The German branch of the Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal – the prominent Israeli public fund-raising global organization to advance the security of the Jewish state – has closed its account with the Cologne-based Bank for Social Economy (Bank für Sozialwirtschaft) because the financial institution refuses to shut down a bank account belonging to the hardcore anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace in the Middle East.
“There must be no free pass for antisemitism and hatred of Israel in Germany,” said Sammy Endzweig, the chairman of Keren Hayesod in Germany, in a statement explaining the account closure. “And only because an organization is labeled ‘Jewish’ and partly founded by Jewish people does not mean that this is the view of the Jewish community in Germany and has distanced itself from the goals of the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] movement.”
Keren Hayesod’s rejection of the bank’s anti-Israel activity deals a severe blow to the bank’s reputation and financial health. The Bank for Social Economy has been engulfed in a widening antisemitism row since it re-opened an account with the anti-Israel Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East in April 2017.
The Germany-based Jewish Voice for Peace in the Middle East organization energetically promotes the BDS campaign targeting the Jewish state. The Jerusalem Post first revealed the bank’s Jewish Voice account in 2016, prompting the bank to terminate the account with the anti-Israel group.
“We cannot and will not silently watch,” said Endzweig, referring to the bank’s enabling of Jewish Voice to launch economic warfare on Israel.
“We as a pro-Israel organization, which raises money for social projects in Israel, decided after an intensive exchange with the bank to close our account with the Bank for Social Economy,” he said, adding that Keren Hayesod took its action to shut its account “after the bank reopened the account of the Jewish Voice association and retains a business relationship” with the anti-Israel group.
In a highly-detailed press statement published on Keren Hayesod’s website, the organization said BDS is antisemitic and that Jewish Voice pledged to support the BDS movement and has deceived the public about its activity.
Keren Hayesod cited Dr. Felix Klein, the federal government ‘s commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Antisemitism, who termed the goals of BDS “antisemitic.”
Klein told the Post in May that the Bank for Social Economy should boot out its pro-BDS business.
Keren Hayesod wrote that the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a political think tank affiliated with the Free Democratic Party in Germany, concluded in a study the BDS movement is “anti-Israel” and “totalitarian.”
Keren Hayesod added that Jewish Voice acknowledges in its bylaws and published statements that it supports the BDS movement.
The pro-Israel organization flatly stated it does not believe the explanation provided by Jewish Voice to the bank that it merely wants an end to Israel’s alleged occupation of disputed territories and is not against the existence of the Jewish state.
“We hold this statement to be untrue because the association is still committed, in its bylaws, to the BDS movement,” Endzweig said.
“Jewish Voice works with a number of empty phrases that aim to mislead from its actual intentions. Whoever supports BDS embraces their goals and principles.”
Critics have pointed out the contradiction that the Bank for Social Economy claims its dedicated to “reconciliation between Germany and Israel” but enables a BDS entity to destabilize and delegitimize Israel’s economy and existence.
“For us, it is not understandable why the Bank for Social Economy sticks with Jewish Voice,” said Endzweig, adding that “the bank’s arguments [to reopen Jewish Voice’s account] did not convince us. The closure of the account was unanimously decided by the executive committee.”
When asked by the Post about Keren Hayesod’s decision, Stephanie Rüth, a spokeswoman for the bank for Social Economy, responded: “The Bank for Social Economy directly exchanged views with Keren Hayesod Germany. We will not, however, comment on this publicly.”
Rüth said the bank’s position is known. In a March statement, the bank said it rejected BDS.
“The Bank for Social Economy rejects any form of antisemitism, but we nevertheless accept that there are widely diverging views on the Middle East conflict and the relationship between the Palestinians and the State of Israel. Underpinning this approach is the principle of freedom of expression, which in the light of German history we consider especially important.”
Endzweig and Keren Hayesod were roundly praised for establishing a red line that should not be crossed in the fight against antisemitism in Germany.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper told the Post “We applaud the thoughtful and correct decision” of Keren Hayesod to close its bank account.
A veteran Israeli diplomat told the Post that the decision was “beautiful.”
Dr. Elvira Grözinger, from the German branch of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told the Post “Super! I am glad that Sammy drew a line.”
Malca Godstein-Wolf, an activist who organized the cancellation of the pro-BDS singer Roger Waters’s appearances on German television, wrote: “That’s right!” and added that bank chairman Professor Harald Schmitz “courts Jew-haters and snubs honest customers! What a shame!”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan demanded the German bank close its Jewish Voice account in February.
“As minister of strategic affairs, I am leading an international campaign to defend Israel from the BDS movement’s hateful attacks against Israel’s right to exist. I call on the Bank for Social Economy to join the many German institutions, leaders and citizens who are uniting to reject the discriminatory and antisemitic boycott movement against Israel,” Erdan told the Post.
Keren Hayesod said in its statement that “whoever really wants to work for a better situation for the Palestinians can criticize the living conditions of the people administered by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
“There is neither freedom of expression nor free or regular elections, no independent parties, no equal rights, no right to assembly, no independent justice system, no religious freedom and no respect for basic rights. The association Jewish Voice never comments on these circumstances.”
The pro-Israel group said the Bank for Social Economy is the only bank in Germany that provides an account to Jewish Voice, adding that other financial institutions have rejected business with BDS-affiliated organizations.
Keren Hayesod further noted that the city of Frankfurt announced earlier this year that it will not commence business with banks that work with BDS groups. The municipalities of Frankfurt, Berlin and Munich also passed legislation or initiatives to not provide space to BDS groups.
Keren Hayesod’s decision to sever business ties with the bank could set off a chain reaction of NGOs and companies leaving the bank due to its alleged enabling of antisemitic activity.
“We have called on the Bank for Social Economy to end its business relations with BDS-affiliated organizations. If the [bank] does not act, we look forward to changing to another financial institution,” Heike Hausweiler, a spokeswoman for Jaffa Flohr, the president of the Jewish National Fund in Germany, told the Post in August.
The German LGBT organization Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation terminated its account in April with the bank due to the bank’s BDS activity.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is considering the inclusion of three senior executives of the bank – Schmitz and his two deputies, Oliver Luckner and Thomas Kahleis – on its list of the top 10 worst cases of anti-Israel and antisemitic activity in 2018 because of the bank’s enabling of the Jewish Voice campaign targeting the Jewish state.
Rabbi Cooper told the Post that “No German should have anything to do with [BDS]. It is toxic, antisemitic and shame on the bank for alleging otherwise.”
Queries to Schmitz, Luckner and Kahleis were not returned.