Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East has been active in collaboration with various Palestinian and Israeli organizations for over 15 years, bearing witness to and contesting the human rights violations perpetrated by the state of Israel, as well as amplifying oppositional Jewish voices frequently marginalized by the plodding conformism of mainstream discourse. Through our modest presence and works, the German public has the opportunity to be confronted with a multifaceted and critical Jewish community in this country.
Recently, there has been increased pressure and backlash against our engagement for a just and peaceful path to achieve the rights of Palestinians and Israelis, and for ending the occupation. For more than 2 years, right-wing activists and representatives of the Israeli government have campaigned to close our account in the German Bank for Social Economy (Bank für Sozialwirtschaft). In 2016, the bank briefly succumbed to this coordinated pressure and announced the closure of our account. That decision was later retracted, after we met with bank officials to explain the full legality and legitimacy of our work and disprove the false accusations raised against us.
In December 2018 the bank has once again yielded to pressure by pro-Israeli groups. It decided, in compliance with the state commissioner for anti-Semitism, Dr. Felix Klein, to seek an “expert assessment” to decide whether our organization should be classified as anti-Semitic. The German historian, Dr. Juliane Wetzel, accepted the task to produce such a classification based on the highly-politicized IHRA Definition of anti-Semitism. We were neither advised concerning this decision nor informed about it before it reached the media. In a letter to our chairperson we were solely given the option to collaborate with this investigation in the form of a personal interview. Our organisation fully and categorically rejects this process and refuses to subject ourselves to such an examination, for the following reasons:
- We refuse the authority of a German institution to classify which Jews are anti-Semitic and who are not. We consider this as an unprecedented and harmful move. As an organization with exclusive Jewish membership we find the investigation to be an attempt to revoke our protection from racially-motivated anti-Semitism, and manipulate the term “anti-Semitism” to serve the short-term political needs of the Israeli government. As Jews whose families fell victim to German anti-Semitism, including the anti-Semitism exercised by German financial and scientific institutions, we refuse to be enlisted into such a dubious undertaking with such obviously unpalatable historic resonance. Participating in the process in any form would mean lending it legitimacy.
- The assessment is to rely on the problematic and contested definition of antisemitism by the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance). Academics, legal scholars and human rights organizations have repeatedly pointed out that this “definition” is flawed and highly-politicized, and constitutes a threat to the freedom of speech and expression. In 2017, a letter signed by 244 academics noted that this definition aims to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and expressed concern about restricting free debate. This is also how our organization reads this document. To have it weaponized against us in this manner is a further outrage.
- This is not about antisemitism per se, but rather about the BDS movement and the ongoing struggle for the human rights of the Palestinian people.From our correspondence with the bank we have learned that the only accusation levied on the Jewish Voice to justify the investigation is the support of the Jewish Voice for the BDS campaign. BDS which stands for boycott, divestments and sanctions is a worldwide campaign to exert pressure through non-violent means on the Israeli government to end repressive politics towards Palestinians. The attack on the Jewish Voice is in fact part of an Israeli-orchestrated campaign to silence the BDS movement. By delegitimizing a Jewish organization which supports BDS, a precedent will be created to facilitate the delegitimization of dozens of organizations in Germany which support BDS as well.
Our position is clear: our group has persistently raised its voice in support of non-violent struggle for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine and has consistently condemned manifestations of racism and anti-Semitism, including cases where they are disguised as critique of Israel. Yet, false accusations of anti-Semitism as a means of delegitimizing and silencing people and organizations who speak out for human rights for the Palestinian people has become an international trend that continues unabated. This manipulation must be exposed and rejected for the harm it causes: first and foremost to Palestinians who continue struggling for their most basic rights and freedoms.But also to Jewish people, by diverting attention from real expressions of anti-Semitism and by casting baseless accusations against Jews critical toward Israeli policies, by cynically presenting their activism as “evidence” of the very bigotry from which they, as Jews, also suffer.
Finally, the decision to solicit an investigation against us was made one-sidedly. The Bank of Social Economy has further published information about our account and its policy towards our organization without our consent. This too is unacceptable. Such a process unduly infringes on our political rights. As our name declares, we have a voice, and we have the fullest intention of using it to be heard. We will define our Jewishness ourselves, and we will use this lamentable incident as an opportunity to shine a light on these tactics to silence critics of the Israeli occupation and to broadcast our commitment to peace through unfettered political critique and the humble but powerful ethics of solidarity upon which our group was founded.
We are deeply grateful to all the individuals and organizations in Germany and worldwide who have expressed their solidarity with us, and we remain focused on our mission of justice and peace in the Middle East.