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German BDS Movement Growing

Peace activists holds posters calling to boycott Israel.

Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

A prominent Roman Catholic NGO in Germany has called for a wide-ranging boycott of Israeli products.

The petition represents an expansion of the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel in Germany, where efforts by pro-Palestinian activists to delegitimize the Jewish state continue to pick up momentum.

The German branch of Pax Christi, which describes itself as an “international Catholic peace movement,” issued a press release dated May 22, in which it urged German consumers not to buy goods from Israel as long as it remains unclear whether they are produced in the “settlements” or in “Israel.”

A two-page flyer for the campaign, which uses the slogan “Occupation Tastes Bitter” (Besatzung schmeckt bitter), states: “Israeli settlements on occupied territory violate Article 49 of the Geneva Convention. Whoever contributes to the profitability of these settlements contributes to the violation of human rights.” The flyer also encourages German consumers to report “questionable” Israeli products on a website called www.lebensmittelklarheit.de .

Although Pax Christi claims it is not seeking a blanket boycott of Israeli products, the NGO’s use of vague and sweeping language, plus the fact that there are no special labels to distinguish products made in the so-called occupied territories, does make it a de facto boycott of everything made in Israel.

Pax Christi’s boycott campaign has received political backing from Albrecht Schröter, the Social Democratic mayor of the eastern German city of Jena in the state of Thuringia. A June 1 article in the local newspaperThüringische Landeszeitung quotes Schröter as saying his goal “is to demand mandatory labeling of goods from illegal Israeli settlements that occupy Palestinian territory.”

But critics have accused Schröter (and Pax Christi) of issuing one-sided statements against Israel, and of giving the false impression that Israel is a country that systematically disregards international law and human rights.

Others say the obsession with Israel while human rights are being systematically abused in Muslim countries such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia is a reflection of anti-Semitism.

For example, Kevin Zdiara of the Berlin-based German-Israel Friendship Society (DIG) says that Schröter’s arguments “in certain areas resemble anti-Zionist anti-Semitism” because his remarks meet Natan Sharansky’s 3-D test for modern anti-Semitism: demonization, double standards and delegitimization. Zdiara also equates the Pax Christi boycott with the Nazi-era slogan “Don’t Buy from Jews.”

Katharina König, a Left Party state representative in Thuringia and a Jena city councilwoman agrees. She says Schröter’s signature on the Pax Christi petition and his support for a boycott are “false and inappropriate” and that the boycott “has the same meaning as ‘Don’t Buy from Jews.’”

In any case, the BDS movement against Israel is growing in Germany.

For example, in an unprecedented victory for BDS activists, Deutsche Bahn, the German railway operator, recently announced that it would pull out of a project to build a high-speed rail line from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because the line would cut through six kilometers of disputed territory in the West Bank. Deutsche Bahn had been in charge of electricity and communications control on the project, but pro-Palestinian groups claimed the project violated international law.

German Transportation Minister Peter Ramsauer told Deutsche Bahn Director Rüdiger Grube the project was politically “problematic” and potentially in violation of international law. Ramsauer offered the following reason for terminating the project: “Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad Al-Malki, members of the German Parliament and media have criticized a project in which DB International is acting as adviser to Israel’s state-run railway.”

German BDS activists have also repeatedly pressed for Israel to be banned from participating in Berlin’s annualInternational Tourism Exchange (ITB), known throughout the world as the top trade show for the global tourism industry. And a group called Berlin Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (BAB) has pushed for a complete academic and cultural boycott of Israel. The group has boycotted Israeli film festivals and has German artists and musicians to refrain from performing in Israel.

In March 2012, BDS activists in Berlin targeted Galeria Kaufhof, a major retailer that sells products from Israel. Protests were also held at stores in BonnCologneHamburg and Heidelberg.

About the Author: The writer is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group, one of the oldest and most influential foreign policy think tanks in Spain.


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