German Parliament Criminalizes Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement

May 17, 2019

Germany becomes the first country in the world to criminalize the BDS movement. Shir Hever, TRNN Correspondent in Germany and expert on Palestine-Israel, responds

The German parliament, the Bundestag, has just passed an unprecedented piece of legislation condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), declaring it anti-Semitic and illegal. The bill itself was well kept secret until only two days before the vote. Initially promoted by far-right, pro-Israeli parties—both the neoliberal Party FDP and the racist anti-immigrant party AFD—members of all German parties ended up ultimately supporting it, even those on the far left. The Real News Network's Sharmini Peries spoke to Shir Hever about how this anti-BDS bill came about so quickly, and its problems.

“A few days ago, there was the German-Israeli Congress, which is an annual congress where Israel sends delegations to meet with German politicians and discuss a cooperation between the two countries. And they dedicated this meeting to fighting BDS,” Hever said. “And I think that was maybe a clue for those of us who are following it to understand that Israel is planning to get a resolution against BDS from the German parliament.”

The resolution said “the pattern of argument and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic,” claiming BDS's slogan of “Don't buy” echoed the Nazi slogan “Don't buy from Jews.” It also took issue with claims that Israel was an apartheid state.

“This meeting of the Congress was very confused. People kept contradicting themselves and contradicting each other, because they couldn't really agree if a boycott is an allowed thing in the name of Democracy and free speech, or should it be completely banned,” Hever said. “They kept insisting that Israel is a democracy, but never finding any arguments to say how, in what way Israel is a democracy actually, and in what way the critique that 'Israel is an apartheid state' fails to meet the truth, or in what way it is anti-Semitic. So I think the result of that Congress was that they have to pass the legislation very fast.”

As the legislation was proposed to the Bundestag, there was a counterpetition explaining that it was misguided to call BDS “anti-Semitic.”

“There was an immediate counterpetition by Jewish and Israeli scientists and scholars—especially scholars of anti-Semitism, scholars of hatred against Jews—who said that this proposal is wrong,” Hever said. “[They said] that the BDS movement is not anti-Semitic, and calling BDS anti-Semitic movement weakens the real fight for equal rights for Jews and the protection of Jews against racism.”

Throughout Europe, most left-wing parties fully or partially support the Palestinian call for a boycott against Israel and for sanctions and divestment. Germany is the exception, Hever explained. He observed that much of this response has to do alleviating German guilt about the Holocaust and the acceptance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outrageous—and factually inaccurate—claim years ago that Adolf Hitler got the idea for the Holocaust from Palestinian nationalist Haj Amin al-Husseini: “We underestimated how much racism against Jews is still entrenched in German society today, and how deep is the desire of German politicians and the German public to rid themselves of the guilt over the Holocaust. And this bill is doing just that for them,” Hever said.

Still, Hever added he was surprised the German left would side with the German far right.

“We thought that the fact that this bill was supported by the far right in Germany would dissuade leftists from supporting it. We thought that the call of Jewish Israeli scholars against this bill would also dissuade them,” Hever said. “But we were wrong.”  


German Parliament Criminalizes Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement

Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. And in breaking news, the German parliament, the Bundestag, has just passed an unprecedented piece of legislation condemning the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, known as the BDS. They deemed BDS as anti-Semitic and illegal. This makes Germany the first and only country in the world to criminalize the BDS movement.

The legislation was passed at lightning speed in Germany. The bill itself was well kept secret until only two days before the vote. It was initially promoted by the far-right pro Israeli parties, both the neoliberal Party FDP and the racist anti-immigrant party AFD. But members of all German parties ended up supporting it, even from the far left.

Here to discuss all of this with me today from Heidelberg, Germany is Shir Hever. Shir is a Real News correspondent. He’s also the author of the book Privatization of Israeli Security, published by Pluto Press in 2017. Shir, good to have you here.

SHIR HEVER Thank you, Sharmini, for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES All right. Let’s start off with why has this vote come so quickly to Parliament? Why was it rushed? And even someone like you, who followed this issue very closely, had no idea till two days ago.

SHIR HEVER Yeah. A few days ago there was the German-Israeli Congress, which is an annual congress where Israel sends delegations to meet with German politicians and discuss a cooperation between the two countries. And they dedicated this meeting to fighting BDS. And I think that was maybe a clue for those of us who are following it to understand that Israel is planning to get a resolution against BDS from the German parliament.

And this meeting of the Congress was very confused. People kept contradicting themselves and contradicting each other, because they couldn’t really agree if a boycott is an allowed thing in the name of democracy and free speech, or should it be completely banned. They kept insisting that Israel is a democracy, but never finding any arguments to say how, in what way Israel is a democracy, actually, and in what way they critique that Israel is an apartheid state fails to meet the truth, or in what way it is anti-Semitic. So I think the result of that Congress was that they have to pass the legislation very fast.

And indeed, as the legislation was proposed to the German parliament, the Bundestag, there was an immediate counterpetition by Jewish and Israeli scientists and scholars, especially scholars of anti-Semitism, scholars of hatred against Jews, who said that this proposal is wrong, the BDS movement is not anti-Semitic, and calling BDS an anti-Semitic movement weakens the real fight for equal rights for Jews and the protection of Jews against racism.

SHARMINI PERIES Shir, I know we were all caught off guard here, but it was interesting that in Europe the left, and some of the Green parties in other countries in Europe, actually partially or wholly support the BDS movement. So how has this legislation won the support of members of the German left? Die Linke, for example?

SHIR HEVER Yeah, I admit that I was myself surprised by that. And I think–and many of my fellow activists here were also surprised. We thought that the fact that this bill was supported by the far right in Germany would dissuade leftists from supporting it. We thought that the call of Jewish Israeli scholars against this bill would also dissuade them. But we were wrong. And the reason I think is that we underestimated how much racism against Jews is still entrenched in German society today, and how deep is the desire of German politicians and the German public to rid themselves of the guilt over the Holocaust. And this bill is doing just that for them.

And I’ll explain that through the quote from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Five years ago he said that he actually doesn’t believe that killing the Jews during the Holocaust was Hitler’s idea, was the idea of Adolf Hitler. He said Hitler got that idea from a Palestinian called Haj Amin al-Husseini. And this is, of course, false, and every historian knows that this is not the case, and Hitler called for the extermination of Jews long before he met Haj Amin al-Husseini. But by making that statement, Netanyahu–and he also repeated it. He stood by his statement a second time. Netanyahu was sending a message to Germans. Instead of feeling guilty about the Holocaust and feeling the need to apologize and to bear responsibility for those crimes which were committed so many years ago, you could actually transfer the guilt to the Palestinians. And that is a dogwhistle message to the right wing in Germany. But apparently the left, parts of the left, have expressed some desire to rid themselves of their guilt over the Holocaust by equating the BDS movement, which is a Palestinian call, with anti-Semitism. Of course, it’s not anti-Semitic. But by doing that they’re saying, oh, we’re fighting anti-Semitism by choosing to support Israel, the state of Israel, rather than by being responsible for the protection of Jewish people.

And the Israeli government has said to Germany very clearly, you have to choose. Either you’re pro-Israel or you’re pro-Jewish. But you can’t be both. And the German parliament has decided today to be pro-Israel and not pro-Jewish.

SHARMINI PERIES Interesting. Do you see this move of this piece of legislation as a result of racism, then, towards Palestinians in German politics?

SHIR HEVER Well, I think that there is, of course, a lot of Islamophobia in Germany, and there is also racism towards Arabs. But I don’t think that, specifically, racism towards Palestinians is any different from other kinds of racism in Germany. But I think that this particular legislation was not motivated by racism towards Palestinians, but actually by racism towards Jews. In fact, the German government since the Second World War, since the Holocaust, has been very clear on its position that it must take responsibility for the crimes of the Holocaust and respect the rights of Jews. But since the Holocaust it made two major blunders in that sense, where it allowed anti-Jewish sentiment to get in the way of their politics by preferring to support the state of Israel instead of supporting Jews.

The first time was when German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer established diplomatic relations with the state of Israel and decided that Holocaust survivors who live in Israel will not receive compensation from Germany, and instead the German government will give the money to the Israeli government to decide how to use that money, and whether parts of that money will go to Holocaust survivors or not remains and a decision with the Israeli government. One can say in Konrad Adenauer’s defense that he could not get into the internal politics of Israel, and he could not force the Israeli government to distribute the compensation to the actual Holocaust survivors. But of course, there were also a lot of economic interests involved. The Israeli government said, Why don’t you give us weapons instead of money? And that fit, if course, the German industrial interests very well.

But now is the second. Today was the second time that the German political system has failed to meet up to its moral obligations, and instead of supporting and protecting Jews from racism it chose and to protect the state of Israel from legitimate critique, and calls that kind of legitimate critique anti-Semitism even though it is clearly not.

SHARMINI PERIES All right, Shir. We’ll leave it there for now. I’ve been speaking with Shir Hever, Real News correspondent in Heidelberg Germany, and of course an expert, as you can see, in this particular area. I thank you so much for joining us today, Shir.

SHIR HEVER Thank you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES And I thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.