A prominent Roman Catholic NGO in Germany has called for a wide-ranging boycott of Israeli products.
The petition represents an expansion of the boycott, disinvestment and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel in Germany, where efforts by pro-Palestinian activists to delegitimize the Jewish state continue to pick up momentum.
The German branch of Pax Christi, which describes itself as an "international Catholic peace movement," issued a press release dated May 22, in which it urged German consumers not to buy goods from Israel as long as it remains unclear whether they are produced in the "settlements" or in "Israel."
A two-page flyer for the campaign, which uses the slogan "Occupation Tastes Bitter" (Besatzung schmeckt bitter), states: "Israeli settlements on occupied territory violate Article 49 of the Geneva Convention. Whoever contributes to the profitability of these settlements contributes to the violation of human rights." The flyer also encourages German consumers to report "questionable" Israeli products on a website called www.lebensmittelklarheit.de .
Although Pax Christi claims it is not seeking a blanket boycott of Israeli products, the NGO's use of vague and sweeping language, plus the fact that there are no special labels to distinguish products made in the so-called occupied territories, does make it a de facto boycott of everything made in Israel.
Pax Christi's boycott campaign has received political backing from Albrecht Schröter, the Social Democratic mayor of the eastern German city of Jena in the state of Thuringia. A June 1 article in the local newspaper Thüringische Landeszeitung quotes Schröter as saying his goal "is to demand mandatory labeling of goods from illegal Israeli settlements that occupy Palestinian territory."
But critics have accused Schröter (and Pax Christi) of issuing one-sided statements against Israel, and of giving the false impression that Israel is a country that systematically disregards international law and human rights.
Others say the obsession with Israel while human rights are being systematically abused in Muslim countries such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia is a reflection of anti-Semitism.
For example, Kevin Zdiara of the Berlin-based German-Israel Friendship Society (DIG) says that Schröter's arguments "in certain areas resemble anti-Zionist anti-Semitism" because his remarks meet Natan Sharansky's 3-D test for modern anti-Semitism: demonization, double standards and delegitimization. Zdiara also equates the Pax Christi boycott with the Nazi-era slogan "Don't Buy from Jews."
Katharina König, a Left Party state representative in Thuringia and a Jena city councilwoman agrees. She says Schröter's signature on the Pax Christi petition and his support for a boycott are "false and inappropriate" and that the boycott "has the same meaning as 'Don't Buy from Jews.'"
In any case, the BDS movement against Israel is growing in Germany.
For example, in an unprecedented victory for BDS activists, Deutsche Bahn, the German railway operator, recently announced that it would pull out of a project to build a high-speed rail line from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because the line would cut through six kilometers of disputed territory in the West Bank. Deutsche Bahn had been in charge of electricity and communications control on the project, but pro-Palestinian groups claimed the project violated international law.
German Transportation Minister Peter Ramsauer told Deutsche Bahn Director Rüdiger Grube the project was politically "problematic" and potentially in violation of international law. Ramsauer offered the following reason for terminating the project: "Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad Al-Malki, members of the German Parliament and media have criticized a project in which DB International is acting as adviser to Israel's state-run railway."
German BDS activists have also repeatedly pressed for Israel to be banned from participating in Berlin's annual International Tourism Exchange (ITB), known throughout the world as the top trade show for the global tourism industry. And a group called Berlin Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (BAB) has pushed for a complete academic and cultural boycott of Israel. The group has boycotted Israeli film festivals and has German artists and musicians to refrain from performing in Israel.
In March 2012, BDS activists in Berlin targeted Galeria Kaufhof, a major retailer that sells products from Israel. Protests were also held at stores in Bonn, Cologne, Hamburg and Heidelberg.
In February, BDS activists in Hamburg targeted a nine-day series of concerts called "Sounds of Israel" that featured Israeli musicians. That same month, BDS activists in Berlin protested Israeli participation in the annual Fruit Logistica trade fair.
In November 2011, BDS activists launched a nationwide protest against Israel agricultural exports; BDS protests were held in Berlin, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Munich and Stuttgart.
In April, the Duisburg branch of the German Left Party (Die Linke) posted a flyer on its website with a swastika morphing into a Star of David, and called for a boycott of Israeli products. The flyer, which calls Israel a "rogue state" and a "warmonger" states: "Oppose the moral blackmail of the so-called Holocaust! Truth makes free!" This is a pun on "Arbeit macht Frei!," located above the entrance gate to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
In March, a group called the "Bremer Peace Forum" in the northern Germany city of Bremen staged protests in front of supermarkets urging Germans to boycott Israeli products. The Forum protesters distributed leaflets showing pictures of bloody oranges and held posters with the slogan: "Save the Palestinian people."
The German Left Party, in a Call to Action said: "Israel has occupied the West Bank for decades, contrary to numerous UN resolutions. More and more illegal Jewish settlements are being built and Israel exports the fruits that are harvested from there. This is against international law and the exports from the occupied territories are illegal. A boycott of Israeli products will move public opinion in order to increase international pressure on Israel, just as happened in South Africa."
Later that month, the German Bundestag [Parliament] held a debate over accusations of anti-Semitism within the Germany Left Party following the release of an in-depth study by two German sociologists titled "Anti-Semites as a Coalition Partner." The report says that "anti-Zionist anti-Semitism" has become the dominant consensus position within the Left Party and that this trend is gaining force.
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.