The Israeli flag hangs outside the New York Stock Exchange.Photo: Reuters
When it comes to dealing with the increasing calls to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, the United States and Europe are moving in two opposite directions.
Last week, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law legislation that bars public entities from conducting business with companies that discriminate against Israel. It’s the first of its kind, though other states are likely to follow suit.
Meanwhile, growing displeasure with the frozen Israeli-Palestinian peace process has led European Union countries to call to label products from settlements in disputed territories in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, as well in East Jerusalem.
If labeling Jewish goods sounds darkly reminiscent, it does as well to Germany’s neo-Nazi groups, who have recently co-opted the country’s BDS movement.
But the neo-Nazis shouldn’t get all the attention — labeling goods from East Jerusalem is a brazen act of economic warfare from Europe, and one that violates the principles of the very peace process Europe claims to promote.
The 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians said merely that Jerusalem is a subject for final-status negotiations, not a “settlement.”
The European Union itself defines Jerusalem as a corpus separatum — a “separate body” whose status is subject to negotiation — rather than occupied territory.
More broadly, the drive to label Israeli merchandise has allowed Germany’s resurgent far-right to push its way to the front of the anti-Israel movement.
In 2009, Jürgen Rieger, a Holocaust denier and then-deputy chairman of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany, called on Germans to boycott Israel.
In 2012, the party submitted a legislative initiative in the state parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania to mark Israeli products. Udo Pastörs, the NPD’s leader in the state, has declared Germany a “Jew Republic.”
Meanwhile, the NPD branch in the state of Thuringia honored the Social Democratic Party mayor Albrecht Schröter of Jena for signing a petition to demand mandatory labeling of Israeli goods.
In 2013, Germany’s influential Green Party introduced an initiative in the federal parliament that largely mirrored the neo-Nazi-sponsored legislation from the previous year.
Last summer, during the height of mass demonstrations in Germany opposing Israel’s efforts to stop Hamas rocket attacks, another neo-Nazi party, Der III Weg (“The Third Way”) outlined a detailed call to boycott Israel.
The movement, whose goal is the creation of “German socialism,” titled its plan “What every person can do against the Zionist genocide.”
From Israel’s perspective, the proposed European labeling of goods represents a slippery slope leading to a full-blown boycott of Israeli products.
A response from Israel’s foreign ministry captured the anger: “It seems European nations now want to put a yellow patch on Israeli products. We know that what begins as marking Israeli products quickly deteriorates into an overall boycott of Israeli goods.”
To its credit, Germany did not sign a European foreign ministers’ letter calling for product labeling. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration has demonstrated it has learned from its nation’s history: The first phase of the Holocaust, after all, started with targeting Jewish businesses with the crude Nazi slogan “Kauf nicht bei Juden” (Don’t buy from Jews).
While visiting Israel in 2014, Merkel said flatly that boycotting Israel “is not an option for Germany.”
Nevertheless, 16 of the 28 EU foreign ministers did sign the sanctions letter, including regional leaders France and Britain, and Germany’s neighbor (and Hitler’s birthplace) Austria.
Economic measures designed to hurt Israel will further convince Israelis that Europe cannot be a fair broker in achieving a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict. Europeans hoping to advance the cause of peace should think twice before advancing ideas reminiscent of the Continent’s darkest chapter.
Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based research fellow for Foundation for Defense of Democracies.