The Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation – named after a gay German-Jewish scientist who was persecuted by the Nazis – has terminated its account with the Bank for Social Economy over the financial institution’s enabling of organizations that advocate a boycott of Israel.
The closure of the account, which foundation sources informed The Jerusalem Post about on Friday, was immediately praised by leading Jewish human rights organizations.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post, “I am happy that the organization [the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation] did the right thing from a Jewish perspective.”
Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi-hunter, said the foundation is “showing Jewish solidarity and took the right steps to close the account, and we hope other Jewish organizations that have accounts with the Bank for Social Economy will follow suit.”
The Bank for Social Economy (Bank für Sozialwirtschaft) maintains numerous accounts for organizations that engage in boycott, divestment, sanctions activity against Israel. In February, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan urged the bank to shut down an account for the BDS group Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East.
In an email to the Post last week, the executive board of the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation wrote, “We are examining at this time whether we will end our bank relationship with the Bank for Social Economy... It would be intolerable if organizations and persons, who place Israel’s right to exist in question, can continue to maintain accounts with the Bank for Social Economy.”
Fabian Weissbarth, spokesman for the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee, told the Post on Friday: “We welcome the decision of the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation. The BDS campaign is not only a danger to Jewish life [in German], [but] for democracy as a whole. Therefore a zero tolerance position [against BDS] from politicians and society is necessary. The closure of bank accounts is part of the zero tolerance position, as is ceasing the provision of public rooms [for holding BDS events].”
Olga Deutsch, the head of the Israeli organization NGO Monitor’s European desk, told the Post on Friday that “this is yet another important step in raising awareness in Germany. BDS has been called out for being antisemitic by almost all levels of the political apparatus in Germany, and acting upon it is crucial. Recent weeks have seen a dangerous rise in antisemitic incidents across the country – from virulent antisemitism and Israel-hatred among senior employees by the state-owned Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), scandals over antisemitic lyrics by singers winning the highest German music award to physical attacks on people in the street for no other reason but the kippa on their head. The time has come to translate political readiness to concrete steps.”
The AJC and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, along with numerous other Jewish human rights groups and German Jewish leaders, have urged Harald Schmitz, the head of the bank, to close the BDS accounts.
On Thursday, Robert Singer, the CEO and executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress, weighed in on the Bank for Social Economy in a statement to the Post:
“BDS is a hypocritical movement that claims to support Palestinians while its real intention is to destroy the State of Israel and deny the Jewish right to self-determination. The same millions of dollars funneled to BDS through financial institutions around the world to spread hatred against Israel could be invested directly into the well-being of the Palestinian people, whose government uses humanitarian aid to pay salaries to convicted terrorists and their families.”
Singer added that “the World Jewish Congress supports initiatives that promote cooperation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, not moves to perpetuate the ongoing conflict between the two sides. BDS has made no sign of any willingness or interest in reaching a peaceful solution to the conflict, and any financial institution that supports its methods is only helping to further push us away from peace and fuel enmity. The path to peace must come through positive initiatives and dialogue, not through the boycott of Israel and the spread of hatred.”
Schmitz declined to respond to Post queries regarding the Magnus Hirschfeld account closure.
In a late February letter to Schmitz obtained by the Post, Sammy Endzweig, the chairman of Keren Hayesod in Germany, expressed the organization’s inability to understand the bank’s providing an account to the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, as well as to other BDS entities.
Schmitz declined to respond to Endzweig, according to Keren Hayesod. Schmitz launched an aggressive public relations campaign on the website of the bank and via the bank’s communication department to defend Jewish Voice.
Jewish Voice has waged BDS activity against the Jewish National Fund in Germany and signed an April 17 letter calling on “the EU to immediately exclude all Israeli military and security companies from the EU framework programs.”
The Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation was established in 2011 to combat discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex persons. It is slated to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Hirschfeld’s birth on May 14, 1868, with a series of events in May.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post on Friday that “the global BDS campaign is the main engine seeking to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish, democratic State of Israel and all lovers of Zion – in social and economic domains. Every German citizen, every German NGO – and the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation is one such important group – that strikes back against the extreme anti-Israel campaign is worthy of our public praise.”