With the slogan “Occupation tastes bitter,” the German chapter of the Catholic organization Pax Christi began a national boycott campaign against Israeli products.
The NGO rejected any equation of its campaign with the infamous Nazi boycotts of the 1930s because, as Pax Christi emphasized in a statement, its focus was on the “settlements.”
Yet the vice-president of the organization admitted she would not buy “goods with the origin specification ‘Israel’ because under this designation products could come from the settlements.”
Even with this ambiguous clarification, it seems unclear how a boycott aimed only at companies run by Jews, where most of the workforce is Jewish and that are geographically connected to the only Jewish state could be anything but anti-Semitic.
SOME PEOPLE in Germany, however, are out to rewrite history. And this time it is not the far-right, but Christians from the peace camp and members of the Left. The most prominent supporter of this call for a boycott is Albrecht Schröter, Social Democrat and mayor of Jena in Thuringia.
Jena, a small city in East Germany, is well-known for its historic university.
In the late 18th and early 19th century many of the most famous German intellectuals, such as Hegel, Schiller, Hölderlin and Marx, taught or studied at the University of Jena.
Last year the city won notoriety because it was the hometown of the neo-Nazi terrorists of the National Socialist Underground. But over the years, Jena, compared to other cities in East Germany, has shown a strong commitment to combating fascism and racism, with mayor Schröter at the forefront of these activities.
Therefore, it is even more troubling that the same Schröter is the first mayor of a middle-size German city to support such an anti-Israel campaign. It is, however, not surprising.
Since he took office in 2006 mayor Schröter has earned a reputation as a pro-Palestinian activist. On several occasions he has voiced his opposition to Israel. Most notoriously, at a pro-Hamas conference in 2010 in Bad Boll, Germany, where he began a talk with a reference to the Mavi Marmara, saying, “I came here to break the thought blockade to Gaza with the ship Bad Boll.”
HIS ACTIVISM regarding the Middle East is absolutely one-sided.
There is no reference to Palestinian violence, obstructionism or the more than obvious anti-Semitism in Palestinian public discourse.
Schröter has chosen to turn a blind eye to all of this. Reacting to criticism of his support for the campaign, Schröter wrote, “The situation in which the Palestinians are today, is due to the Holocaust,” thereby turning the Palestinians into the victims of the German genocide against the Jewish people.
The Palestinians, in the eyes of Schröter, are helpless and guiltless – they are the modern version of the “noble savage.” It is not the Palestinian leadership that has failed their people for over 60 years; only the Jewish state is to blame. In the world of Albrecht Schröter and Pax Christi there is no existential threat against the Jewish state, there was no second intifada, no Hamas rockets and no cold-blooded Itamar killers.
What is “new” about this attitude is that while one-sidedly accusing Israel of horrendous crimes people like Schröter are, at the same time, fighting today’s neo-Nazis. And they seem to be incapable of or unwilling to understand that their criticism of the Jewish state is a modern form of anti-Semitism.
This has something to do with the idea that criticism of Israel can’t be, by definition, anti-Semitic because the measure for Jew hatred in Germany is the Nazi genocide only. The German publicist Henryk M. Broder sardonically summarized this attitude: “Antisemitism in Germany starts with six million dead Jews, everything below that is a policy of peace.”
Therefore, it is not surprising that the call for a boycott of the Jewish state was not met with a huge public outcry in national German media or from politicians. It is not an exaggeration to say that the reaction so far has been silence.
SO LOOKING back at the past two weeks one has to rub one’s eyes in disbelief. There was one joint statement by the small local branch of the German-Israeli Friendship association and the Association of Church and Judaism, one open letter by the vice-president of the Jewish community of Thuringia. But besides that – silence.
Given that Pax Christi is a Catholic organization and Albrecht Schröter a trained Protestant priest, it is telling that neither of the two major churches in Germany, Protestant and Catholic, considered it necessary to issue a statement condemning the campaign and demanding a retraction.
The same is true for political parties in Germany, in particular Schröter’s Social Democrats. There were statements by some party officials rejecting such a boycott in general, but because Schröter signed the boycott petition as the mayor, a strong repudiation of his actions would have been the only adequate answer from the Social Democratic Party in Thuringia and from the party’s national headquarters.
Not one of the many German anti-racism organizations called the boycott what it is, a stigmatization of Israeli products. Israel is the only country in Germany to face such a campaign. What is this if not racist? Unfortunately, not even the Central Council for the Jews in Germany, usually the only organization sensible to such inflammatory language, voiced its concerns.
IT SEEMS as if Germany has turned a deaf ear to this “new” hatred against Jews. Obviously, the substitution of the Jewish state for the Jewish people has made this biased campaign somehow “acceptable.”
This only underscores Leon Poliakov’s wise words that Israel has become the Jew among the nations.
In today’s Germany where, as a recent poll by the magazine Der Stern suggested, two thirds of Germans dislike Israel, we witness again a time when injustice is met with silence, when the demonization of the Jewish state is not worth a statement, just like the Jewish shop owners in Germany in the 1930s were not worthy of the solidarity of their compatriots and a public outcry against boycotts.
And probably it is the irony of history that the ones who are most outspoken about remembering the Shoah today are the ones who are at the forefront of a campaign to delegitimize the only Jewish state in the world. The rest of Germany will remain silent – until it is too late.
The author is a doctoral student in philosophy at the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies in Erfurt, a pro-israel activist and is on the board of the German-Israel Friendship Association in Erfurt.