, and the staff person that sent out the tweet was fired, but it is unclear whether the museum still does not equate the Jewish State of Israel with the Jewish people.

Regardless, it is becoming more accepted that the BDS campaign’s methods and rhetoric come from a well of antisemitism.

The recent resolution was an important first-step, as the motion stipulated that it came into formation due to the Bundestag’s recognition of the imperative of combating antisemitism. The alliance of conservative, liberal, and Jewish student associations that adopted a corresponding condemnation of BDS on June 16th is likewise crucial.

It must be said that this mode of thinking does to equate to that of the entire German population. When the German commissioner on antisemitism, Felix Klein, made the remark that he ‘cannot advise Jews to wear the kippah’, it was a response to the exponential increase in anti-Jewish hatred and attacks.

As Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in response, though ‘We acknowledge and appreciate moral position of the German government, and its commitment to the Jewish community that lives there, but fears about the security of German Jews are a capitulation to anti-Semitism and an admittance that, again, Jews are not’.

This implies a dangerous disconnect between the German government and its populace regarding antisemitism, and one that seems to be growing in its political dissonance.

The institutions are perhaps more attuned to the distinction because of Germany’s past, as there is a more careful adherence to no-tolerance policies for hatred, in particular antisemitism.

This could contribute to the denormalisation of the BDS campaign and the endemic antisemitism that it perpetuates, regardless of the supposed intentions of the individual campaigners. On a societal level, however, Israel is still forced to perform the role of the political lightening rod, like the Jews have been for centuries.

About the Author
Natalia Gutman is a third-year Comparative Literature student at Queen Mary, and CAMERA on Campus UK Fellow and Coordinator.
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