The Electronic Intifada / October 5, 2020
Three human rights defenders are mounting a court challenge to the German parliament’s resolution condemning BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.
The BDS supporters are suing the German parliament for violation of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Based on the widely criticized IHRA definition that is promoted by Israel and its lobby, the resolution passed by the Bundestag in May 2019 smears BDS activism as anti-Semitic.
The IHRA definition deliberately conflates criticism of Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies and Zionist state ideology, on the one hand, with anti-Jewish bigotry, on the other.
The Bundestag resolution baselessly compares calls not to buy Israeli goods to the Nazi slogan “Don’t buy from Jews.”
It also enshrines Israel’s racist, apartheid system as a value by declaring that anyone who “questions the right of the Jewish and democratic state of Israel to exist or Israel’s right to defend itself will meet with our resolute resistance.”
The resolution alleges that “argumentation, patterns and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic.”
In fact, the demands of the BDS movement that Israel respect Palestinian rights are firmly rooted in international law.
The Bundestag resolution also urges German institutions and public authorities to deny funding and facilities to civil society groups that support the BDS movement.
Increase in repression
Though nonbinding, it has prompted authorities in Frankfurt am Main, Oldenburg, Munich and Berlin to deny activists public spaces for their events.
But human rights lawyer Ahmed Abed assisted in legal action against the cities, which resulted in most cases in the decisions being reversed.
Now Abed is assisting the three plaintiffs in challenging the Bundestag resolution itself.
They are Judith Bernstein, a Jewish German activist born in Jerusalem; Amir Ali, a Palestinian German citizen whose family was displaced from Haifa during the Nakba in 1948; and Christoph Glanz, an anti-racism and Palestinian rights activist.
The three hope to gain public support for their initiative, which includes urging people to spread the word about the lawsuit and even contribute to help with legal costs.
Judith Bernstein along with her husband Rainer Bernstein won an award in 2017 from the Humanistische Union for their project “Stepping Stones,” which commemorates Jewish Holocaust victims by placing markers outside the Munich homes they lived in before the German government deported and murdered them.
The three released the video statements that are included in this article.
After the adoption of the anti-BDS resolution, Germany saw an increase in smear campaigns and repression against writers, musicians, journalists and scholars who have expressed solidarity with Palestinians or support for freedom of speech.
Under Israel lobby pressure, the head of Berlin’s Jewish Museum was forced out of his job after the museum tweeted out an article about the 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars who signed a petition opposing the German parliament’s anti-BDS resolution.
The lawsuit filed in the administrative court in Berlin seeks to nullify the anti-BDS resolution.
The petition argues that Germany has the duty to guarantee freedom of speech for human rights defenders.
The three petitioners hope their action will help bring a fundamental change in the German discourse on Palestine and Israel.
They are using the hashtag #BT3P in tweets about their campaign, which they are calling Bundestag 3 for Palestine.
They claim that the anti-BDS resolution violates their fundamental human rights to freedom of expression and assembly which are protected under German and European law.
They note last June’s landmark ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that calling for a boycott of Israeli goods is a legitimate exercise of the right to free speech.
They also point out that the resolution is an expression of anti-Palestinian racism in Germany.
The European Legal Support Centre and international law professors Eric David, Xavier Dupré de Boulois, John Reynolds and former UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk are supporting the legal action.
In expert opinions, they argue that the anti-BDS resolution is incompatible with European and international human rights norms.
Role of Pro-Israel lobby
Before the Bundestag adopted its anti-BDS resolution, dozens of Jewish and Israeli scholars warned the German parliament not to label supporters of Palestinian human rights as anti-Semitic.
They stated that moves to label BDS as anti-Semitic were “promoted by Israel’s most right-wing government in history” as part of an effort to “delegitimize any discourse about Palestinian rights and any international solidarity with the Palestinians.”
That assessment was validated by an investigative report into the activities of Israel lobby groups published by the German weekly Der Spiegel.
Der Spiegel exposed the influence of two Israel lobby groups on the passage of the anti-BDS resolution.
The German government’s anti-Semitism commissioner Felix Klein tried to brush off Der Spiegel’s findings, accusing the journalists of using “anti-Semitic clichés like that of the all-powerful Jewish world conspiracy.”
The European Union’s anti-Semitism chief Katharina von Schnurbein incessantly promotes the IHRA definition.
Von Schnurbein works hand in glove with Israel lobby groups to promote their agenda and use combating anti-Semitism as a convenient cover for stifling solidarity with Palestinians.
With backing from parliaments, governments and authorities like the EU, the IHRA definition is being used to smear activists in European countries and North America with false accusations of anti-Semitism.
A successful court challenge to the German parliament’s anti-BDS resolution would send a clear message to European governments and the EU: Stop censoring and smearing critics of Israel and human rights defenders.
Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa