The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) ranks the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft in seventh place on its list of the Top Ten Worst Global Anti-Semitic Incidents 2018. The list names individuals, organisations and events which, in the opinion of the SWC, have attracted attention due to anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli statements or actions. These include the attack on the Pittsburgh Synagogue on 27 October 2018, in which 11 Jews died, the activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the withdrawal of the Airbnb housing and hospitality broker from the West Bank. No justification for inclusion in the list is given.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center accuses the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft of having a business relationship with a Jewish organisation critical of Israel. This refers specifically to a bank account of the Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden in Nahost e.V. [the Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East Registered Association], which is held at the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft in Berlin. The organisation, which is legally recognised as a registered association in Germany and is run by people of Jewish origin, is accused of supporting the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS).
For the last two years, we have been confronted with unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism for holding accounts for the Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East. These charges were first made in Autumn 2016 by Benjamin Weinthal of the Israeli daily newspaper The Jerusalem Post. Among other organisations, the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft was referred to as a BDS Bank by Mr Weinthal in spring 2018.
This accusation is unacceptable from our point of view. The criticism was also directed against other recognised non-profit organisations such as Brot für die Welt [Bread for the World], Connection e.V. and the Forum Ziviler Friedensdienst [the Civil Peace Service Forum]. Brot für die Welt is a renowned development aid organisation of the Protestant churches in Germany which is committed to combating hunger in many parts of the world. The Forum Ziviler Friedensdienst supports people in violent conflicts on the road to peace and actively promotes a civil peace policy. Even the organisation Connection, which is committed to the right to conscientious objection, does not support the BDS campaign.
We categorically reject the allegations against our Bank. The Bank für Sozialwirtschaft has neither business relations with the BDS campaign, nor does it support this movement’s objectives. Boycott measures aimed at destabilising the state of Israel are incompatible with our corporate policies. We would never open an account on behalf of the BDS campaign.
The Bank für Sozialwirtschaft has studied very critically the positioning of the Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East Registered Association. Since we strongly oppose the BDS campaign, we initially terminated the Jewish Voice’s account in Autumn 2016. The termination of the account resulted in turn in massive criticism which then culminated in allegations of anti-Semitism. The attitude was: how can a German-based bank terminate the account of a Jewish organisation? We were harshly criticised by many NGOs for capitulating to a targeted campaign and giving too little scope to freedom of expression.
In intensive discussions with the Jewish Voice, we gained the impression that the Jewish Voice sympathises with BDS and represents positions we deem to be wrong. However, we were credibly assured that the Jewish Voice rejected all forms of violence against the state of Israel. Finally, in April 2017, we agreed on terms and conditions under which business relations could be resumed. After reopening the account in early 2018, the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft was again criticised as anti-Semitic because it holds an account of an Israeli-critical organisation.
What is especially important to us is that the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft is committed to Jewish life in particular in Germany and to reconciliation between Germany and Israel. This follows from the tradition and the shareholder structure of the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft. The leading association of Jewish welfare in Germany is one of the founding members of the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft, which was established in 1923. The Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Juden in Deutschland [ZWST - Central Welfare Office of the Jews in Germany] is still a shareholder of the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft. We support the Jewish state’s right of existence with no ifs and buts. In addition, the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft AG is a politically neutral financial institution that is committed to freedom of expression. We accept that there are widely divergent views on the Middle East conflict and the relationship between the Palestinians and the State of Israel. In the light of German history in particular, we see freedom of expression as a pricesless virtue which must be respected.
In the course of the discussions regarding the account management for the Jewish Voice, we found that we were in something of a no-win situation with regard to this matter. Both the termination of the Jewish Voice account and the resumption of the business relationship have raised new accusations of anti-Semitism.
Against the backdrop of the continuing criticism of its relationship with the Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East Registered Association, the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft has decided to seek the advice of an independent expert on the positioning of the Jewish Voice in view of the BDS campaign. In doing so, we have been advised, among others, by Felix Klein, Germany’s Federal Anti-Semitism Commissioner.
In November 2018, Dr. Juliane Wetzel, who has been working at the Center for Anti-Semitism Research at the Technical University of Berlin since 1991, was instructed to examine whether the Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East Registered Association can be classified as anti-Semitic. The basis is, among other things, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism. The report will be ready at the end of March 2019. Dr. Juliane Wetzel is a renowned researcher on anti-Semitism. Among other things, she is the Coordinator of the Independent Experts Group on Anti-Semitism of the German Bundestag, a member of the German delegation of the IHRA and the author of a number of reports on questions of anti-Semitism.
We are very aware that, regardless of our further behaviour, we shall face accusations of anti-Semitism.
We deeply regret this situation and hope to make a contribution to a reappraisal of the situation through a scientific review of the Facts.