Critics say that the decision turns antisemitism into a socially and politically correct view.
By Benjamin Weinthal, JNS.org
The Stuttgart Administrative Court recently ruled that calls to single out the Jewish state for boycott, divestment and sanctions do not violate Germany’s laws against hate speech and are protected, sparking outrage from critics that the decision turns antisemitism into a socially and politically correct view.
“It is probably the first time in the history of the Federal Republic that a court has expressly declared ‘anti-Semitic views’ to be a legally protected area of ‘freedom of opinion,’” Henryk M. Broder, a leading expert on German Jew-hatred, wrote in his popular column for the “Die Welt” broadsheet.
Broder’s column was published in late May, under the title, “Yes, there is room for anti-Semitism in Germany.” It came in response to Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser’s claim that there is “no place for anti-Semitism” in Germany, after a mob of pro-Palestinians demonstrators stoked Jew-hatred in Berlin.
JNS is the first English-language news organization to report on the pro-BDS court decision.
Prominent German Jews are urging Stuttgart Mayor Frank Nopper to swiftly appeal the April court decision in favor of Palestine Committee Stuttgart.
Nathan Gelbart, a veteran attorney and an expert on antisemitism and the law, told JNS that appealing the ruling “would send a signal we are not boycotting peace-loving activists but rather radical antisemitic boycotters, and that morally, we are right. Let the courts decide on this. We are not giving in to antisemitism.”
However, he expressed skepticism regarding the chances for a successful appeal. The city of Stuttgart has not said if it will be appealing the pro-BDS court decision.
“The ruling of the Stuttgart Administrative Court comes as no surprise. Already in January 2022 the Federal Administrative Court [one of Germany’s five federal supreme courts] ruled that it is illegal in principle to exclude promoters of the BDS movement from government-owned places in Germany,” he added.
The Stuttgart court is bound by the decisions of the Federal Administrative Court, Gelbart said.
“It [the Stuttgart court ruling] argues that every association applying to be named in the city’s website [and thereby advertise its views] needs to be named, no matter what political attitudes it might represent, including antisemitic views, as long as they do not violate German law,” he said.
“German law does not forbid the expression of antisemitic views unless, for example, they contain inflammatory content or the denial of the Holocaust. The rationales referred to in the ruling are therefore legally in order, as annoying this result might be for every person condemning discrimination and antisemitism,” Gelbart added.
The BDS movement, said Gelbart, is “ugly and antisemitic,” favoring the creation of a political and cultural ghetto for Jews. Its claim to only boycott Israelis but not Jews is ridiculous and hypocritical, he added. “Almost 80% of Israelis are Jews, so Jews are the evident target of the BDS movement,” Gelbart said.
Malca Goldstein-Wolf, an anti-BDS activist, told JNS, “It is unacceptable for a municipal website to advertise an anti-Israel movement that the German Bundestag has unequivocally classified as antisemitic. If the German judiciary does not see itself in a position to issue legal judgments against Jew-hatred, that speaks volumes.”
Goldstein-Wolf then addressed the role of Michael Blume, the commissioner tasked with combating antisemitism in the state of Baden-Württemberg, where Stuttgart is located.
“It is undoubtedly one of the tasks of an antisemitism commissioner to clearly condemn this scandal and call for an appeal against this unacceptable verdict. If there is no other legal option, it would make sense to not publish any advertising at all for NGOs on municipal websites.”
Blume declined to respond to multiple JNS inquiries.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center Jewish human rights NGO classified Blume as antisemitic in 2021 for his activities against Israel and Jews, ranking his activities as the seventh worst outbreak of antisemitism on its Top Ten list for the year.
According to the Wiesenthal entry, “While Felix Klein, the Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life and the fight against antisemitism, has urged banks not to provide accounts to BDS groups, Blume has failed to urge the partly state-owned Landesbank Baden-Württemberg (LBBW) to close the account of Baden-Württemberg’s and Germany’s most powerful anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) organization, the Palestine Committee Stuttgart.”
The Red Flag newspaper, which is affiliated with the pro-PFLP Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany, praised Blume for not taking action against the funding stream of the Palestine Committee Stuttgart. The United States and the European Union have designated the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as a foreign terrorist organization.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the assistant dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told JNS, “The Bundestag acknowledged the antisemitic nature of BDS. Now a German court has legitimized BDS as legally protected freedom of opinion. Will higher courts overturn this legitimization of antisemitism in Germany’s mainstream? Will such an opinion open the floodgates to more antisemitism in Stuttgart and beyond?”
Martin Widerker, the former head of the Jewish community in Stuttgart and a prominent Zionist and Jewish leader for 40 years, told JNS the municipality should “absolutely” appeal the decision.
When asked whether Barbara Traub, the current leader of the Jewish community in Stuttgart, should condemn the court’s ruling, Widerker said, “Of course.”
Widerker took Blume to task and said, “Of course he should criticize [the pro-BDS decision], but he hasn’t done it yet and probably will continue to not do so. If he does, it would be a colossal reversal.”
He continued, “Advertisements that promote antisemitism and propagate the destruction of the State of Israel under the guise of freedom of expression must not be allowed. The ruling is antisemitic. Only naive people don’t see it. The verdict clearly shows that there is no taboo on antisemitism in the judiciary either.”
Traub declined to respond to a JNS query.
JNS reported in January on financial misconduct allegations against Traub and Blume.
Volker Beck, the new head of the German-Israel Friendship Society, a pro-Israel group funded by the German government, did not respond to numerous JNS press queries.
Beck, who was born in Stuttgart, was a Green Party deputy in the Bundestag when his party advanced an initiative to single out Israeli products from Judea and Samaria for labeling. Beck declined to publicly say whether he opposed his party’s BDS measure in 2013.
Germany’s main neo-Nazi party promoted a similar punitive BDS action in 2012.
Broder asked back in 2013 whether the Green Party had copied the neo-Nazi party’s legislative language targeting Israeli goods.
The Stuttgart legal case stems from a report by this journalist in 2018 that revealed that the municipality advertises on its website information for the BDS group.
After initial reluctance, Stuttgart’s then-mayor Fritz Kuhn scrubbed the promotion of the pro-BDS group Palestine Committee Stuttgart (Palästinakomitee Stuttgart) from the website. The BDS group filed a suit in an effort to secure its advertisement on the municipal website.
The government of Baden-Württemberg declares on its website, along with photographs of Blume, Traub and Interior Minister Thomas Strobl, that there is “No place for anti-Semitism” in the state.
Observers such as Goldstein-Wolf note that Stuttgart could delete the over 7,000 advertisements on its website if it wishes to remove any city-sponsored Jew-hatred. Gelbart said the city would be within its rights to do so.
Stuttgart Mayor Nopper did not respond to a JNS press query.