German Bank for Social Economy Closes Account of Jewish Peace Group

Our organization, the “Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East” (JS) was founded thirteen years ago as the German Section of the “European Jews for a Just….

Our organization, the “Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East” (JS) was founded thirteen years ago as the German Section of the “European Jews for a Just Peace”. Since then we have been working as a group both in Germany and in the EU towards the implementation of universal human rights in Israel and Palestine and towards a just resolution to the conflicts between their peoples. Since 2007 we have been registered as a non-profit organization. Through our presence, the German public has been made aware that the Jewish community in this country is more multi-faceted and more critical than the official representatives of the Jewish Community here would suggest. We are fully aware that our activities are displeasing to some who support the Israeli government. What we however did not expect was an attack by a German bank on our right to freedom of expression.

Six weeks ago we received a letter from the Bank for Social Economy (Bank für Sozialwirtschaft AG (BSW)) in which, without stating the reasons, we were informed that our account at the bank would be terminated at the end of the year. After an arduous attempt at clarifying the situation and with the backing and considerable pressure from many of our supporters both in Germany and abroad, the bank acknowledged that its decision was politically motivated, namely because of our support for the BDS campaign (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions). The bank had been made aware of our position by someone who works for the “Jerusalem Post”, an Israeli newspaper positioned at the right of the political spectrum. The board of the Bank for Social Economy (BSW) had thus assumed the prerogative of interpretation concerning which political opinions are acceptable and which are not, without regard to the requirements of the German constitution. In other words, the representatives of the bank are practicing censorship. At the same time, the bank officials informed the Jerusalem Post that our account had been terminated, thus infringing on their legal obligation to bank secrecy, behind which the bank had initially been hiding from ourselves and our supporters.

That we as Jews and Israelis are accused by a German bank of opposing Israel’s right to exist is something we find outrageous. We do however take this opportunity to explain why – especially in light of our heritage – we speak out in favor of the non-violent boycott campaign against some Israeli and other international firms. The claims of the bank leadership that the BDS campaign is directed against Israel’s right to exist is something we flatly and vehemently reject as propagandistic and inaccurate. The sources which the bank cites can be refuted in a number of ways. Moreover, looking beyond Germany’s borders, it can be seen that a number of well known personalities, among them many highly respected scientists and scholars have for excellent reasons and with a clear conscience joined the BDS movement, among them, for example, Judith Butler, Angela Davis, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein and Alice Walker.

The BDS campaign continues to grow in popular support, while at the same time the Israeli government continues to expand and intensify its policy of colonialization. It is the frequent Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip for example, or the violent confrontations between the Israeli military and Palestinian civilians which have been going on for decades, that are damaging Israel’s image, not the resistance toward this violence or the denunciation of this behavior for its contravention of international human rights laws, as claimed by the Bank for Social Economy (BSW).

The call to support BDS, which is signed by the JS, is tied to clearly articulated conditions. In particular, it is not aimed at the internationally recognized state of Israel, but is unmistakably directed toward the occupation, settlement and exclusion policies of the Israeli government. The continuing disregard for international law by the Israeli government is resisted invariably, and as a matter of principle, using non-violent forms of protest. Politicians such as Helmut Schmidt, Richard von Weizäcker and other European personalities have called for sanctions against Israel. Firms such as the Deutsche Bahn (Germany Rail), Heidelberg Cement and recently G4S rescinded their investments from the occupied territories. Many artists refer to the boycott of Apartheid South Africa as a model and cancel their performances in Israel. This of course is hurtful to Israelis. Exactly this is the desired effect and sadly it is inevitable, because ultimately these and other forms of civilian boycott campaigns are intended to bring about change which has proved impossible using other means.

Not all members of the JS actively support the international BDS movement. All members of the JS do however support the inalienable right to expression and the right to assembly. This right also protects the support of the civilian BDS movement as well as active participation in it. The BDS movement is an appropriate means to compel the Israeli government to rethink its occupation and settlement policies. This is in the interests not only of the Jewish and the Palestinian populations. In light of all this we reject categorically the accusation of any form of threatening, or even questioning Israel’s right to exist and state clearly – with respect to the many Israelis among our members – our astonishment concerning the remonstrance in this matter coming from a German bank. Unless of course the Bank for Social Economy (BSW) wishes to claim that Israel cannot exist without being an occupying power.

We call on all non-government agencies, associations and private individuals who are customers of the BSW to reconsider their continued business with this bank. We are talking about a bank which politically rebukes and even punishes its customers. The censorship which hit us today can strike other customers tomorrow. It is not only a question of solidarity with our organization: For the way this financial institution has dealt with us is cause for deep concern, fundamental and inalienable rights of citizens in the Federal Republic of Germany to freedom of expression are in peril. Companies which use their power as a weapon in order to silence critical voices which they find unpleasant represent a threat to an open society and to any form of political engagement in the cause of basic human rights in Germany.

We are grateful for the solidarity in the form of protest to this action by numerous organizations, for example Pax Christi, IPPNW e.V., the International League for Human Rights and from many members of the German Bundestag from the Left Party (Links Partei), the SPD and the Green Party who complained to the bank concerning this unprecedented case of political censorship against a Jewish organization in the Federal Republic of Germany. Some organizations have already informed us that they plan to close their accounts with the Bank for Social Economy (BSW) in protest.

Despite this scandalous development, we will continue our work in the realm of human rights and will continue to raise our voice against injustice and for peace in Israel and Palestine. The contemptuous occupation policy and the denial of elementary human rights of the Palestinian people must be stopped.