Germany debates if BDS is anti-Semitic

The German Government opines BDS isn’t anti-Semitic, drawing criticism from many quarters.


The German government has recently stated that it has no knowledge of any anti-Semitic actions committed by the BDS movement, thereby opening itself to criticism. Even the opposition was split in its reaction, with some in the Green party condemning the decision, while others found it justifiable. “It’s not helpful to label an entire movement,” Stefan Liebich, an MP from the Left party, told i24news. “Some of what they do can be seen as anti-Semitic, but it would be too easy just to write off an entire movement.”

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“I don’t agree with it,” he emphasized, saying that the call to boycott Israel is inappropriate in Germany. He also affirmed that “the BDS movement here is very small and unimportant. It wouldn’t be wise to paint a picture of a big antisemitic movement. Not many people in Germany would agree with the idea of boycotting Israel, and the government’s decision to not label them as antisemits does not mean Germany has a problem.”

But the government’s decision wasn’t so well received across the board. “Those who say the BDS movement isn’t anti-Semitic just don’t want to look harder,” claimed MP Volker Beck of the Green party, who admitted to be stunned by the official stance. “This group isn’t just critical of Israel. You can hear in many of their statements that their target isn’t the occupation, rather the very existence of Israel.”

“Any criticism which blames Israel for being on the stronger side in this conflict is illegitimate,” he continued. “I think we have to criticize the occupation and the enlargement of settlements, but if you are questioning Israel’s right to exist or not seeing correctly its security challenges, that must be because its the homeland of the Jews, and that’s anti-Semitism.”

Recently more attention was drawn to the way Israel is criticized in Germany, following a video of the Israeli ambassador to Berlin Yakov Hadas-Handelsman reading aloud hate mail he received. The remarks ranged from claims Hitler was right to attacks on Israel’s policy regarding the Palestinians. “This is all anti-Semitism,” said the embassy in response, and the German politicians agree.

“These letters proved we have a problem with antisemitism in Germany. Of course it’s totally acceptable to say ‘I don’t like Netanyahu’s policy,’ but one must then explain why and the way that criticism was presented in unacceptable,” clarified Liebich, who previously criticized his own party members over their remarks concerning Israel. “Referring to the Jews in your criticism is the wrong way to go, especially considering the historical burden we carry.”

For some, that burden might seem like a reason to avoid criticizing Israel altogether, in the fear of coming across as antisemitic, but Liebich rejected this stereotype, as he described it. “All Germans have a right to criticize, but still – you have to be wise enough and be very specific with your remarks.” But aiming the criticism solely at the government isn’t always enough. “People often say, ‘I have nothing against Jews, I’m not denying the Holocaust, and therefore I can say what I want about Israel.’ That’s not true,” claimed Beck. “There is anti-Semitic anti-Zionism.”

And this sort of latent anti-Semitism isn’t denounced strongly enough, according to some Germans. “Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism must not be accepted, even though it often seems like it is,” wrote a supporter of Israel in a letter sent to the embassy after a solidarity campaign originated on Facebook. “Anti-Semitism is easy to recognize,” added Andreas Boldt, who initiated the campaign. “If people criticize the only democracy in the Middle East, and don’t do the same regarding other countries in the Middle East which are brutally oppressing their citizens, that’s anti-Semitism.”

Israel’s supporters don’t attribute this apparent double standard solely to marginalized critics.

“I think the attitude of some European politicians and the European public toward Israel isn’t fair sometimes,” admitted Beck. “We don’t judge any country as harshly as we do Israel. Morocco, for example, is occupying West Sahara and the European Union even has treaties with it concerning the mutual use of those territories.”

Nevertheless, he warned against crying wolf for political purposes. “I think that sometimes Netanyahu is playing the anti-Semitism card in a way which tries to get rid of any criticism of his personal policy. In my eyes, this is misusing the argument.”



Polina Garaev is i24news correspondent in Germany

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