1. Basic Principles
The Bank für Sozialwirtschaft AG (BFS) is the special bank supported by the welfare organisations for companies, facilities and organisations from the health, social and educational sectors. Its customers also include non-governmental organisations which partly also act politically in their concern to improve social conditions.
The BFS is a politically neutral financial institute and committed to the principle of freedom of expression. It can and will not control, assess and comment what individual customers or members of organisations to which a business relationship exists think or represent politically.
The activities of the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft are based on values which have informed its business activities for decades. The corporate principles of the bank which also concern its world view are summarised in a value codex. This codex concretises the self-conception of the bank. BFS accordingly is committed to the following corporate principles:
- The BFS is committed to the basic free and democratic order of the Federal Republic of Germany and international law.
- The BFS supports the principle of European integration on the basis of peace, democracy and the rule of law.
- The BFS is guided by the ethical principles of the Jewish-Christian tradition of values and supports tolerant cooperation of the major world religions.
- The BFS is committed to the reconciliation between Germany and the people of Jewish faith. This includes the recognition of the right of the state of Israel to exist.
- The BFS rejects political and religious extremism.
- The BFS is guided by the principle of sustainability.
- The BFS is devoted to an organisational culture which is determined by mutual respect and the esteem for every individual.
- The BFS has formulated principles for its business activities, which are laid down in its Code of Conduct. They include integrity, fairness, honesty, contract compliance, responsibility, respect, competence, professionalism and the willingness to perform.
As a partner of the social economy, the BFS is more strongly committed to ethical principles than other financial institutes. Nonetheless the entry into or termination of a business relationship is primarily determined by legal and economic criteria. To the extent that the activity of potential or current customers may lead to a conflict with its corporate principles, the bank carefully analyses the respective case to determine whether a business relationship may be started or continued.
2. Account Relationship with the „Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden in Nahost e.V.“
The Bank für Sozialwirtschaft has made such an assessment in the case of the campaign “Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions” (BDS Campaign). The BDS Campaign could not become a customer of the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft. The positions of the BDS go beyond the customary democratic discourse in their goals, content and style. Boycott activities whose aim is a destabilisation of the state of Israel are not compatible with the above-stated principles of the bank. The Bank für Sozialwirtschaft (BFS) therefore also expects a clear disassociation from the BDS Campaign from its customers.
The background is that the leading association of Jewish welfare provision in Germany is one of the founding members of the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft which was founded in 1923. The BFS is therefore especially committed to reconciliation between Germany and Israel since the end of the Nazi dictatorship. The BFS naturally accepts that there are strongly divergent views on the Middle Eastern conflict and the relationship between Palestinians and the state of Israel.
Due to its support of the BDS Campaign, the bank initially terminated the account of the “Jüdische Stimme” in autumn 2016. After intensive discussions and a public written declaration that the „Jüdische Stimme“ supports the BDS Campaign only to the extent that it rejects violence and does not question the right of existence of the state of Israel, the business relationship was resumed.
Since the account was reopened in January 2018, criticism of the BDS Campaign intensified until the Federal Parliament took a decision on the BDS Campaign on 17 May 2019. In the course of this development the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft was increasingly subject to national and international criticism for its business relationship with the “Jüdische Stimme”. Increasingly it became a platform for an inner-Jewish conflict. However, the BFS does not regard itself as a suitable platform for ideological or religious conflicts.
In autumn 2018, the bank ordered a scientific expertise from the Centre for Research on Antisemitism of the Technical University of Berlin in order to render the debate more factually founded. The aim of the order was to develop an objective assessment of the positioning of the “Jüdische Stimme” as regards antisemitism. In this context, the relationship to the BDS Campaign was, in particular, to be evaluated. The request of this expertise was criticised massively both by the “Jüdische Stimme” and by its critics. Due to this considerable criticism of the expertise, of its possible contents and of the appointed expert, the latter decided, in agreement with the directors of the institute, to withdraw from the expertise order. Consequently, both the bank and the “Jüdische Stimme” experienced a major loss of confidence in their business relationship.
Since the bank is committed to a broad spectrum of opinions and to the often also international range of activities of the welfare associations and their member organisations, it again attempted to enter into discussions with the “Jüdische Stimme” in order to render the discussion more factual, restore the relationship of trust and to determine whether a clear demarcation of the “Jüdische Stimme” from the BDS Campaign exists.
In the end, the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft was compelled to determine that a sufficiently clear demarcation from the BDS Campaign is not possible on the part of the “Jüdische Stimme”. The relationship of trust required for a continuation of the business relationship could also not be restored sufficiently.
As a result of its business relationship with the “Jüdische Stimme”, the bank has become the permanent site of a political campaign due to the support of the BDS Campaign by the “Jüdische Stimme”, which the bank could not overcome. It fears that will continue to be instrumentalised by the intensifying debate about the BDS Campaign, with the reputation of the bank being increasingly damaged as a result. Without thereby aiming to take a political decision, the board of directors has decided, in its responsibility for the reputation of the bank, that no basis exists for a continuation of the business relationship and to terminate the same. The board of directors regrets that all attempts to arrive at a result supportable by both sides were not successful and that this decision therefore became necessary.