In America, the odious boycott, divestment and sanctions movement targeting Israel remains largely confined to university humanities departments, leaving Europe as the main battleground in the economic war on Israel.
And now a bill in the New York Legislature may be the key to blunting financial and political damage to Israel in Europe.
The Senate passed a robust anti-BDS bill that would penalize European companies engaged in boycott-related activity. The measure is before the Assembly, sponsored by Charles Lavine (D-Nassau).
Nearly half of US states have passed anti-BDS resolutions or laws. New York’s law will be crucial because scores of major European companies and banks are based in the Empire State. The mere threat of legislation penalizing European banks has prompted one major bank to shut down an Austrian BDS group’s account: The Vienna-based financial-services provider Erste Group closed the account held by BDS Austria.
After The Jerusalem Post exposed in February a BDS account held by the DAB Bank in Munich — a subsidiary of the French banking giant BNP Paribas — the account of BDS Campaign in Germany was closed.
Both BNP Paribas and Erste Group have branch offices in New York City. German, Austrian and French banks maintaining BDS accounts are now likely to face greater scrutiny by New York State legislators.
Take, for example, Vienna’s pro-boycott Austrian-Arab Culture Center. It holds an account with the Austrian bank BAWAG, and held an event last month with the convicted terrorist Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. BAWAG has an office in New York City.
The PFLP has been designated by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization. Khaled was part of a terrorist cell that hijacked TWA Flight 840 in 1969. A year later, she participated in the hijacking of EL AL Flight 219.
Note as well: New York City-based Cerberus Capital Management owns 52 percent of BAWAG, and GoldenTree Asset Management — another New York City-based investment firm — has a 40 percent stake in the bank.
The Strasbourg-based Credit Mutuel, which also has a branch in New York City, holds the account of the main hub of Israel-boycott activity in France: BDS France. Credit Mutuel has also snubbed the French government. “The French opposition against any form of boycott is well known. There are strict rules in France against calls for a boycott.
These rules apply notably to all economic operators,” the French embassy in Tel Aviv said about the Credit Mutuel account.
Germany’s Commerzbank and Baden Württembergische Bank (BW) both have BDS accounts and offices in New York. The United States fined Commerzbank $1.45 billion last year for violating Iran, Cuba and Sudan sanctions.
In April, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said, “I am alarmed by reports that Commerzbank, a German bank headquartered in Frankfurt with branches in Illinois and New York, may be one of several German banks facilitating accounts used by anti-Israel and anti-Semitic BDS groups, and I urge the Illinois Investment Policy Board to investigate these reports under our state’s first-in-the-nation anti-BDS law.”
According to a 2004 study by Ludolf Herbs and Thomas Weihe titled, “The Commerzbank and the Jews 1933-1945,” the bank’s “participation in anti-Semitic measures was an important part of the business practices of the Commerzbank” during the Holocaust.
BW Bank is located in Stuttgart in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg. Stuttgart owns nearly 20 percent of BW and the state owns roughly 25 percent of the bank. Stuttgart Mayor Fritz Kuhn says he “feels a deep connection to Israel,” but he has defended the BDS account.
European companies and financial institutions will need to make hard decisions. Do they want to continue to stoke anti-Semitism via BDS and hurt Israel’s economy while facing financial damage to their businesses in the United States? It should be a no-brainer.
Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Asaf Romirowsky is the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.