Jewish NGO's bank account closed over Israel boycott

Jewish NGO's bank account closed over Israel boycott
Jewish Voice's account was suspended after an Israeli press campaign targeting its support for the BDS movement, reports Ben Norton.
5 min read
09 December, 2016
The group has frequently protested in support of Palestinian prisoners []
A Jewish organisation has had its account with a German bank closed - because the group supports the international movement to boycott Israel over its oppression of the Palestinians and violations of international law.
The Jewish group accused the bank of "politically rebuking" and "censoring" it.

In October, the non-profit organisation Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East received a letter saying that its account with Germany's Bank for Social Economy would be suspended at the end of the year.

The Jewish group, known in German as Jüdischen Stimme, said that it had to pressure the bank in an "arduous" campaign to disclose why its account was being terminated.

"The bank acknowledged that its decision was politically motivated, namely because of our support for the BDS campaign," Jewish Voice said, using an acronym for the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions initiative to use peaceful economic mechanisms to influence the Israeli government to respect Palestinian human rights and abide by international law.

In a statement published this week, Jewish Voice accused representatives of the bank, known in German as the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft, of politically motivated double standards and of violating its legal obligation to secrecy.

The New Arab reached out to the Bank for Social Economy with a request for comment, but it did not immediately reply.

The right-wing Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post published an article in late November announcing that Jewish Voice's bank account had been suspended. The article also revealed that it was the conservative, pro-Israel newspaper that had inspired the bank to open an investigation into Jewish Voice.

In the past several months, The Jerusalem Post has published at least two exclusive articles on German banks closing the accounts of anti-Zionist Jewish organizations. The previous article, from June, includes exclusive quotes from the Israeli government official tasked with demonising and combating the nonviolent BDS movement, which is modelled after the international campaign to boycott apartheid South Africa.

Reporter Benjamin Weinthal was the author of both of the Jerusalem Post stories. Weinthal is also a fellow at the neoconservative think-tank, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which frequently advocates for hawkish, interventionist, and pro-Israel causes.

"That we as Jews and Israelis are accused by a German bank of opposing Israel's right to exist is something we find outrageous," Jewish Voice wrote in its statement. "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."

Jewish Voice noted that an array of renowned scholars and peace activists around the world have endorsed the BDS movement, including Judith Butler, Angela Davis, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, and Alice Walker.
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

"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 colonialisation," Jewish Voice added.

"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."

Jewish Voice said its call for BDS was directed at Israel's illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, which have remained under its military control in flagrant contravention of international law since 1967.

"Ultimately these and other forms of civilian boycott campaigns are intended to bring about change which has proved impossible using other means," the group said. "The BDS movement is an appropriate means to compel the Israeli government to rethink its occupation and settlement policies.

"The contemptuous occupation policy and the denial of elementary human rights of the Palestinian people must be stopped," Jewish Voice stressed.

In other European countries and much of the world, the BDS campaign has rapidly grown. Divestment campaigns have become particularly common at universities and places of worship. UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has endorsed elements of the BDS movement.

Pro-Israel groups and the Israeli government have organised a backlash against the growing campaign. In the US, several states have passed legislation punishing groups that support a boycott of Israel, which legal organisations have described as McCarthyite and likely unconstitutional.

Jewish Voice similarly argued that the Bank for Social Economy's action constitutes a threat to the freedom of expression in Germany.

"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," the NGO wrote.

The organisation said it had received support from the International League for Human Rights and from various left-wing political parties, which complained to the bank.
Jewish Voice called on organisations and individual customers to consider closing their accounts with the Bank for Social Economy in protest.

Some groups reportedly plan to do so in solidarity with the NGO.

The organisation was founded in 2003 as the German branch of the group European Jews for a Just Peace. Jewish Voice says its goal is to work "towards the implementation of universal human rights in Israel and Palestine and towards a just resolution to the conflicts between their peoples".

"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," the group wrote.

"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."

Follow Ben Norton on Twitter: @BenjaminNorton